Saturday, October 15, 2011

PAX Prime 2011

PAX = Success
I attended this year's PAX Prime not to see any particular game, not to hear any particular speaker or panel, but because it feels great to be in the company of so many like-minded geeks and nerds. PAX's business operations head Robert Khoo confirmed that PAX Prime had approximately 70,000 people this year, making it the largest PAX yet.
Despite the event's size, the founders and organizers remain quite hands-on. I was impressed while waiting in line for the keynote to see Mr. Khoo walking the line, counting attendees so that potential attendees could be told the cutoff for when the venue was going to be full.

Exhibition Halls
The exhibition halls were, as always, impressively large. The place was packed, but the crowds were friendly and people were moving through pretty well, so clogs were rare. The PAX Enforcers are more active every year in managing the lines of people who are waiting to play a demo, have an autograph signed, or get into a panel, and this year was no different.
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Microsoft and Bungie's Halofest was maybe the single most impressive thing I saw at the expo this year. Never have I seen so much Halo gear, games, toys, props and assorted paraphernalia in one place. 2011 was the inaugural year for Halofest, and it did not disappoint. There were life-sized figures from several of the games, but the dioramas of combat scenes were the most impressive.
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I'm willing to bet it will be at forthcoming PAXes for the foreseeable future, and may even be an independent traveling exhibit in select cities around the country. There is that much stuff, and it is that good.

Indie Games
One of the cooler things I experienced this year was the "indie games" area. There was one smaller exhibition hall dedicated solely to independent developers and games. Unfortunately I did not find this treasure trove until the last day of the show, but I will definitely be returning there at future shows. The neat thing was that the crowds were much less dense in this hall and you had a real opportunity to not only play the games on display, but talk to the developer who made the game.

This area also had a zombie makeup booth where you could be "zombified."

The people are what keep bringing me back to PAX. We are all so similar there, no matter what type of gaming or geekery we are each interested in. I happened to run into one of the volunteer PAX Enforcers at the airport when I was heading home, and he summed it up well: "No matter how geeky you are, you're not the geekiest one there." Simply put, one feels at ease and among friends. Who wouldn't want that?

All photos are on flickr here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Buckethead and Picasso, or ...

... a weekend in San Francisco.


Buckethead was the first artist whose work I experienced last weekend. I headed west after work Friday evening and went straight to the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco for a burger and fries before the show.

I have been a Buckethead fan since about 1992 when I became aware of the album Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis), on which Buckethead plays guitar, and I presume, after seeing this live show, some bass. I'm not sure, but I may have read about that album and Buckethead in a review in one of the guitar magazines at the time, probably Guitar Player.


His performance was pretty awesome. I knew he had amazing skills on the guitar, but to see him pull off all of those sounds live was just incredible.


It was just him on the stage, using pre-recorded music. We were all there for his guitar-playing, so that was great. It's hard to describe his music - it's more a collection of themes and emotions rather than your typically structured songs. One minute he's shooting out a high-speed staccato solo and the next he's playing a melodic blues lick.

This was guitar-nerdry at the highest level.

It was an interesting mix of people too. A lot of younger men and women, probably late teens to early twenties, many middle-agers like me, and a few older folks. In addition to guitar, he also played some bass, and I have to believe he picked up some tips from Bootsy Collins (a past collaborator on other projects and legendary bassist for Parliament-Funkadelic), 'cause man, that bucket can play bass! Slappin' and poppin', he can do it all.

He also handed out some toys from a large santa-like sack, took some time out to put down his guitar and do some pop-and-lock dancing and also give a nunchaku demonstration right on stage.

He had a specially modified guitar that let him make and control sounds like I have never heard in a live performance. On his customized white Les Paul he had two "spots," one where the pickup selector switch usually is, and another at the tone knob farthest from the strings, which it appeared he could tap or rub to control effects and maybe a synth to morph his sound.

(Interesting: I just found his signature model here and it describes those "spots" as arcade button-style "kill switches." I really thought they were some sort of electrostatically charged plate that was a controller for some effects device. He must have been working some devices on the floor that I couldn't see.)

Anyway, fantastic show!

The next day, I went to the de Young museum and saw the Picasso exhibit. It was quite a mind-bender. I did not know that Picasso worked in so many media - steel, bronze, charcoal and paper, wood - almost anything in addition to the expected oil or watercolor on canvas. I liked the way he plays with perception, perspective, and the use of simple shapes to convey his subjects. Often his pieces look quite bizarre or child-like. Very much worth the trip if you can make it.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Howard Stern makes national news with Weiner press conference

I heard a story on NPR this morning about a heckler at Anthony Weiner's resignation press conference yesterday. I figured the heckler was Benjy Bronk, one of Stern's writers, because Benjy had disrupted one of Weiner's previous press conferences, which had been discussed on the show this week. Indeed, the linked story mentions Benjy by name. The radio report only said he was a writer for "shock jock" Howard Stern.

It's so great that the national news media had to mention Stern's name, although NPR felt obligated to qualify the mere mention with the term "shock jock." Such an outdated term, and not even accurate.