The Act has Shipped

June 22, 2012

It has been a long time coming. As of yesterday, The Act is commercially available on the iOS platform (Apple iPod/iPad/iPhone). Two huge thank-yous are in order. One thank-you to Daniel Kraus, Alain Laferrière, and Jean Laferrière of React Entertainment for picking up the ball and running with it. The second to the artists, engineers, writers, musicians, and others who breathed life into the original game (the list is on the React Entertainment “About Us” page).

Crash Course

August 26, 2011

I just finished watching all 22 videos of Chris Marentson’s Crash Course. Being naturally paranoid myself, I am now paralyzed with fear. If you haven’t seen the videos, Chris is predicting economic collapse, and he makes a very good case. I have searched the Internet for criticism of Martenson, and it is hard to find. He appears to be a well-meaning, almost altruistic person, who has developed the videos with his own money, just to warn everybody.

My only problem is that Chris recommends buying gold as a hedge. This might have been a good idea 4 years ago, when Chris first published The Crash Course, but today the chart of gold prices looks like Chris’s own textbook example of a market bubble. And since Chris himself has been buying gold heavily for the past 4 years, the advice is starting to seem tainted. I’m wondering if the whole Crash Course might have been part of a pump-and-dump scheme. (See what I mean about paranoia?)

So Much for “Taxachusetts”

April 6, 2010

The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center reported on a study by Ernst & Young that “ranks Massachusetts 43rd for its overall business tax level in Fiscal Year 2009, placing Massachusetts among the states with the lowest business taxes nationally. “

Mea Culpa

March 17, 2010

I read this Op-Ed in the New York Times on Monday and realized: yikes, I am one of those people who don’t respond to email invitations. In fact, on Monday I had two outstanding email invitations I had been putting off. I have heard the knock that Americans want perfect mobility and that is why we don’t do public transportation well. It seems we also want perfect schedule flexibility, which would explain why our supermarkets are open until 11 PM, while the rest of the world must shop during the day. There is nothing wrong with buying milk at 10:55 PM. The problem is, I am now treating my friends like supermarkets. My bad. I’ll try to do better.

So you’re wondering, “Omar has not posted for over two years, and now he breaks the silence for this?”

Egyptian Interlude

January 25, 2008

A cousin of mine in Jordan sent me this video via Facebook. At first, I found it very charming—this toothless old Egyptian man entertaining his friends with a song. It reminded me of the summer I spent living in my uncle’s house in Amman. (Every night after dinner, the whole family would sit in a circle in a big room, telling stories, etc.)

In the video, the old man starts to sing, and you hear commentary from the group. There are lots of fingers snapping in time to the beat and vocal encouragement (“Aywah!”). After a minute, the photographer pans around to show the room. A man in the foreground is playing cards. A few listeners are clapping to the beat. Isn’t this nice? These people don’t need television or video games or YouTube for entertainment! They interact directly with each other for fun! Then the camera pans more… What’s this? Half of the old man’s audience is engrossed in texting on their cellphones! Aaaugh!

Growing up Online

January 23, 2008

insidep1.jpgPBS aired an interesting Frontline documentary last night about teenagers using the Internet. It will be repeated in Boston (and probably other markets) several times during the week. It is also viewable online.

The bottom line: the inmates are running the asylum. This is also a problem in typical American schools. However, at least in school there are some adults wandering around trying to shape behavior. Online, it’s like Lord of the Flies.

No Child

November 29, 2007

Have you ever gone to see a performance that received a standing ovation? Usually there is some hesitation. First you wonder, “is somebody going to stand up?” Then you wonder, “is everybody going to stand up?” Well, have you ever seen a show where there was no doubt, and everybody jumped to their feet at the end? Last night’s opening of “No Child” at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts was the no-doubt kind. It was a first for me, I think.

“No Child” is a one-woman show by Nilaja Sun. It is a fictionalized account of Sun’s experience teaching theater at Malcolm X High School in the Bronx—sort of a modern-day, female “To Sir, With Love.” Sun plays all the characters, from the children to the Principal to the parents and the janitor. She switches from role to role in an amazing rapid-fire Robin-Williamsesque style. But unlike Robin Williams, each character takes over Sun’s entire body. You can tell who is talking from his or her posture and body language alone.

The performance was astonishing. I’m glad I saw it. I’m going to cherish it like a trophy. I’ve always been envious that my father actually saw Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews in My Fair Lady on Broadway. Well, I saw Nilaja Sun in “No Child.” Yeah, that was awesome.

The Vengeful Animal

November 3, 2007

anger3.jpgAristotle wrote that man is “the only animal that laughs.” I think man is also the only animal with a thirst for revenge.

I got to thinking about this while reading Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning history of how humans created civilization—beginning with the domestication of plants and animals at the end of the last glacial period (12,000 years ago).

In one passage about how centralized authorities arise as populations increase, Diamond writes, “Each murder in band and tribal societies usually leads to an attempted revenge killing, starting one more unending cycle of murder and countermurder…” Apparently, you just can’t put more than 200 people together in a group without a police force, or they will all kill each other!

What other animal has this problem? For example, could you imagine dogs acting like that? Dogs can definitely love. And if you kill a dog’s loved one, he will mourn. But will his grief drive him to kill to get even? I don’t think so.

I am used to thinking of revenge as a primitive impulse. It is uncivilized, right? We are supposed to suppress it. It is scary to think that this revenge trait is not some reptile-brain thing that our intelligence helps us to suppress. On the contrary, revenge is unique to our advanced brains. And, ironically, it is one of the factors that promoted our “civilization” in the first place.

Whether we got this vengeful trait through evolution or whether it was designed into us by God, I can’t help feeling that it was a mistake. Wouldn’t we be better off without it? Oh well, at least we got the sense of humor to go with it.

High Definition

October 21, 2007

magnifying-glass.jpgAll my gadget-guy friends were beginning to whisper behind my back. They had a hard time hiding their pity and contempt. Why? Because I was still watching standard-definition TV at home.

So last week, I finally got a high-definition TV. I was surprised to learn that what I have been missing is not all good. It’s great, of course, to see every blade of grass in Fenway Park. But some shows are just not better in HD.

Take The Office, for example. Even on my old TV, The Office was uncomfortable to watch. It was kind of like listening to fingernails scratching on a blackboard. But on my HDTV, it’s like fingernails on a blackboard–with really bad skin. You can see every blemish and birthmark. You can even see the makeup. Watching The Office in HD feels a little like a scene from A Clockwork Orange. So I’m a member of the gadget-guy club again. I’m just hoping the psychological damage is not permanent.

Veiled Monologues

October 17, 2007

veiled10-500x249.jpgI saw The Veiled Monologues at the Zero Arrow Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts last night. It is billed as “a vital, surprising, and poetic portrait of love and relationships in the Islamic community” in Holland. It seemed to me more of a relentless and depressing portrait of female oppression. From Death of a Princess to Not Without my Daughter to Reading Lolita in Tehran, we see plenty of this narrative (“doesn’t the old world suck?”). I was kind of hoping for something different.