Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ricky Martin is... WAIT FOR IT... Gay!

Ricky Martin has shockingly came out of the closet. A genuinely shocking turn of events. In other news, tomatoes are fruit and Michael Jackson is dead.

I have no problem with people staying in closet. I wish all gay people would come out because it's so lonely, stuffy and sad in the closet, but I understand why some people are scared to come out. Some afraid they'll be rejected by their family while others are actually afraid for their lives. Some are serving in the US Army. There are reasons, some better than others.

It's all nice and well, but when you know you are gay and you decide to have children you must come out of the closet. It's non-negotiable as far as I'm concerned. You can only choose one thing: be in the closet or be a parent. Otherwise you stick your children in the closet with you which is selfish and cruel. That's what annoyed me so much about Jodie Foster's constant battle with the lesbian rumour. What kind of message are you sending to your children when you hide this basic and essential fact about who you are? Nobody cares about the sexual details of what you do in bed (well, that's not true, many do). No need to explain who you had sex with, but if you start a family and keep it hidden, that's just creepy.

When you have children you have to completely accept the fact that you're gay and that it's OK. Children of gay couples are going to encounter bigotry and ignorance and they need to be able to look up to their gay parents for support. You must be able to project unflinching confidence, not give them the feeling that maybe there is something here to be ashamed of.

So I really do hope Ricky Martin is coming out for the children he had via surrogacy a couple of years ago, though I suspect it's more likely to be a business decision. Just like staying in the closet was a business move to keep his female fan base going strong, now that his music career is practically dead and he has a new book on the way this seems to be the perfect way to promote it.

Either way, at least now his kids won't be growing up in a stuffy closet, so that's a good thing. It's just a shame he didn't come out of the closet when he was actually an influential role model, but meh... What can you do?


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My Tiny Biggest Fan

Before I was a college lecturer and before I was a game designer I was an animator. Before I was an animator I was an animation student. Before that I was an aspiring actor, but that's going a little bit too far back and irrelevant to this post.

In 1999 when I was finishing my college diploma I made this short film. It was my first ever 3D animation and unfortunately I never managed to top it with future efforts as eventually I realized I was just not passionate enough about animation.

Regardless, I'm still quite fond of this little gem. It features Daddy's and Papa's voices at the very end with most of the voice work done by our dear friend Tim who passed away six years later.

The best part? Blake loves this short animation and laughs out loud at key points where there are silly voices and noises. I find that to be beyond awesome. It's the best compliment I ever got for any of the work I have ever done. How could I know back then that my main target audience wasn't going to be born for another nine years?



My movie is from 1999, a whole year before the horror movie spoof by the same name came out. I chose that name as that was an unused alternate name for Scream when it was still in development.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

I'm Jewish But...

 I grew up believing in God. We weren't religious and for most of my life I didn't know what the inside of a synagogue looked like, but I believed in God simply because I was told he existed. Just like many young children grow up believing in Santa. How does that work? How come most children outgrow Santa, but not God? Both are fictional magical characters our parents tell us exist. Well, not mine as I'm Jewish, though my mother did actually have a little Christmas tree every year as a habit from growing up in Russia. We tell kids that God and Santa exist and then we patronize their silly childish behaviour when they tell us about a monster under their bed or their new imaginary friend. Regardless, Blake isn't going to grow up believing in Santa simply because I don't want to lie to him about stuff I don't believe in and more importantly, I want his parents to get all the credit for the gifts he's getting, not some old fat guy with red fur fetish.

Regardless,  the point is that I did believe in God. I'd try imagining what he looks like, what he's doing right now and what does he think about me. Do I stand out to him from all the other kids? Does he have anything special in store for me?

Then one day when I was about ten I chatted to one of the older kids in school who told me God didn't exist. I was amazed by his stupidity, but couldn't come up with any counter argument other than the fact that I thought God existed because I was told so. To demonstrate his point the kid said that if God exists He should strike him down with thunder right now to prove it. Nothing happened. Obviously God was either too busy, couldn't care less or simply had a rule against smiting stupid young boys. But it made me think. I haven't stopped thinking since.

I don't know if God exists. If he did have a plan for me and it included becoming Blake's father, then high-five, God. Well played. But I don't know. So many horrible things have happened under His watch to good people who believed in Him. For my family it was the holocaust where we lost lots of family members both on my and my husband's sides of the family, including many children. So if God does exist, I'm not sure I like him very much.

When Blake was born we were faced with an interesting situation. He wasn't technically Jewish as neither his biological mother or surrogate carrier were Jewish. The "proper" type of Judaism, the one recognized by the state of Israel, is the Orthodox type. For a baby to convert, it's really his parents who need to go through the conversion process by proving to be dedicated Jews which we're not. We'd fail it even before we start just for being a gay couple. So Blake isn't Jewish. What does it even mean? Who cares?

I used to care. I used to think that it was important that my kids should be Jewish, but for the love of Ann Heche's post-Ellen career I can't think why.  I guess because I was told so.

Blake was baptised so he's technically Christian. The only reason I went for it was because I like the idea of Godparents, especially the fact that his biological mother became his godmother.

If people ask me for my religion (and thankfully most people aren't that nosey and rude) the answer will usually be "I'm Jewish, but...". If Blake will asks me what religion we are (or more correctly, when he does) I'll tell him the truth in simple terms: we have Jewish background and he was baptised, but he can be whatever he wants.

Giving your child a choice regarding religion rather than shove your existing one down their throat. Now there's an idea!



With my luck he'll become a scientologist.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

YouTube of the Week: Betty Boop

I decided to start a new routine of sharing YouTube gems I really liked on my blog. To avoid spamming this blog and turning it into a YouTube channel I'll be limiting myself to one per week.

The first video I'd like to share is Betty Boop, M.D.

Like everyone else I was aware of Betty Boop as she's such a massive pop culture icon, but I didn't really know her cartoon other than the occasional few seconds clip here and there. When I was going to potentially work on a Betty Boop video game I did quite a bit of research on the character and found many of her old cartoons on YouTube. I fell in love right away. These totally un-PC cartoons are insane and they really don't make them like this anymore. They are imaginative, wild, surreal and utterly mad. The cool thing is, being a gay man I can proudly use my Betty Boop merchandise and get away with it.

Betty Boop M.D. is a fine example to Betty Boop at her best.

There are more cartoons in this playlist I created. Keep an eye out for Minnie the Moocher and Crazy Inventions, but most of them are worth watching. Love that stuff.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Babies Unleashed

There was a bit of a furore in one of the gay parents blog I'm following. You think it was about gays' rights to adopt or conceive children? About who are better parents, gays or lesbians? About who's the best American Idol finalist? Wrong, wrong, wrong.

It was about child leashes. You know, just like dog leashes only for children. It took place over at twomomswithaplan, the blog of a lesbian couple trying to conceive. It started with this post and was followed up with this one. In short, the writer didn't like the child leash and told off those who used it. This has attracted many replies from people who mostly disagreed with the statement and pointed out that they also didn't like the idea of a child leash at first, but changed their mind once their child reached a certain age. Some were offended by the fact that someone without kids was telling them how to raise theirs and were slightly rude. And... That's it. This is gay parent blog version of a flame war. Nice, isn't it? Nobody actually got to Godwin the discussion by comparing child leash users to Hitler.

Blake, growing up with two dog-brothers, is already part-dog.

My view? I still haven't used one of those things, but I don't rule it out. I'm sure my parents would've been grateful if this handy little thing had existed when I was a little one. I would always find any opportunity to slip away and escape. If my father let go of my hand for a second to scratch his nose, I was already miles away and hours would be spent finding me in the mall or theme park where I'd successfully ruin everyone's day, including my own. It's a miracle I didn't end up as roadkill or in some paedophile's basement collection.

You see, the complaint that toddlers shouldn't be treated like dogs has no merit. For one thing, toddlers are a lot more similar to dogs than they are similar to adults. They are utterly adorable, but most of them are easily distracted and don't know what's best for them. More importantly, both dogs and toddlers usually don't mind being leashed or at least don't view that as a humiliation (if they do, it's a different matter altogether). Leash a twelve year old and you're abusing him. Leash an eighteen year old and you're, well, kinky. But anyone below four is fair game, especially if they grow up being used to it and know other kids who use it.
 No, wait. He's not a dog. He's a tiger. Rawr.
When you think about it from a child's perspective it's the next best thing to actually running around free. The anti-leash camp offered other ways to handle a toddler: stroller, carrying, holding hands. All of these are very limiting to the child's movement, while with a leash he can stretch all his limbs and get far more freedom and a taste of independence.

That's not to say that they should be on a leash all day long and be tied to the doghouse outside when you get home. If you go to the park there's probably no need for a leash, but a busy shopping mall? A main street with lots of traffic? What happens if you have more kids than you have free hands? What if your kids have behavioural problems (which don't necessarily imply bad parenting)?

What bothered me with that post was the fact that the writer was criticizing other parents. To be honest, before I became a parent I also criticized other parents very readily. Now I know better not because I think all other parents are flawless (I'm certainly not, as you can see in the Parent of the Year posts), but because as a parent I was several times on the receiving end of criticism from people telling me how to raise my child and there are very few things in the world that are more annoying than that (Kara Dioguardi springs to mind). I guess a parent-to-be still hasn't had a taste of that and is therefore quicker to judge. Obviously if you see someone seriously harming their child, you should not only criticise them, you may also need to call the cops. There's a line somewhere and one should tread carefully. My as yet childless brother would every now and then criticize something I do and I would just brush him off with slight annoyance.

 Anyway, that was exciting. I can't wait for the next controversy. Maybe the pros and cons of putting your baby on a vegan diet? Arguing about how much TV toddlers could watch and from what age? The possibilities are endless!


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Global Warming.

I decided to expand the scope of my blog and talk about other important things like my views on global warming.

Global warming is bad.

Thank you. Tune in next week for my views on the financial crisis.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Homophobia, a Lesser Bigotry? The Sequel

It seems that I'm not going to run out of homophobic news items to talk about any time soon. This time a Bed & Breakfast guest house in England has turned away a couple once the owner realized they were gay.

 Michael Black and John Morgan, the "sinners".

The owner, Susanne Wilkinson, claimed that it was "against her convictions" for two men to share a bed.

Ms Wilkinson told the BBC: "They gave me no prior warning and I couldn't offer them another room as I was fully booked.

Oh really, Ms Wilkinson? So it would've been OK for them to stay in a room with twin beds? How would you know if they didn't bang each other on the carpet or in the shower? Is it literally men sharing a bed that bothers you or is it more about where they stick their willies? Oh my, Ms Wilkinson. how very unladylike of you to concern yourself with such intimate details.

The UK has its faults, but at least it's illegal under the Equality Act 2006 to discriminate against people on the grounds of sexual orientation. Sucks to be you Ms Wilkinson.

"I don't see why I should change my mind and my beliefs I've held for years just because the government should force it on me." She has whined incessantly. "I am not a hotel, I am a guest house and this is a private house."

Oh really? Do you have friends staying over with you for free, Ms Wilkinson, or are you accepting strangers as paid customers as a licensed business? A guest house is not a private house, it's a business that is open to the public.

The government doesn't tell you what to think. You can still think that gay people are evil, disgusting and with a one way ticket to hell. Nobody really cares what sort of nonsense is swirling around in that primitive brain of yours. But if you have a business that is open to the public and advertises on-line, you can't just discriminate and break the law. Sorry, the good old days are over. I'm sure lots of people are equally frustrated that they can't ban Jews and blacks from their place of business.

My heart is breaking.


 Looks nice, huh? Sorry, you can't go there if you're a fudge packer.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Moms VS Dads

Today at swimming class I was throwing Blake all over the place as usual. Splish-splash-sploosh. All the other little ones stopped whatever they were doing and were smiling at us. We were rocking the pool.

"I'm afraid mommy can't do that. This is a game you should do with daddy.' One mom said to her little girl, then turned to a fellow female next to her with a smile. 'Daddies get all the fun games. Mommies get the boring ones.'

Oh, you bet sister! In your face moms! One point for the guys. It's enough that you get the whole bonding by breast feeding stuff that I can only dream about. I mean, the emotional bonding that comes with it, I don't actually want to lactate. Ewww.

Well, to be honest, I wish I could get pregnant. Pregnancy complications and giving birth are scary, but I think it's a fair trade-off for the mind blowing experience of having a living creature grow inside you. I mean the good kind of living creature growing inside you, not the chest bursting alien kind. Not to mention that being able to get pregnant will make it much easier to have more babies which I would love to. As it is now it's a complicated and expensive process...

But nobody asks me. At the moment, putting aside the stupid Arnold Schwarzenegger movie,  it's not currently an option for a man to get pregnant. Good thing too, as having to get a vagina would be a deal breaker for me anyway.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

New domain.

The blog is now on instead of the old blogspot address. So this is a little test.

Looks like all the comments from all the old blog posts have been lost in the process. :(

My House Episode.

 I love House. I think it's a really clever TV that manages to succeed despite its very limited formula. Well, last week's episode, Black Hole, was the worst House episode ever with every single cliché the series has ever mastered. One wrong diagnosis after the other until House comes up with the answer when talking about something else entirely. Oh, the diagnostics team are all heart surgeons now as well! And they manage to expertly operate a sci-fi device that transform subconscious thought into videos. Very tedious, stupid and unenjoyable despite a few funny lines of dialogue and the usual good acting. I hope they get their act together next week.

I wrote my own House episode and managed to stick it into one comic panel:

 Click to enlarge

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The iPhone taster.

Seven months after Blake was born I got my second baby, my iPhone. Back then Blake showed very little interest in it. He'd chew it if I placed it in his hands,  contributing the first few scratches to the screen, but I found that the best way to avoid that was to NOT place it in his hands. Well, maybe just a couple of times to take cute photos.

And that was it for a while.

Many months later, when Blake was about 15-16 months he fell in love with the iPhone once he realized he can watch his Baby Einsteins on it. This revelation came at a great time for us. Blake used to be fantastic in restaurants and  would be very well behaved, but one day it was as if a switch was flicked and he'd get bored very quickly and would demand to be let out of his seat and zoom around the restaurant and, preferably, outside. The portable Baby Einstein shut him up for a while and we could once again enjoy eating our meal peacefully. That is, of course, until it stopped working. Babies change all the time and by the time you get used to one version it's suddenly gone and replaced with an unpredictable alien from outer space. So now the iPhone distracts him for only a few minutes and then I once again must chase him all over the place. If I'm lucky I'll get to run past our table and stick a forkful of food into my mouth as I pass by. It's a good diet.

I downloaded some baby applications for him which he enjoyed watching me use. One involves clicking on one of several illustrations of animals to have it grow bigger and play the sound that animal makes. Another application shows animated bubbles and shapes you can pop and manipulate and let's the baby interact with a teddy and a butterfly. It took him a while to figure out the touch screen as touching the flat screen provides no tactile feedback like when you press a button and feel it click. But eventually he figured it out and now my iPhone must be hidden at all times or the little tyke will demand it and get it. I just can't say no to him.  I'm amazed that he's now going to grow up taking something like a touch screen for granted when the concept is still a little bit sci-fi to me. He discovered the big clicky button and loves pressing it even though it kicks him out of whatever game or movie he's watching and he'll come back to me again and again to request I load it back, only to press the big clicky button again. The vicious circle of "I-do-what-I-want-and-you-also-do-what-I-want".

So we eventually got him his own iPod Touch. Yeah, lucky baby. Everything was great and we were all happy.

Until he murdered his iPod in cold blood.

He would sometimes stick it in his mouth and suck on it. I'd tell Blake off and he'll stop. One day I didn't notice it in time and when I picked up the iPod it wouldn't turn on and there was a decent amount of liquid behind the screen. Obviously the little scientist decided to see how much spit he could fit inside the machine. I hoped it might dry and get better, but no such luck. His iPhone became on big expensive pacifier.

Now you'd think that I learned from the incident and keep my iPhone away from Blake no matter what, right? WRONG. I can't say no to that little cuddle-pie. He loves his games and plays them so nicely. I just do my best to supervise him when he plays, but he'd often steal the phone under my nose. and run away with it. Just the other day Miron saved my iPhone from being baptised in the dogs' water bowel. 

Yesterday I found my phone on the floor. I picked it up and it wouldn't turn on. With dread gripping my heart I tried connecting it to the charger. Maybe the battery was dead? No response. What am I going to do on the tube ride to work if I can't watch Desperate Housewives? Read?! Then I realized that the phone was on, but the screen was just very very dark. I placed it under direct light and even then could only see a very very dark shadow of the display. That was not good... There was no sound and I couldn't make any phone calls. It also didn't show any signs of charging. My phone was dying and there was nothing I could do to save it. Just cradle it in my warm hands and sing to it softly as it passes on to the big phone charger in the sky where evil toddlers won't hurt him ever again.

Have no fear, there is a happy ending. Like a crappy Disney movie, just when it looked like it was about to go dark forever, the screen brightened up and it came back to life. The sound came back later  as well and while it was a bit flickery and clunky, my iPhone is pretty much back to normal now. The big round button now needs to be pressed really hard, but I'll count my blessings. 

Now I know better and Blake will never touch my iPhone ever again.

Unless he really wants to, of course.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

I'm Your Brother from Another Mother

When I was ten I found out that I have a big sister when my mother decided to finally share that information  with me and my brother. Her name was Olga and she is twelve years older than me. She is from my father's previous marriage. Won't get into too much detail to keep my family's privacy. It's my blog, not theirs.

As a ten year old I was quite excited by the idea of having a big sister. Suddenly my big thuggish brother wasn't so big. He was a whole decade younger than our older sibling. He was a middle child! I had fantasies of one day reuniting with her and doing lots of cool things together like, I don't know, stuff. But as I grew older and actually had the ability to attempt tracking her down I slowly gave up on the idea. What if she was growing up thinking the new man her mother married was her real father? What if she was happy with things just the way they were? Suddenly I'll burst into her life and dump this huge revelation on her? What if she was anti-semite? Or a homophobe? Or into Danielle Steel novels? She may share a biological father, but we weren't both raised by him. We had nothing in common. For all intents and purposes we were strangers. So I gave up on the idea entirely. Or so I thought. When asked how many siblings I had, I'd always say one brother and one half sister.

A few weeks ago my mother called and I was going to tell her excitedly how Blake's first swimming lesson went when she told me that my sister contacted them and she's a professor in university and her two children are...

I stopped her in disbelief and demanded the whole story. My sister knew about my dad and looked him up on the internet and found his brother on a Russian social networking website, who called my mother right away.

I popped onto the Russian website and created my own account there. Russian is technically my mother tongue, but I was struggling a bit, relying shamefully on Google Translate. I introduced myself, allowing myself to be a bit friendly and gushing. She did after all took the first step, so I think she deserved some warmth. She replied almost instantly and was also gushing. We hit it off and exchanged various e-mails. We both took great pleasure in calling each other "brother" and "sister".

For me the most amazing thing was the instant nephews for me and instant cousins for Blake. My nephews are fifteen and twenty one. I've been an uncle for most of my life and I didn't even know that!

I'm so grateful that she decided to track us down with the little information she had. My father has no internet presence at all and the only reason his brother was on that website for Olga to find was sheer luck. A few weeks earlier his American sister-in-law created his account for him when she was visiting.

My father and my sister have reconnected and have become great friends, that's all I'm going to say about their relationship. Olga is going to Israel to visit my dad a day before my birthday. I wish I could go, but I'm teaching during term time and I'd be just coming back from our planned trip to Canada and the US. Maybe I could see her in the summer. Saint Petersburg is not a place to visit in the winter.

I was worried for a bit about her reaction to the fact that I'm gay, as Russia isn't well known for it's tolerance of gay people. Especially since there was a silence for a couple of days after I sent her some wedding photos. I decided I had to tell her about it right away. There was no point in coming out to her months later. This is me and I'm part of this family. She wants in? This is it. Finding my sister after all these years only to be rejected by her because I'm gay was an unpleasant thought, but it turned out to be just my mind over-thinking things as usual. Olga had no problem with any of that and is delighted to find out that she is an aunt.

So I'm Olga's brother from another mother. Literally.

Gay marriage, surrogate baby, long lost sister... My life is officially a soap.


A Big Sister from Bioshock 2 (my big sister is nicer)

Friday, March 12, 2010

What Is His Daddy Doing?

Today we were a bit late to the swimming class due to traffic, which was a shame as usually we're quite early and get to steal a few extra minutes of splashing fun. I quickly got Blake and me down to our swimming gear and got into the water. 

We missed about five minutes and it was the time for blowing bubbles. The moms, wary of wetting their hairdoos, would just put their lips underwater and blow gentle bubbles. I, on the other hand, stick my entire head underwater and blow out as much air as I can, unleashing a violent cluster of bubbles that tickle Blake's tummy and gently pop in his face. Everytime I'll come up for air I'll be greeted with Blake's laughing face. Considering my version is so much more exciting, I would also get the occasional attention of the other kids. This time it was a cute little girl who commented about it to her mom. The mom smiled at me and said to her daughter "What is his daddy doing?"

Now, a small and tired voice in my head encouraged me to correct her and tell her that I wasn't "daddy", I was "papa". Daddy was a completely different person in his life. Then a louder voice told the tired voice to shut the hell up. What was the point in telling her that? I would have to get into the whole being gay parents thing and why would I want to get into that with a stranger? Maybe if she looked like someone really interesting and I could use that as an ice breaker to get a conversation going, but certainly not during a swimming lesson. There's obviously nothing offensive in someone assuming I'm Blake's daddy just like there's nothing offensive in assuming that the wedding ring on my finger means that I have  a wife.

Eventually I can see Blake himself replying in confusion, saying something like "that's not daddy, that's papa!" He'd probably think that the person calling me daddy must be a complete idiot. But I can see even him stopping to care once he figures out why people make that assumption: most kids don't have a papa, just a daddy. Instead of a papa they have a mommy. Some kids have a mommy and a mama.

It reminds of a fairly similar situation we witnessed with our surrogate. We became great friends and would hang out quite a bit before, during and after the pregnancy. She even attended our wedding and sat with her husband at the family table allowing Blake to be there too as a foetus. About a week before the birth we met up at a restaurant for lunch. The waitress took our order and then smiled at the surrogate's four year old girl and said something nice about the little brother or sister in mommy's belly. The little girl didn't react to that at all. She didn't smile or looked confused. Her mother explained that she gets it all the time now and got used to it. She understands why people assume it's her sibling in that tummy, because that's her mother, but she also knows that mommy is helping another couple have a baby.

Just goes to show how adaptive children are. When they are young they don't have all the mental baggage we old folks have. They are ready to accept pretty much anything which is only one more reason why they are such wonderful creatures.

Papa Smurf, my real inspiration

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Baby Clips

I decided to dust off a couple of old-ish videoclips of Blake. I mentioned before the bitter-sweet fact that as your baby grows up, so many different versions of him appear out of nowhere only to be gone forever at the next growth spurt. While still images are great, they don't quite capture the essence of a person. Seeing someone move, talk, laugh... It's completely different.

So as I see these videos I suddenly miss all these wonderful and adorable Blakes I met along the way, but at the same time I remind myself not to take for granted the Blake I have right now as he will also vanish sooner rather than later when the new Blake will manifest. Before I'll know it he'll be a grown up and this baby version will only exist in pictures and videos.

I remember my mother telling me how much she misses me as a baby. I told her that it was silly as I was still me and gave her a big hug. She said with a sad smile that it's not the same. Only now I understand what she meant.

OK, now I'm on the verge of depressing myself so I'll stop. Happy thoughts! Chocolate, sushi, Mexican food, horror movies, Blake, pandas, Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in the original trilogy (mmm...). OK, I feel better.

This is Blake at 10 months, one of his first times on a swing.

 This is Blake at 11 months. I would make the most idiotic noises to make him laugh. I can't think of a better reason to look like an idiot. I'd always need to come up with something new as old material didn't seem to work as well.

This is Blake the day after his birthday. I swear to God he changed overnight because that was the first time I met this version of him.

So that was the first year. In about two and a half months will be celebrating his second birthday. At the same time it feels like a million years ago and only yesterday, if that makes any sense. I cherish every moment of it.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Homophobia, a Lesser Bigotry?

A mini controversy is doing the rounds in the media and various gay blogs regarding a Catholic school in Denver kicking out the child of a lesbian couple. A popular response, even from gay people, was "why would any gay parents want to send their children to a religious school anyway? Especially Catholic?".

Which is missing the point entirely.

The question should be, what kind of outrage would there be if a school kicked out a white child because he had adoptive black parents? I can see riots in the streets in response. Some people must be rolling their eyes as they read this analogy. Obviously it's not the same thing, right?

Well, it is. It is most certainly exactly the same thing. It's only not the same thing if you're one of the people who believe that being gay is a choice that only sinners make. Being gay I can assure you that I can't help being gay more than Michael Jackson couldn't help being black (oops, bad example). Anyway, my point is, gay people can't stop being gay. The only thing they can do is oppress themselves (as many sadly do) which isn't healthy or fair.

It's true that most Catholics have an issue with gay people, but to be honest I, pardon my French, don't give a shit. I'm technically Jewish, but I don't really follow any religion. For me the difference between a "religion" and a "cult" is how long it's been around and how many people follow it. If a new religion will pop out tomorrow and will declare that according to their views Asians are filthy and evil would anyone tolerate their views out of respect to their faith? It's fine to have your own spiritual make-believe views about the world as long as you don't hurt other people. Kicking out two children just because their parents are gay is certainly very hurtful to the parents, their kids and gays in general.

Additionally, gay people have the right to be spiritual and even religious. I don't get it personally, but sure, why not? Also, why assume that they have gay sex? Like many married couples they might not be having any sex whatsoever for years. Is the school so nosey regarding the sex life of the rest of the parents? Are they sure none of the "straight" parents cheated on their spouses or, God forbid, are closeted gays who hook up on the internet once in a while? The more they focus on the lesbians' sex life as the reason for their actions, the more ridiculous they look. Maybe they should form a special volunteer force that will keep track of all the parents' genitals?

So don't ask me if the Sacred Heart of Jesus parish school has the right to kick out the kids of gay parents. The question should be, do they have the right to kick out the kids of any minority group?

The Archbishop of Denver, Charles J. Chaput, is a disgusting hateful backward bigot for defending the move. There's not much I can do regarding this issue other than voice my disgust and hope that common sense, compassion and justice will win in the long run.


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Panda Playtime

Last night was a bit rough with Blake being a bit ill and I wrote a whole blog post about it only to decide it was a bit overindulgent and generic. Baby was a bit sick and kept us up. News at eleven. I guess the main thing to take from it is the fact that it's so rare that he's sick and we're so lucky and that Blake, who ended up spending the night in bed with Daddy and Papa, is back to his good old edible self. I had a rough night and was a bit sick myself, but insisted on going to work anyway only to have a pigeon shit on my head. Oh well, should have stayed in bed.

Then I thought I'd have a furious gay activist post about the Catholic school that kicked out the boy of a lesbian couple, but after last night and a whole day of teaching I just can't think straight (ha ha, unintentional pun, honest!).

So instead I'll do something I have no idea why I haven't done before on the blog: share these panda videos we took in China!

We went to China in May 2007 just at the right time. We've been to Tibet a year before the riots and Chengdu a year before the earthquake. We were all over the place and it was wonderful. It was also in China where our surrogate contacted us for the first time by e-mail which made the trip even more special. But surely the highlight was the visit to the Panda reserve in Chengdu.

On our arrival our guide informed us that for a "donation" we can hold a panda cub. We happily paid and got to take turns holding a panda cub while sitting on a wooden bench.

It was just amazing. They brought over what looked like a big stuffed toy. "Is it real?" we had to ask several time. Maybe they were just taking the piss. But no, it was real! It was sturdy and heavy, but also soft. The fur smelled wonderfully and was so white and clean.

It was over so quickly and Miron immediately suggested that we should pay again. I can't remember the exact amount, but it wasn't cheap. I thought he was kidding, but he wasn't. Why the hell not? How often were we going to get this opportunity? We expected to be led to the bench again, but the workers were so impressed with our passion that they led us to the cub's play area where we go to play with several nine months old cubs and feed them slices of apple. This was the happiest moment of my entire life. All my worries and problems were wiped away completely.

More and more Panda cubs joined us. Soon they got bored with the apple slices and started playfully mauling us. Their paws were basically metal gloves wrapped in leather. Their grip was bordering on terrifying. For a moment I could imagine the headline "British tourists mauled to death by panda cubs in China". The workers immediately peeled the cubs off us and led us out. I really hoped one of the pandas will cut me deep enough to scar (how cool is it to have a panda scar?), but no such luck...

I talked to them about coming back next year on my 30th birthday to volunteer, but that time next year Blake was about to be born and I had to give up any aspirations to hang out with pandas. Maybe in a few years I can go back there with Blake.

Who is, incidentally, one of the fewest things in the world cuter than a panda cub.


Sunday, March 07, 2010

Perfect Day

Friday was a lovely and busy day, most of it unplanned.

In the morning we had a swimming lesson as usual. I teach on Tuesdays and Wednesdays which is a bit tiring, so I usually have a nice big nap on Thursday. This Thursday my nap was too good and I couldn't fall asleep for a long time. So  I had to do my usual morning routine with Blake and the dogs and head out to the swimming lesson with a little over three hours of sleep. 

Once we got to the school I opened the door to take Blake out of the car as well as the bag with all our stuff, only to find out that while I packed everything we needed, I left the bag at home. D'oh! I glanced at the school across the street and I looked at Blake. He was ready to hop out of his seat and get some action. What was I to do? If we drive back home to get the bag, by the time we'll get back the lesson will be finished. So no lesson this week? That meant that instead of one week between lessons, it'll be two. In baby time two weeks is like two years. I couldn't possibly be that cruel to him. How bad was it? We were both ready under our clothes: I wore swimming trunks and Blake had his disposable Swimmers on. So we didn't have a towel, we could dry ourselves with my t-shirt. I don't have underwear, but I can always go commando (shh... Don't tell anyone). It only left the problem of Blake's diaper change for after the swim.

Then I realized that wasn't a problem after all. I suddenly remembered that exactly for that reason I used to stick diapers everywhere, just in case. And indeed I did find a couple of diapers tucked away behind one of the seats and they were still big enough even though Blake has recently moved from stage +4 to 5.

So off we went in. I don't know if the moms have been reading my blog, but I felt an even colder shoulder from some (maybe they think that the fact that I choose to spend the time playing with my son rather than chat to them about shopping means that I'm a snob). Just my imagination, I'm sure. The second group had two dads this time, though one of them had something on his skin, I think the medical term is "weird yucky stuff", so I'm glad I didn't have to share a pool with him. Having three dads in one day meant that this time the boys' changing room was indeed the boys' and I didn't have to worry too much about being walked in on. We rinsed quickly, towelled with my t-shirt, got dressed, rushed to the car, drove quickly home and had a proper shower. By the way, when my husband read my original swimming lessons post he said I came across as a bitch. Nice! I don't do that nearly enough. If you don't let your inner bitch out once in a while, she's going to shred your innards.

We have Sam staying with us right now. He's Miron's Godson and Blake's Godfather. Yeah, it's a bit of Godinbreeding, especially when you consider that Blake's bio-mom is also his Godmother. Since the day was nice I suggested we'll go to the London Eye (a massive Ferris wheel in the heart of London),  something I haven't done in a while. Blake loved it, but was a bit overwhelmed as you can see.

Looking out at the views was interesting, but he was far more interested in exploring the inside of the capsule. There was a nice bench in the middle to climb over, a cute six year old blonde with a pink bag and some very interesting women to ogle. He flirted with them and even got an Italian lady to pick him up and give him a long cuddle. I was tiny bit embarrassed by his forwardness (I wouldn't go as far as calling him a cuddle slut - oops, I just did), but she insisted it was fine. Who wouldn't want to cuddle with Blakey?


Miron waited below and suggested we should visit the aquarium right next door. Why not? We already took Blake to the zoo once, but not an aquarium. It was quite exciting even for us with plenty of things to see. In fact, by the end of it we were rushing by most of the displays stopping only at the really interesting ones. Blake enjoyed the sea life, but showed equal interest in the flooring, lighting and various decorations. He rushed busily all over the place, but was eventually picked up when he showed signs of tiredness. A great time to go for dinner, right? Wrong. As soon as we got into a nearby Chinese restaurant he got his second wind and I had to run after him the entire time with the exception of the few short moments when he chewed yummy food. Fortunately Sam was there to chase after Blake for a while to give me a few precious moments to wolf down my food.

On the way back home in the car Blake zonked out as expected. He woke up just long enough to drink his bottle and watch a bit of Baby Einstein before retiring for the night without any protest.

What a wonderful day it was full of simple pleasures. The kind of day that reminds you why we do what we do. Why we put up with all the crap in life: for those few rare moments of genuine happiness.

Life is good.


Saturday, March 06, 2010

Love Hurts

Loving Great Dane hurts. There is no doubt about it. Even if your dogs are the most obedient canines on the planet, you might still be on the receiving end of an (unintentional) head butt, an (unintentional) elbow or (unintentional) tail whip.

My dogs are not the worst dogs in the world, they do know and obey the commands "sit" and "eat this yummy snack", but not much more. I could argue that I'm simply letting them be free spirits as I don't like to program living creatures to do my bidding like slaves, but I'll be lying. If I could, I'll make the entire planet my slave. From tiny little ants to sperm whales, everyone will dedicate their lives to serve me. But I digress (happens a lot to me recently, must be an age thing). The real reason my dogs are wild animals is because I'm just too lazy to train them properly.

Now it's one thing to have a disobedient little pooch. Now imagine a wild beast weighing 80 kilos. Now imagine two of them. Now stop imaging, we're done. Both my husband and I paid the price for our laziness by being dragged around by the dogs, smashed into the ground or just break a finger or crack a rib. The most fun was being dragged across a road by the two hounds to say hello to a boxer across the street. It was fun because we were lucky enough not to be run over by any car.

We had Kato and Leo together for several years. Kato and Leo completed each other: Kato was old and relaxed and Leo was crazy and young. They balanced each other. When Kato passed away we got Leo a new puppy and suddenly we had two crazy and young dogs. Leo is already four and a half, but you wouldn't know it from his puppy-like behaviour and Dexter would probably diagnosed as insane by any dog psychologist. He is utterly mad. Whatever part of his mind is not mad is just stupid.

Needless to say we broke down and got a dog trainer to spend the day with the dogs. I can't say I got a lot from her, but at least she recommended this magic product, Gentle Leader headcollars. The website offer this fantastic description:
Millions of dog owners today enjoy the benefits of stress-free walks thanks to the Gentle Leader Headcollar. Designed so that owners can communicate with their pet in a way they instinctively understand, the Gentle Leader painlessly and effectively removes the dog’s natural tendency to pull by placing gentle pressure on calming points and eliminating uncomfortable pressure on the throat. In addition to reducing a dog’s desire to pull away, the Gentle Leader is also a very effective tool in combating lunging, jumping, excessive barking and helping to calm an aggressive and/or anxious animal.
That's not a headcollar! It's magic!

I've been using the Gentle Leaders on both my dogs for a while now, enough to form my own opinion. Today, for example, I took the woofers for a morning walk and they suddenly saw two little dogs they wanted to play with. They started pulling and I pulled back. The Gentle Leader worked! I was yanked off my feet and dragged around, but it was a very smooth ride. I was gently led by the dogs through the mud with no real injuries to show for it.

So, not only is it useless in helping you to subdue your dogs, it also fails in other areas. Calm an anxious animal? The requirement to wear a Gentle Leader makes Dexter anxious more than anything else. He's been wearing a Gentle Leader now for most of his short life and it's still a struggle to put it on him before every walk. I think I might stop.

It's my dogs' fault, really. They just don't know how to respond to the Gentle Leader because they haven't read the product description. You think Google Translate is going to add a canine option to the languages?


Thursday, March 04, 2010

Swimming Lessons

I don't like mothers.

No, wait. That's a terrible opening. Right away many mothers I do like, let alone love, pop into mind: my mother, my sister, Blake's bio-mom and Mrs. Walsh from Beverly Hills 90210 (just kidding with that last one). Let me get that outrageous attention grabbing opening line in context.

Blake started swimming lessons this term, right when snow storms were very atypically ravaging London. His first lesson was cancelled as the school the class was taking place at was shut.

To get there I need to drive, something that I'm not very keen on. I passed my test after five attempts, but I'm still a nervous driver. To make things worse I have to make a right turn on the Apex Corner roundabout, which I came to refer to as my nemesis. That's actually a good thing, as being forced to do it on a weekly basis is helping me become a better driver. Still, the first couple of times I had to do it alone were nerve wracking since I wasn't alone, I had Blakey-pie with me. But this post isn't about my driving, it's about swimming lessons for babies (and apparently mother hating), so I should probably get back on track. 

On the first lesson I was a bit lost and got in halfway through the lesson. I had to quickly change and walk into the pool with Blake. He was very confused and worried. As I mentioned before, his first encounter with a large body of water was the Caribbean Sea, so a big bathtub full of treated water must have been fairly unattractive in comparison. Still, Blake loves his bath-time and once he realized this was a giant bathtub he really got into it. The instructor lady was kind enough to let us stay half of the next lesson with the older group because we were late.

I'm the only male parent in my group (I once saw another guy in the second group) which is why the ladies have decided to take over both changing rooms. There is some logic in that: each group leaves a lot of clutter and when the 10pm group arrives to change there'll be complete chaos if they dumped their coats, bags and clothes on top of the ones from the 9.30pm group. This means that I have to change in the 10pm group's changing room once all those ladies have gone to the pool with their little ones. Now my greatest fear is that a late arrival will walk in on me soaping my naked body. Well, actually I really don't care personally who sees me naked. I really do have no shame, really. I just try to spare them the embarrassment.

This is NOT the pool the lessons take place in. Though it's not much bigger.

Yeah, yeah. I'm getting to the part about mothers and disliking them. I just don't get it. Being gay I'm supposed to get along with girls and gossip about boys and shopping, but only if I was a gay American TV character. In reality all gays aren't alike and some of us do not thrive on a symbiotic relationship with a fag-hug. I can totally get along with a woman if we share interests like movies, TV shows, videogames... But not because we're both attracted to men. It doesn't play any factor, which is why I also don't have a disproportionate number of gay friends. I know many gay people who surround themselves with a gay circle of friends, but I don't get it personally.

At the beginning of each lesson I go into the water right away and start having fun with Blake. Sometimes even 15 minutes before the start time. I could hear the women taking their time, chatting away in their changing room. They would then go into the water, holding their toddler to their side and carry on yacking. While I swoosh a giggling Blake around, their bored babies cling to them with only their toes in the water. What do they talk about? I really can't remember as my brain switches off as soon as catch a snippet of conversation. I ignore them and carry on playing with Blake. He loves when I help him jump into the water and he's already very good at holding on to the metal bar surrounding the pool with his feet against the wall.

It's usually talk about skinny jeans, how they have their hair done every Friday after the swimming lesson because the pool water is so nasty, about their latest or upcoming holiday and so on. 

During the lesson there are breaks in between exercises in which the ladies immediately resume chattering while holding their babies to their sides. Isn't this supposed to be the babies' time? Shouldn't their attention be almost entirely focused on the little ones? The most uncomfortable moment was when one mother was completely ignoring her baby's pleas as she was trying to get a purple ducky that was just a little out of reach. From behind the mother's back I nudged the duck a bit to make it float nearer.

I would occasionally try to strike a conversation with a random woman, but it never develops into  natural banter. One mother smiled at us  and said something about Blake that I don't remember. Then he stuck his thumb in his mouth and she immediately said to her baby "What is he doing? We don't do that. We don't do that." My reply was immensely rude. Just as well it never left my lips and remained in my head.

At least two of the mothers were Israeli and spoke Hebrew, so I refrained from using Hebrew with Blake in front of them. The last thing I wanted was to start a conversation about that. Sharing a nationality with someone is also not something that makes me feel instantly close to someone.

I don't like the swimming lessons. Not the drive over, not the pathetic water pressure in the shower or most of the mothers there. But Blake loves it and it's all about him. So I'm really looking forward to going there with him tomorrow morning.



Just like I said that not all gays are alike, obviously not all mothers are the same. Many are totally awesome.  Peace.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Japan: It's Not Funny Anymore.

I stumbled across this article in Kotaku today. Scrolling quickly through it I was turned off by its epic length and decided it wasn't worth reading. But then a couple of paragraphs caught my eye and I found myself reading it all the way from the beginning. It was truly fascinating.

Japan is a weird country and I was always curious about it. I'm by no means a Japanophile. I'm not into Manga or Anime with very few exceptions (The Battle Royale Manga is sublime), I love Japanese food, but not as much as Mexican and while I enjoy Japanese videogames, I can't say I like them more than western videogames. 

Still, I was curious enough about Japan to learn the language  for four years before (temporarily?) giving up. The plan was for me to visit Japan on my 30th birthday, but Blake's birth threw a wrench in the works. My real dream was to live in Japan for a year or more, but with a baby, husband and two dogs that's impossible to do now, unless we all move together which is even less likely than Miley Cyrus still having a career in twenty years.

But after reading Tim Roger's article I suspect that a two weeks visit would've been more than enough. I always thought Japanese culture was quirky, but reading this makes me suspect it's leaning more towards creepy. I wouldn't know for sure until I lived there myself, but the Japanese people I met outside of Japan were all lovely and adorable.

Kotaku's editors could put a bit more effort into proofreading and the attempt to link every singe category to videogames is a bit unnecessary, but it's still a fantastic read.

So yeah, this column is long, but you kinda wish it went on for longer. Could even be the foundation for a very interesting book.



I lied. I haven't read it all. It's too long. I got as far as the hostess bars. I'll read the rest tomorrow.

Parent of the Year Award Part 2

I posted the first part back in November, so part 2 is long overdue. Incidently, since then there are a couple of fairly fresh anecdotes to join the pile. It's a listing of various dumb mistakes, some dumber than others, that I have made as a parent. Those delicious "what the hell was I thinking" moments that make you beat yourself up, often more than you deserve. Fortunately I haven't managed to top my running-on-slippery-floor-while-holding-a-baby story, so I guess I'm fairly successful at undumbing.

After Blake started walking days before his first birthday, as expected, he also started falling. We babyproofed the housed as best as we could, including plastic corners for the coffee table, but Blake would just bite those plastic corners until they fell off. Then he'd trip and manage to aim his face directly at the corners, resulting in bruises and one cut that bled a bit and caused us to rush to the hospital for the first time only to have some medical glue applied to the tiny cut. It may have been tiny, but even months later there's still a tiny pink scar left. My mother tells me that I was worse and that as a toddler I was so banged up she could never take any photos of me. I kinda wish I did have banged up baby pictures.

We installed a baby gate only at the top of the stairs as placing one at the bottom made for a far worse tripping hazard for us, especially when we carried Blake. We did a very good job keeping it shut most of the time. Yeah, most. One day I came up with hot porridge and reached the gate. I placed the porridge on the a post while I opened the gate. A big loud "Nooo!" Came from Miron's study. I rushed in to see Blake escape the room the way he always did after being confronted with a crime he commited. Turns out he grabbed a mug full of tea and swung it around, getting tea on the table and leather sofas. I quickly started dabbing the wet areas for some damage control when Miron looked back over my shoulder and said in panic "the stairs!" I looked back and saw that I left the gate open, but Blake wasn't anywhere near it.

"Where is Blake?" I asked, confused by Miron's overreaction. Then I got it. He was already tumbling down the stairs. I ran to the gate and watched him tumble down the rest of the way until he reached the floor and lay there crying. I ran down the stairs screaming his name. I picked him up and rocked him to calm him down. I immediately realized he was OK. The stairs were carpetered and soft and he was tumbling down quite slowly, trying to stop himself several times along the way.

Since then he developed a very careful technique to crawl up the stairs which he then upgraded to crawling down the stairs in reverse. He's now extra careful when approaching not only stairs, but also curbs. I guess they have to get hurt once in a while to understand the concqeunces of being careless in the real world. At least that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

The next incident up for nomination happened in June when we went to Barbados. We got a lovely house on the beach for a week as a birthday present for Miron and we decided to fill it with our friends, including Blake's biological mother and his half brother, which was great fun. Blake's first encounter with a body of water bigger than his bath was the Caribbean Sea. Smooth, beautiful and clear. I stuck his floating wings on and dashed into the water as soon as we got to the house. I was so excited for him. The water felt nice and we were just standing there, enjoying it. Well, at least I did. Blake looked a bit confused. He was stripped out of his clothes, been put in a swimming diaper and was taken into this massive bathtube without edges. It was a lot to take in.

Though he wasn't just confused, he was also uncomfortable. Suddenly I noticed that his fingers were getting a bit blue. That didn't make any sense, the water wasn't cold at all. How could... My eyes widened in terror when I realized what happened. I waded out of the water as fast as I could. As soon as we were on dry land I yanked off his floating wings. They were  on too tight and stopped his blood circulation. As soon as I took them off he was fine. Phew. His arms falling off on the first day would've totally ruined the holiday. Blake did manage to trip a few days later and chip one of his front teeth though. A really small bit broke off and that was it. He'll have to wait a few years before getting a new one!

There's more, but that will have to wait for part 3. Hopefully by the time I get around to writing part 3 I won't already have enough material for part 4.


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Plants VS Zombies VS Mickey

I don't often write movie and game reviews, and I'm not going to start now. This is not really a review as much as a list of suggestions for improvements. The sort of suggestions I would make for internal projects in development the way I did when working in the games industry. Being a designer I almost always think "I wish they did x and didn't do y" when playing videogames, but rarely am I bothered to write it down. I don't expect the people at Popcap to read this and/or implement it. It's more of a cathartic excercise for myself after I've gone cold turkey from game design for nearly two years now. Obviously some of my suggestions won't make much sense to people who haven't played the game.

I'll start by saying that I adore Plants VS Zombies. Even Miron, who usually wouldn't play anything other than Zuma, got hooked and finished it. The game is adorable and addictive. Blake loves the end credits song with the dancing zombies and even attempted to say "Sunflower" as his first word (came out more like safa, but still a good effort). I finished every single challenge in the game on the Mac and recently got and beat the iPhone version. If you have an iPhone get it right now. It is hands down the best game on the apps store right now even with all of its imperfections. It's also great on PC and Mac.

And now come the suggestions. Firstly, aimed specifically at the iPhone version. Considering the game has been so faithfully recreated on the iPhone, why have they removed the mini-games and trophies? The mini-games still appear in the main story mode, but not in their own category with extra levels. Maybe there was a good reason to cut them out, but they were still sorely missed. The prices of plants in the shop haven't been adjusted, so now you have to grind for money in story mode levels which is slow and dull. One quick fix would be to just lower the prices of plants. I finished story mode twice and I'm still a few plants short. The zen garden is missing too, but I can see why it won't work very well on the iPhone.

The achievements are a nice addition, but I wish there were more of them and that they were a bit more sophisticated. A few of them are nice (finish a night level without mushrooms or a roof level without catapults), but there aren't enough of them. There is also no achievement for finishing the game for a second time, oddly enough.

Another problem is the fact that even though there's a huge variety of plants, some of them are overpowered and once you figure out which ones, you won't touch any of the others and the game will become ridiculously easy. It's still quite fun playing with each new plant and find out on your own which plants are more effective, but once you figured it out, it really hurts replayability. I wish there was a hard mode with more aggressive attack patterns and less plants slots so you would have to be far more careful in choosing which plants to pick. The endless mode on the PC/Mac provided this kind of frenzy in the later levels, but I wish the main game also had a bit of that. As it is now I rarely lose a level or even get close to that. As a result it's a fairly relaxing experience rather than an adrenaline rush.

Another problem is the lack of scoring. It doesn't matter if you conquer the level or just about scrape through, your efforts won't be recognized. A ranking system would be nice and will encourage people to replay levels for a better ranking. Ranking score will depend on how much sun you have left in the bank, how many of the plants you planted have survived, how many lawnmowers you still have left and how fast you cleared the level. Using the rake to kill the first zombie will hurt your score. Maybe add a special bonus objective for each level that goes towards the main score. Suddenly it's not about surviving the level, it's about mastering it. Obviously the ranking will also affect the cash reward for beating the level.

It could be argued that this would make the game too hardcore, but I disagree. A separate hard mode is optional, no one is forced to play it. And a ranking system can also be disregarded by people who just want to plough through the game.

Damn it. I almost managed to get through without any gardening puns. Sorry.

Anyway, it's a great game. I just want it to last longer and have features that will keep me coming back for more.

Bring on the sequel!


3/3 Update: I posted a link to this blog post on the PvZ Facebook group. This was the reply from whoever runs the page:

"Thank you for sharing! We did indeed read your suggestions/thoughts regarding the game - and we hope to be able to update the iPhone version in the future!"

10/3 Update: It looks like some people find my blog by googling a solution for the night level without mushrooms achievement. So here's a short guide. Don't bother with it before you finished the game once and unlocked lots of plants. Then from the quick play menu select the first and easiest night time level. Don't use any mushrooms, obviously. Use sunflower (and double sunflower) to pick up sun and use a combo of cheap and expensive plants. Corn is useful to slow down enemies. Use the squash on tougher enemies and those who get too close. You may want to use the garlic in the middle so then you only need to worry about defending four lanes instead of five. Lastly, make sure you buy the garden rake to give you more time to plant sunflowers. I always go for two lines of sunflowers at the very end (ten in total). Good luck!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Videogames portrayal in TV shows.

Some people will argue that watching too much TV will make you stupid. That's partly accurate. If you use prime-time TV shows to learn about the real world, you will irreparably damage your brain. Then again, the dumber you get, the more enjoyable TV shows become. If you know nothing about medicine, law and basic science, shows like CSI, Grey's Anatomy and Ally McBeal feel believable. But as soon as TV shows start dealing with something you know a lot about, the believability crumbles away.

In my case it's videogames. Almost every time a videogame is portrayed in a TV show I cringe and find myself filing many mental notes, including a note about what a nerd I am.

Even when it's close enough, such as the World of Warcraft episode of South Park, "Make Love, Not Warcraft". The episode was created in collaboration with WoW's creators Blizzard Entertainment, but as someone who played the game quite a bit in the past (I know, don't go there) I could spot places where the game wasn't portrayed correctly. You can't level up by killing weak creatures in the same area forever!  Not even slowly. At some point they'll be too low level for you to gain any experience from. (See? Nerd.) At least Trey and Matt got the social commentary aspect spot on, as they often do.

Then you have guilty pleasures like Ghost Whisperer where the bad portrayal of videogames and virtual worlds is consistent with the show's apparent dedication to be perfectly dim in every possible way. When Melinda enters a 3D social network as a 3D avatar and gets into a super hero fight with a 3D avatar controlled  by a ghost in the episode "Ghost in the Machine" you don't find yourself thinking that this is the most annoyingly idiotic thing you have ever seen in your entire life, because if you did you would've stopped watching Ghost Whisperer after a couple of episodes. Jennifer Love-Hewitt gets to show some cleavage, wear a funny wig and indulge in cheap special effects that make Smallville look slick, so not all is lost.

 Intelligent and witty shows like House also can't avoid having a videogame episode. The same formula repeats every episode: a patient is diagnosed with a weird condition. The team keeps diagnosing it wrong until near the end House has an epiphany when he talks about something completely different, usually with Wilson. Still, you ignore that fact and enjoys the show because it is so well written and acted. When the overall writing is good you find yourself to be much more forgiving about unrealistic aspects. That's why I overlooked the terrible portrayal of a virtual reality videogame in the episode "Epic Fail". Pre-rendered 3D animation that didn't look at all videogamey and VR controls that didn't make any sense. Considering the atrocities out there in TV land, this was actually not that bad.

The most annoying portrayal of videogames I have ever seen, though, must be CSI Miami's "Urban Hellraisers". The show features a GTA-like game that players then emulate in real life as the thrills of killing virtual characters just weren't enough for them anymore. Wolfe plays the game to find out where the criminals will strike next. Each time he unlocks a new level they get a clue where the attackers will go next. I guess CSI's advanced computers don't have access to websites like where you can read the solutions for practically ever game out there. Fortunately for the crime scene investigators, the game is super linear. Any time you play the game, exactly the same chain of events takes place. I watched the episode and tried imagining playing the game in my head and I just couldn't. Seems to be a co-operative 3D shooter that is also competitive based on score. The game, both the virtual and the real life equivalent, make no sense whatsoever.

Then again, this is CSI. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to know when they are being ridiculous. For example, zooming into a grainy security footage to get the reflection from someone's eyeball or scanning a 2D image straight into a 3D model. You must turn a blind eye to the occasional bad science if you're to survive more than two consecutive episodes. Often there's a fun mystery in the heart of the episode that makes it worth it.

But what really got to me was the vilifying of videogames as murder simulators.  The players get massive bonus points for killing innocent civilians and they are happy to do to that in real life because videogames have numbed their moral compass blah blah blah. This comes from a show that uses murders on a tri-weekly base as a source for slick entertainment, including the occasional murder of children. That's without mentioning the many CSI games out there. If the CSI games are anything like the game portrayed in the CSI episode, I think I'll steer clear.

This is just from the top of my head. I'm sure there are lots of other cringingly great examples. Got any?


Gay Dad

The main reason for this blog was to write about the unique experiences of a gay father. So far, fortunately, we've had very few of those. Looking back at all the significant experiences, there was nothing gay about them. We mentioned we were gay parents wherever we took our son (like nursery) just to make sure we got it out of the way at the start to avoid any nasty surprises later and so far absolutely everyone was OK with it.

Probably just dumb luck, but regardless, we have encountered zero homophobia as parents. So far anyway. It's all fine and dandy. I'm all for fighting for gay rights and breaking down doors, I just don't want to use my own son as a battering ram. Some shit will hit some fan at some point, I guess, but  for now I enjoy our family's peaceful existence.

There was also no homophobic comments on my blog yet either.  Not even one. Maybe that's more to do with the fact that my blog get less visitors than a Texas science museum.

Again, not complaining.  Just observing.