(Il)Logical Progression

Random Musings by the Truly Random

All Hail the New York Giants… (New York Giants!)

Another year of NFL football has come and gone, and I’ve got a pretty big smile on my face.  Things didn’t go exactly as planned; if they had, the San Francisco 49ers, who played a fantastic regular season this year, would have emerged victorious with their first title since the whole owner-scandal incident back in 1997.  Despite having a relatively error-free season of football, they made a couple of key errors in the conference championship game against the NY Giants, one of which led to excellent field position in Overtime.  Given that the other teams I watch for – the Oakland Raiders, who despite the loss of Al Davis (which while sad may prove to be what the organization needs to rebuild properly) didn’t rally and make something of their season; the San Diego Chargers, who, as is their norm, played a great first half of the season and then lost whatever momentum/energy/whatever in the second half of the season, to miss out on the playoffs again; and the Indianapolis Colts, who we don’t even need to talk about, and who need to figure out how to run their team at all without Peyton Manning.  Given that the NBA teams I watch are the Sacramento Kings, the Phoenix Suns, and the LA Clippers, I wouldn’t put too much stock in my sports advice, even though the Clips aren’t half bad this year.  Same goes for hockey – my San Jose Sharks, who seem to be playoff plagued, and despite having been no less than 2nd place in the Pacific Division in the last five seasons, can’t manage to close the deal, losing in embarassing fashion in the Conference Finals 0-4 and 1-4 in the last two years.  I’m really good at picking teams in sports.  But then again, I’m a Sacramento State Hornet – check out our records online sometime, and you’ll understand.

But back to this year in football…  or rather, let’s go back a few years to the first meeting of this years conference champions – the New York Giants and the New England Patriots – back in Februrary, 2008.

The Patriots were the team to beat.  Having had a perfect season of 18-0 to date, they were the favorites to win Superbowl XLII by 12 points.  Their organization had already put in for trademark rights to “19-0” and “19-0 The Perfect Season”.  Tom Brady was unstoppable, having fantastic receivers in Randy Moss (who didn’t do squat on the Raiders), and Wes Welker.  They had set records for the most points scored in a single season (589), the most touchdowns in a single season (75), and the highest point differential in a single season (+315).  They had the best offensive line in the NFL, and that showed in Brady’s stellar performances in their 18 wins that season.  It should have been in the bag.

Then the New York Giants met them in the Super Bowl and turned it all around.  They were a longshot to have made the Super Bowl at all, with all their post-season games as away games.  They had finished the season only 10-6, coming into the playoffs as the wild card, their last game a loss to the Patriots, in a failed bid to rob them of their perfect regular season.  Despite that, they managed to upset the playoff run, all of which were come-from-behind victories, and earned their bid at the Vince Lombardi trophy.

And the game was pure magic – at least if you weren’t a Pats fan.  Brady, considered untouchable up to that point, was sacked five times and fumbled the ball once, and was held to only one TD, despite passing for 30/48 completions.  Eli Manning, Brady’s counterpart on the Giants, managed to throw two TDs.  The second TD was set up by a phenomenal escape of two sack attempts by Manning into a pass to David Tyree, who caught the ball on his helmet, despite coverage, for a 32-yard gain.  Three lead changes in the fourth quarter, and in the end, Eli Manning and the NY Giants emerged with a hard-fought 17-14 win over the NE Patriots, who ended their season at 18-1, with no trophy.

So, it might have been fate that brought the two teams together for a rematch on February 5, 2012.  Super Bowl XLVI.

The Patriots won the toss, but elected to kick.  The Giants punted on the first drive, and dropped the ball at the 6-yd line.  Brady stepped up the very first play, and intentionally grounded the ball on a long pass to nobody, from the endzone, scoring two points for the Giants, and giving the ball back to the Giants, who scored on their drive to make it 9-0.

In the second quarter, however, the Patriots would rally, and score 10, making the Giants’ defense look soft, as Brady’s touchdown drive tied an NFL record 96-yards.  They would enter the locker room with a 10-9 lead, and Giants fans wondering how their defense could allow Brady to make 8 consecutive passes, in that 14 play drive.

In the third, it would look like the Giants still had no answers to Brady and the Pats defensively, as the Pats would put 7 more points on the board, putting the Pats up 17-9.  The Giants made two pushes to the redzone on succeeding drives in the third, but could not convert them to touchdowns, settling for field goals instead.  The score at the end of the third quarter, 17-15, New England.

An early interception in the fourth, by Giants defenseman Chase Blackburn, on the 8-yard line on a long Brady pass attempt, appeared to bring life back into the Giants’ game, but on the next drive, the Giants punted from the 43-yd line.

Two second half misplays by the Giants lead to them having only one timeout remaining when they received the ball on the 12-yd line with 3:46 left on the clock.  The Giants’ fortunes would change on the next play when Mario Manningham made a spectacular sideline catch falling out of bounds for a 38-yd gain, which would also cost the Pats a timeout, as the catch was close enough to be challenged.  Losing the challenge, the Pats were left with only two timeouts which would prove critical in the final plays of the game.

The two minute warning would hold the clock, with the Giants at the Pats’ 18-yd line.  A minute later, the Pats would use their second timeout, with the Giants at a 2nd and Goal situation from the 6-yd line.  It looked like the Giants would use up the clock by stopping short of the endzone at the 1-yd line, kick a very short field goal, and give the Pats the ball back with about 20 seconds left, one timeout and a one point deficit.  New England coach Bill Belichick would see this as the probable scenario and had his defense allow Ahmad Bradshaw to run the ball up the middle, and stop at the 1-yd line.  However, not realizing this strategy – Manning admits to having not told Bradshaw – Bradshaw saw the opening, ran the ball, and by the time he realized Manning was shouting “Don’t score!” to him during the play, momentum  caused him to tumble into the endzone, with 58 seconds on the clock.  The Giants were up 21-17 after a failed 2-point conversion, and the Patriots would start the ball at their 20-yd line on a touchback on the following kickoff.

Two dropped passes, and a 6-yd loss on a sack, which forced the Pats to call their final timeout, Brady would be staring down a 4th and 16 situation, on their own 14-yd line.  Brady rose to the challenge and completed a superb 19-yd pass to Deion Branch for the first down.  He followed it up with an 11-yd pass to Aaron Hernandez, with a spike after, to stop the clock.  The next play would be an incomplete pass, but due to the Giants’ penalty for having 12 men on the field, the Pats would have the ball on their own 49-yd line with 9 seconds left.  The next play would be an incomplete pass, and with 5 seconds left on the clock, the final play of the game would be a Brady hail mary pass to Rob Gronkowski, deflected to the ground in a sea of Giants’ defenders’ hands.

And another year of football comes to an end – except for the Pro Bowl, which doesn’t count.

It was a fun season this year, especially the playoffs.  The games were exciting, and while I could hardly believe it myself, the Super Bowl did manage to eclipse the San Francisco – New Orleans playoff match up that ended with the 49ers making two lead-changing touchdowns in the last three minutes of the game.  While they were defeated by the Giants in the next week, I could not be too disappointed, once I heard that the Patriots were to join them in the Super Bowl.

I’ve never been a Tom Brady fan, which is one reason why I’m not a fan of the Pats.  A lot of his success can be attributed to the fantastic offensive line that the team has, which was demonstrated when Brady was injured in the season opener, and the untested Matt Cassel came in and was able to finish the season 11-5.  However, in this Super Bowl, there were examples of Brady’s true talent, as he was able to make some difficult passes when the defense was able to break through, such as the 19-yd pass on 4th and 16 which kept the Pats alive at the time.  Unlike the previous Super Bowl, the Giants’ defense was not as successful in breaking through to Brady, with only two sacks for 10 lost yards.

The Pats were able to keep pressure on the Giants for much of the game – the end of the second quarter and the beginning of the third had me pacing, as the Giants defense came up short, allowing two touchdowns in two successive drives.  However, the Giants were able to recover, and played a solid game down the stretch, preventing any more scoring by the Pats, though there were moments, such as the last drive, where it was nerve wracking to watch.  Both teams played very well, and felt closely matched, which showed in the nail-biter finish that they provided this year.

It will be interesting to see what happens to both teams next year – both teams have proven to be extremely strong teams this year.  History, however, had the Giants’ season following their win (2008 season) with a mediocre finish, washing out to the Carolina Panthers in the first round, while Brady has showed signs of being ‘skittish’ in the playoffs, if his offensive line isn’t able to stop the defense from getting to him.  I hope that these two teams are able to maintain their strengths, as both teams are extremely entertaining to watch, and earned their spots in the Super Bowl this year.

And hopefully, one of my teams can give them a run for their money, one of these years.

But for now…

All Hail the New York Giants!

(New York Giants!)

-The Lemurs, Madagascar

My 2 yen,

Akiosama

Advertisements

February 6, 2012 Posted by | General Musings | , , , , | Leave a comment

A longer time ago, in the same galaxy far, far away…

Recently, I joined the ranks of Force-users and bounty hunters on the new BioWare MMORPG Star Wars:  The Old Republic, a game set in the early eras of Lucas’ Star Wars Galaxy, centuries before the events of Episodes IV-VI.  (What Episodes I-III?)  It builds upon some of the lore of that universe, and manages to provide a good setting to wander around in as a Jedi, Sith, Bounty Hunter, or other denizen of the Republic or Sith Empire.  Like many MMOs, there are elements of PvE (Player v. Environment – i.e. beat up on AI monsters/characters), and PvP (Player v. Player – i.e. beat up on some other stranger out there playing the game), and each has their ups and downs.  You perform quests, gain experience, make and collect gear, and interact with AI and human entities within the game environment, just like every other MMO out there.

It plays a lot like Star Trek Online, from what I’ve seen – at least the STO that was before some of the recent changes to make it a little more like a FPS – for ground combat, with a combination of ranged combat – usually blaster or missile based – and melee combat – typically with vibroblades or lightsabers.  It’s fairly fast paced, with some combo elements to it, and is decently solid for an MMO.

Space combat is faster paced than STO‘s ship combat, with a simply designed mouse-based combat system.  It plays much like Starfox did on the old SNES, where you fly a predetermined path on a mission, trying to shoot things down with blasters and missiles, and avoiding obstacles in your path.  Capital ships are basically moving gun platforms, and you can blast the guns right off of them, in order to keep from getting shot up too badly.  The missions are pre-timed (you can even see in your quest log how much time is left in the mission), and involve the destruction of key targets, or protection of an escorted ship.  It’s pretty fun, and for those who know WoW, it’s a lot like a fancier, more exciting Outlands Bombing Run quest (such as the one in Hellfire Peninsula on the griffon/chimera).

Where it differs from previous MMOs is in the quest system, as most quests have a voiced dialogue portion, with dialogue choices which can influence the game in minor ways.  Based on those choices, your companions (I’ll talk a little more about those in just a moment), gain or lose affection for you, and subsequent quest parts can be gained or lost (i.e. a dead quest-giver that you just killed can’t really give you more to do, now, can he?).  Further, there’s a Dark/Light Side point system, based on those same choices, which can give you access to special gear as you progress through the game.  This adds a little bit of flavor to the quests as you level your character, and keeps up the flavor of the Star Wars Universe.

Another way that SWtOR differs from previous games is that every class is a ‘pet’ class, so to speak.  You’re given a number of ‘companions’ to adventure with – only one of which can be summoned at a time – that you use to fill weaknesses for your class – such as a Sith Inquisitor (mage/priest cloth class equivalent) getting a Tank companion early on to mitigate the class’ inability to soak damage well.  Using these companions effectively, in conjunction with your class abilities is essential for surviving solo adventuring in SWtOR.

Last, the crafting/gathering skills are a bit different from other games.  All of the skills are considered ‘Crew Skills’ which your companions perform away from the action.  You get three skills to use (only one of which can be an actual crafting skill), which fall into three categories – Crafting (building stuff), Gathering (getting raw materials), and Mission (going out for special items which can enhance crafted items) skills.  Each time you wish to use a skill (other than gathering an item that’s on the ground in front of you), you must send away a companion for a time to perform the skill or mission which nets you items.  Fortunately, you can only have one companion out at a time, and by the higher levels of the game, you might have up to five companions, so four can be out on missions/crafting without affecting your adventuring.  Further, you can breakdown crafted and items related to your crafting, such as looted armor for an Armortech, in order to recoup materials and to have a chance to learn how to make a superior version of the item in question.

The basic gameplay for this game is good, and the PvP is decent (though laggy on my older PC), with different types of ‘battlegrounds’ similar to maps and game types from WoW.   I’ve seen a CTF (Warsong Gulch) variant called Huttball – which plays like a gladiatorial football match, a Domination-style map (similar to Arathi Basin), and a competition Assault map (similar to Strand of the Ancients).  It’s a decent spread of PvP types, though I’m not sure if there’s any way to specify which game you want to play, as opposed to getting a random game.  It’s a bit hardware intense, however, as this game requires a decent machine to run smoothly – my PvP, so far, feels like I’m watching a slide show, due to poor frame rate, at times.

Overall, I’m enjoying the game – the classes and role mixes are decent from what I’ve seen – not many single role classes (I’ve only seen the Sith Marauder, at this point, as a pure-DPS class, and I believe that the Operative Sniper is the only other for the Sith side.  The Republic appears to have similar classes, just with different names.)  The instances – called Flashpoints – are interesting, longer than the newer instances in WoW, with multiple stages and objectives to fulfill as you go through the instance.  And I have no clue about raiding yet, since I’m nowhere near 50, but it seems to be creating some excitement with those in my guild that are at that stage of the game.

Now, for a few of the shortcomings…  Fortunately, most of them are fluffy, rather than game-breaking…

1)  Legacy names – At first, it looks as though your ‘legacy name’, which you receive about halfway through the leveling process (somewhere around 25-30, I’ve been told) just seems like your character’s last name.  Simple, right?  What I’ve heard is less obvious the first time through, is that your legacy name is the last name of every character that you make on that server, whether it’s Republic or Sith.  It can be turned off, or used much like a guild title withbeneath your character’s name.  I’m not sure why they chose to do it this way, and it’s caught many players off guard in the beginning, and once entered it does not appear to be changeable.  I don’t think that this was a good way to handle the last name idea, though if it was separate from the last name of your character (i.e. you could have both a last name and a legacy name), it might be better received.  I haven’t chosen mine yet, and I’m not entirely sure how what I would choose, though part of me thinks that if I’d known this was how it worked, I’d have chosen “Gundam” and named all my characters after various Gundam models that existed in that universe.

2)  Choose your destiny now!  (Lv 10.) – I like trying stuff out, and I like being able to respec, based on the roles you want to play at that time.  My Death Knight, Arhys, for example, could Tank or DPS, and could before Dual Specs existed in WoW.  It just cost a bit of money to do so.  While you can respec in SWtOR, you cannot change your class specialization, which is problematic, in my opinion.  It’s especially problematic for the Sith Warrior and Imperial Agent classes, as one of the choices is pure-DPS, and utility tends to be a premium at the endgame (assuming the hybrids can be built to do sufficient DPS).  For example, the Sith Warrior can either become a Sith Juggernaut (Tank/DPS hybrid), or a Sith Marauder (pure-DPS).  Once the choice is made, at level 10, the choice cannot be undone – and at level 10, I don’t believe that most people have seen enough of the game to decide on what they really want to be – the first time around, I mean.  Personally, I don’t want to get to level 40, and find out that Sith Marauders are being overlooked for Juggernauts because of their flexibility (one respec away from a role change), and have to reroll a new toon.  It would be nice if there was a way to change your specialty and buy the new skills, and just go from there, rather than being locked into the specialty from a point in the game where one might not know what they want to do yet.

3)  Just how many lightsabers were there in the Old Republic? – It’s amazing how many of the deadly glo-sticks exist in this game.  Yes, they’re iconic, and part of the reason why fans want to play this game, but it’s rather silly that half the character classes are lightsaber wielders – and this is not even talking about the number of NPCs that use lightsabers.  There are Sith Lords, Jedi Masters, Apprentices, Padawans, and all sorts of Force users everywhere in this game, both on the player and non-player side, so much so, that it comes off rather mundane.  Given that lightsabers were supposedly not mass-produced – each being constructed by hand as a part of the Jedi/Sith training, the fact that you buy and sell them on the marketplace in this game is comical.  Swap out a mod, change the color of the beam.  You’re evil?  Ok, then, you can’t use blue or green – enjoy your red one.  It’s made something that seemed cool at the beginning rather ordinary, and I’m a little disappointed about that.  But then again, Star Wars Galaxies tried that, and everyone complained that they couldn’t be a Jedi.  Go figure.

4)  You only get one ship – Why?  Sure you can reequip your ship like you reequip the rest of your characters, but not having the option to purchase or even choose your ship (it’s based on what class you are), is disappointing. Further, at least from what I’ve seen (the Bounty Hunter ship, and the Imperial Agent ship), you don’t get anything that looks iconic like the ships in the movies.  They use more varying models for the background ships, but the ones that you get to pilot aren’t anything like those in the movies.  No Slave I style ship.  No X-Wing (or even Z-95 Headhunter) style ships – one of the things I liked best about the original Star Wars movies.  No TIE style stuff.  It’s a bit of a bummer.

5)  Your companion choices don’t make sense, sometimes, and the affection mechanic is odd – I’ve played two or three characters on the Sith Empire side (the Dark Side, mind you), and I have to say, my companion choices for at least two of the cases (Mako and Vette, for those who know the game) just don’t seem to make sense.  One tends to expect the Sith characters to be more evil, more Dark Side oriented, but these companions seem to have problems with anything you do that’s remotely evil (unless it’s revenge based on their behalf, I guess.)  I’ve decided, for example, that my Sith Marauder is going to be an evil son-of-a-bitch, but my first companion Vette, seems to have trouble with most Dark Side choices, which leads to losses of affection points.  Now, interestingly enough, your character can flirt with other NPCs, even to the point of a fade-out style tryst (or so it’s hinted at), and your companion has very little trouble with that (no affection loss), but try to sound like a badass and oops, you have lost some affection.  Not that it matters much, gifts will often produce more affection than you can get in the interactions – so, whoops, I pissed you off, Vette? No problem, here’s an Underworld Hit List to make you smile.

Given that you can actually end up married to one of your companions of the opposite sex (no equal rights here?) it’s really funny that being promiscuous has little affect on them.  Ah, well, must be morality in the Old Republic – no wonder it fell.

6)  Finally, the Friends command needs to be mentioned – Why, oh, why is this the first game I’ve ever played that only allows you to add someone to your friends list if they’re online?  Why does it say “[So-an-So] does not exist,” when you’re adding someone to your Friends list when they’re not on?  It’s really frustrating because to add all of one friend’s characters to your character list, they have to swap them around online so you can capture them all.  Ridiculous.

Still, the game itself is pretty fun, and I’ve not seen what these classes look and feel like at the endgame (or with a higher end system, for that matter – my system limitations make playing this game rough at times).  It looks good, and carries the Star Wars mystique to it admirably.  I’m still playing and enjoying it, and don’t have any real desire to touch WoW again at this point, though who knows how I’ll feel when the new expansion for WoW is released.   Who can say no to Pandarens?

May the Force be with you.

My 2 yen,

Akiosama

January 30, 2012 Posted by | Star Wars - The Old Republic | , , , | 4 Comments

Uh…we have sort of a problem here. Yeah… 

“You apparently didn’t put one of the new coversheets on your TPS reports.” – Bill Lumbergh, Office Space

I treated myself last night to a couple hours of laughing at life.  I picked Office Space on Netflix, and spent some time enjoying the comedy that is working corporate.  It’s a laugh riot, simply because while some of the stuff that goes on in that movie seems ridiculous, it’s really closer to the truth than we’d like to admit.

The amount of time and effort that goes into things around an office that seem so inefficient can be staggering.  Waiting for a piece of equipment, for example, to be moved officially from one desk to another – something that requires next to no installation and is light enough to carry under one’s arm – that could be moved in five minutes,  which is now on its third week of waiting for IT to move and install.  A supervisor ordering that all vendor requests for technical fixes go through him, despite him having no technical expertise in that vendor’s program, nor any relationship with the vendor itself – something that often could be fixed in a single phone call.  A boss who disregards the content of a report she’d asked for assistance in producing to comment on how the font had been changed from the original font she’d used in the mock-up.

The corporate workplace brings out weird things in people.  People who could normally work efficiently, think for themselves, and get work done in a reasonable amount of time seem to become inefficient, mindless workers who spend so much time in meetings that there’s no way to get work done on time.

“Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements.” – Peter Gibbons, Office Space

And yet, that’s the normal corporate day.  Maybe not every task is useless.  Maybe the boss does know something about what’s going on.  But often that’s not the case.

From filing alphabetically by customer name items that are not consistent in their customer name format (some last name first, some first name last) – items that have a unique item number on each item, to driving 70 miles round trip for a meeting that was just a set of group introductions that lasted maybe 15 minutes, efficiency does not appear to be a corporate goal, even if management has expressed explicitly that “we want to improve efficiency in our processes this year…”

Bosses that don’t have a clue what their subordinates are doing.  Layoffs of key personnel during the busy period of the work cycle and hoping that the remaining folk can pick up the pieces, without finding out if the people left even have the tools or resources to do what the departing person could do.  Having to cover work on a project because the people running the project don’t seem to acknowledge what the ability levels of the people on the project are, even if it feels like it’s staring everyone on the project in the face.

It made me wish that I could do just what Peter Gibbons did in that movie – to walk into the office in jeans and a casual shirt, stroll down to my desk, feeling like no matter what happened to me, it’s all good.  To know that it’s not this office that defines who I am in life.  To not find myself saying “Oh, I work for <company>, doing <job>.”

How many people out there would answer, if you asked them “Who are you in life?” with “I’m a doctor/accountant/clerk/janitor/whatever”?  Is that really who we are, what we do at work?  I certainly hope not.

I shouldn’t be an analyst.  I just am one for my job.

I should be a miniature enthusiast.  I should be a gamer.  I should be a creative writer.  I should be what I try to make time for, not what takes up my time.  I mean, if we classified ourselves by where we spent our time – our waking hours – then shouldn’t the answer to “Where do you live?” be “I live at <company> on floor <number>, in cubicle <number>?” for many people out there?   I mean we spend upwards of forty hours of our awake time there.

Forty hours a week at work.  Since most people have to commute to work, that can add a couple more hours to your ‘work day’.  That’s fifty hours a week of awake time spent towards the work process – and that’s assuming no work is being done at home or assuming one isn’t on call.   Fifty-five, if you count the unpaid lunch hour.  Generously assuming that one is getting the recommended eight hours of sleep each night, that’s fifty-five hours of a 112 hour week.

That’s 49% of the week spent actually in the work process.

Factor in, then, the time spent preparing for work – which could be as short as getting up in the morning, and getting showered, groomed and dressed – and that percentage goes up.  If we say it takes one hour each morning to get ready to go out the door to work, then we’re at sixty of 112 hours spent towards work, or 54%.  That’s over half the week!

It’s no wonder that people don’t get enough to sleep.  It’s one of the only ways to extend the awake hours in order to recapture life.

It’s no wonder people stress out when trying to do things that are supposed to be relaxing – gotta get as much relaxation in that 46% of the week as possible.

It’s no wonder people have problems outside the workplace – work stresses people.  Work makes people drink.  Work makes people crazy.

Just recently I had the experience of being with a company that had a ‘workplace incident’ while I was at work.  Fortunately, it was not in my building, but it was fairly nearby, especially by Los Angeles standards.  Our building was put on ‘lockdown’ and we were instructed not to leave the building, and then an hour later, once it was deemed ‘safe to proceed’, we were sent home for the day.  How likely was it that the ‘incident’ was caused by work related issues such as stress in the workplace, or on some workplace relationship?

And here’s the main issue for the average worker…

“It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime, so where’s the motivation?” – Peter Gibbons, Office Space

We tend to stress out at work, but what does it get us?  We try hard to do things better, but unless you’re a shareholder in the company – and a fairly major one at that – you’re not making much extra for the stress.  Why does overtime seem like a bonus these days?  We trade more of our free time for extra money, saying to ourselves that the free time is better spent trying to better ourselves financially.

It’s unfortunate that this world runs on money.  I don’t see it running any other way, but it seems like the current generations in the workplace cannot make happen what previous generations were able to make happen on their normal jobs alone.  Not too many years ago, people could actually dream about saving for a house and buying one through hard work for a company.  Now it seems like just holding a permanent job is what people are hoping for – hoping for medical benefits which are far too expensive without the company help; hoping that they can find a company that they will be able to stay with for the years to come for the financial safety and stability; hoping that the economy doesn’t chew them up and spit them out, discarding them for the cheaper option.  It’s a tough world out there.

But it feels like we don’t have a choice.  We have to live, right?  Lodging, food, utilities and transportation all cost money, right?

We may have to work, but it doesn’t mean that’s who we are.  Perhaps it’s time to reexamine that.

Why is it that most people don’t work in the job or field they want to be in?

“Our high school guidance counselor used to ask us what you would do if you had a million dollars and didn’t have to work. And invariably, whatever you’d say, that was supposed to be your career. So if you wanted to fix old cars, then you’re supposed to be an auto mechanic.” – Peter Gibbons, Office Space

I think this is something that we as a society are lacking – the desire to seek out the occupation we want to work in.  Some do, certainly, but the majority of us out there do what we must do, personal feelings aside.

It’s time to take control again, and figure out what we want to do, both in our work and in our lives – and that should be the path we walk.

It’s not an easy path, nor one to take lightly, but it’s what we should truly aspire to.  We only live once.

“Peter, most people don’t like their jobs. But you go out there and find something that makes you happy.” – Joanna, Office Space

I couldn’t say it better myself.  Find something that makes you happy.

That should be Goal #1 for 2012.

My 2 yen,

Akiosama

January 24, 2012 Posted by | General Musings | , , , | Leave a comment

An Interesting Proposal – And the Definition of SOPA

An interesting proposal has been brought up by Jessica at The Velvet Cafe, regarding piracy and the SOPA bill that’s going through Congress right now.  Formerly Larisa of the Pink Pigtail Inn, one of the nicest WoW blogs out there, she has closed shop at the Inn, and has become the Swedish Film Critic, as herself at the Cafe.  It’s a blog I highly recommend, as she has quite a different perspective, and a different selection of movies, given that her locale is in Europe. So, while I am personally saddened about the Inn, I’m glad she’s still writing – writing prolifically, I might add – and I look forward to reading more of her work.

And now, for the rest of the story…

She wrote a post regarding piracy and SOPA that can be read here.  While some of it discusses what we all know about SOPA – what it does, and why it’s not a good solution to the piracy problem – most of the article is an interesting take on piracy, given that she’s in Sweden, and not in the US.  What is available in the marketplace is different for the European market, and it’s not always a case of “Just go out and get it” for the people across the Pond.  For starters, they are in a different DVD and Blu-Ray Region than the US, meaning that if they don’t have access to a player that is either region-free or of the proper region, then they cannot use DVD/BRs that are sold in the US.  (As an aside, Sony redefined the regions for Blu-Ray, placing Japan and the US in the same region – Region 1 – instead of keeping them separate as they are for DVD.  I wonder if it was for this very reason?)  She feels, and not without cause, that it’s very difficult to play by the rules, when the producers of a product are not supplying the demand in your area for a product.  It leaves very little other choices.

She also defines ‘SOPA’ from a Swedish perspective.  Apparently, ‘sopa’ means ‘rubbish’ in Swedish.

Where she really hits the nail on the head is the idea that the independents and smaller studios are the ones really hurt by piracy.  They often rely on any revenues generated to keep other current ventures afloat while they strive for the recognition needed to make it in the film industry, and therefore, the piracy of their materials has a more profound effect on the industry than the piracy of a large studio’s film, even if the numbers themselves are less.  So her suggestion to those who feel guilty for partaking of said pirated materials – whatever the reason – is to give back to the film industry by supporting the independent, small filmmakers out there and helping their projects come to fruition.  The film industry needs fresh blood and ideas – the recent trend of remakes being a huge indicator – and the best way to help make this happen is to support those that are trying to start out.

It’s a fascinating idea.

————————————————————————————

And my response to her:

“Hey Jessica,

I think your proposal has merit – it assuages guilt (a driving factor for some people) and it can get money to people who really need it (new filmmakers trying to start out on their own). It doesn’t even noticeably ‘hurt’ the large entities – one of the problems I’ve seen with discussion of piracy is the tendency for the large companies involved to speak in numbers (X millions of dollars in damages) as opposed to the percentage it cuts into their gross and net revenues. After all, if your film only made $2M overall, and $500,000 net, then $1M in piracy losses (just as a big number hypothesis for example, not for a realistic situation) is 50% of your gross, and 200% of your net. In a more ‘big film’ example, if that same $1M in piracy losses is applied to a film that grossed $100M (not that unreasonable now), and $25M net revenues, that loss is only 1% of the gross, and 4% of the net – much more endurable losses.

Part of the problem is that the film companies believe that the consumer money lost to pirating is ‘entitled’ to them – that the pirates would pay if there was no pirated material available out there. I disagree – I would think that many of the pirates, given the choice between buying a product at full price and forgoing the product, would actually forgo the product. If that’s the case, then the film company in question would have actually lost nothing, as the would-be-pirate wouldn’t give the film company any money, anyhow.

What really needs to be done to reduce piracy, is two-fold… A) The price point of the product needs to actually be adjusted to the reflect the real demand out there, with a SMALL premium for recouping piracy. B) The method of distribution needs to be rethought out – convenience means a lot to people these days.

Take iTunes, for example. There are tons of ways to listen to music for free out there without owning the songs – Grooveshark and Pandora are two popular and legal avenues. However, despite this, iTunes does very well distributing money. In fact, I am surprised there hasn’t been any griping about how iTunes cuts into CD revenues – as for most people, buying just the songs that one wants off an album is generally cheaper and more efficient than buying the whole album. Further, one has to go to a store, or wait for delivery from an online order, if one wants an actual CD for their collection, as opposed to downloading it.

iTunes takes both of these factors into account. The product is kept very reasonable in price – a buck or two to own a copy of a song for your collection, and is very convenient – online download for use on your computer, iPod, iPhone, or iPad. It satisfies many of the needs at once for a reasonably priced product in the eyes of the average consumer, and allows all parties involved to get the revenues they’ve earned.

Earned. Not are entitled to. I think it’s the attitude of big business that gets heavy-handed legislation such as SOPA in place. If the parties involved were more reasonable about their approach to selling their product, and looked at the price point and distribution from more of a consumer-oriented view, then the companies might make up the reduced profit per unit by in sales volume. And by making consumers happy, they would entice them to buy again the next time, and piracy wouldn’t be such a tempting option.

There will always be piracy, no matter what measures are taken. It’s like online security – it just takes one bored engineer to break it. People want to partake in what’s out there, and if the companies could make the legal cost to the customer reasonable enough to make the risk of repercussions due to piracy not worth it, then they can actually win this battle, and increase their bottom line.

Right now, they’re showing too much greed and too little thought. It makes me shake my head, like I do every time a professional sports league goes on strike here in the U.S. It’s striking by rich people against other rich people because they want more money, when they’re already rich. It doesn’t garner any sympathy or support from the average Joe.

Companies need to get back to working out problems by their own means, rather than running to the government every time they come across one. Each time the government has to step in, we lose a little more of the freedom that the United States is supposed to represent. Censorship is not the answer.

One other thought on your idea, Jessica – it’s a very Robin Hood-esque solution. Stealing from the rich to help the poor. I would support the idea, if I had the inclination to pirate movies, and would feel better for doing so.”

————————————————————————————

There are a lot of things wrong with SOPA, and it’s cousin PROTECT IP (or PIPA), and hopefully they will be worked out before it actually moves forward.  Piracy is a problem, too, and I personally hope it gets approached in a more reasonable fashion when legislation is passed to try to attack the problem.

While piracy is not a great solution to the problems of the film industry, it should be examined and serve as indications to the large studios about flaws in their pricing/distribution/marketing/etc.

As for Jessica’s solution, ask yourself this – in the stories, was Robin Hood a hero or a villain?  I think we all know the general consensus about that.

My 2 yen,

Akiosama

January 23, 2012 Posted by | General Musings | , , | Leave a comment

My Contribution to the War Effort

As some of you might be aware, there are major websites online who are speaking up in protest of two bills currently being considered in Congress, regarding internet content and the fight against piracy.  These are the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the  Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 (PROTECT IP).  They are measures that are intended to stop piracy by forcing U.S. websites, search engines, advertisements, and payment networks (Paypal, etc.) to remove all associations and online business practices from any foreign site that has been deemed in violation of either Act.  This also includes DNS blacklisting – the requirement of service providers to block customer access to the offending foreign site.

There is a well-written technical explanation of these ideas here, by Jason Harvey of Reddit.com.  He summarizes the key points of the bills, what it would mean to the websites, and further explains the potential impact it could have on businesses, especially smaller, newer businesses and for search engine companies, due to the manual and aggressive nature of these acts.

Essentially speaking, it would be a complete censorship of any offending entity, at the domain level, potentially affecting legitimate users.  Further, it is an act-first measure – the advertisers/payment networks/etc.  must “forward the notification [of violation] and suspend their services to such an identified site unless the site’s owner, operator, or domain name registrant, upon receiving the forwarded notification, provides a counter notification explaining that it is not dedicated to engaging in specified violations.”  (H.R. 3261 – SOPA – CRS Summary)  It requires upon receipt of the notification that the site must defend itself in order to remain operational.

The most severe part of this, however, is that the notification specified comes from the “intellectual property right holder harmed by a U.S.-directed site dedicated to infringement, or a site promoted or used for infringement under certain circumstances.”  (H.R. 3261 – SOPA – CRS Summary)    As written, the suspension of service would begin when the notice was received from the injured party by the advertisers/payment networks/etc. company.  It skips the due process of law that our legal system is supposed to be based upon.

And it appears to be about cooperation in exchange for “immunity from liability for service providers, payment network providers, Internet advertising services, advertisers, Internet search engines, domain name registries, or domain name registrars that take actions required by this Act or otherwise voluntarily block access to or end financial affiliation with such sites.”  (H.R. 3261 – SOPA – CRS Summary)

In other words, “If you comply, you’re immune to being held responsible for abetting the illegal act.  If you don’t, you’re partly responsible.”

And it’s a blanket censorship of the offending domain.  Unlike the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) it does not force any action on the offending material, but instead attempts to cut off access to the offending material (potentially reasonable) and the rest of its surrounding domain (extremely unreasonable).

Given that there is evidence that the DMCA – the scalpel version of intellectual property protection on the internet – has been abused by parties for their own benefit, how can a sledgehammer like the SOPA and PROTECT IP not suffer the same problems, especially given that the scope of these bills is extremely wide, the language fairly unspecific, and the burden of proof seeming to be left to the accused?  Further, the amount of resources that a company could potentially be forced to spend to remain in compliance with these acts could stifle the growth of the internet marketplace, as measures would need to be immediately available to respond to any potential ‘notification’.  Identifying every instance of a website link on every page within a domain is an arduous process, and the costs could be devastating to businesses on the web.

And while advertisers and payment networks only have to react to notifications, it appears search engines would have to be proactive – working to ensure that a blacklisted site does not find another way to reinsert itself onto into the engine’s searches.  This would force any search engine provider to staff for constant scrubbing of their potential search results in order to remain in compliance.

Worst part of all, it will not eliminate piracy out there.  U.S. domain names would be able to slip by these acts.  IP addresses potentially could slip through, as it appears the censorship is at the DNS level.  It’s not likely to do what the legislators believe it will, while risking the livelihoods of internet businesses, as well as potentially punishing legitimate users of the internet.

Current gun control legislation doesn’t stop criminals from buying guns – it just makes it harder for law-abiding citizens to do so.  Criminals will continue to obtain theirs illegally.

This feels like it’s along the same path.

Please contact your Congressional representatives.  Sign petitions and e-petitions against these bills.  Convince Congress to examine the legislation further, understand what the goal of the acts should be, and understand how it will affect the internet, and American civil rights online.

My 2 yen,

Akiosama

[Note:  This article is probably not finished yet, but I am publishing it, even as a draft, to get it out there.  I will continue to edit this until I feel it is complete.]

January 18, 2012 Posted by | General Musings | , , , | Leave a comment

Courier Duty

Go in to the tunnel, and keep heading straight, until you reach the first corner, and then go right.

“Yeah, yeah, I got it.  Straight and right at the first corner.  Can you let a guy concentrate a bit?”, he grumbled in response to the voice in his head.  Her constant directions were beginning to grate on him.

He entered the short stone tunnel, and began to move forward, his head twisting left and right in order to keep alert for any other presences.  He sidled to the right, pressing against the wall slightly to avoid the dusty pile of bones, fur and rotting flesh that rested against the opposing wall, the stench overwhelming his senses.  Whatever it had been, it was fairly large, very dead, and only a couple weeks old – well, a couple weeks in its current state, anyhow.  He wrinkled his nose and kept moving forward, to put the bad air to his back.  “You’re going to owe me for this, you know.  This place is disgusting,” he muttered to that voice.

Don’t worry, you’ll be rewarded.  You always are, right?

“Yeah, I’m sure.  A few scraps until the next job.  You can be such a slavemaster, sometimes, mistress, ” he answered back, a bit harder intonation at the last word, as if he was choking on it a bit, and spitting it out.

Just do your job.

He kept on moving down the tunnel, the path barely lit from the entrance behind him, as he reached the first turn.  He peered around the corner, through more dust and some cobwebs, and squinted, trying to see down to the end.  “It looks empty,” he said simply, before starting down the new path.  A rumbling came from above him, and his eyes peered up to the ceiling.  “I hope this thing’s stronger than it looks.  I don’t really want to die in here, as much as it would frustrate you.”  He smirked, and somehow she saw that, despite being over a league away.

And you like it when I’m frustrated, don’t you?  

“Very much so.”  He was practically grinning to himself now.

Suddenly he felt a surge race through his brain, and he gasped, jumping up, as if his backside were on fire.  “Ok!  Ok!  I get it!”

Yeah, that’s what you always say.  Now get going.

“Sheesh.”  He advanced further down the tunnel, pushing large tufts of cobweb out of his way.  He grumbled even more, when the tunnel’s ceiling dropped down further, forcing him to belly crawl on the floor to fit.  He grasped the hem of his cloak about him, and shimmied into the small opening, wincing a bit, as the floor became wet with some foul liquid, helping him slip through easier, but soaking into the fabric of his cloak.  “Ugh.  This is going to stink for a week!”

And then he heard it – softly at first, growing steadily louder.  Chittering, and clawed footsteps.  Getting closer, if his ears weren’t deceiving him.  And not just one set of footsteps.

Frantically, he doubled his efforts to get through the narrow passage he was now wedged into, wriggling in the tightness, like a worm trying to move through packed earth.  He could see the end of the tunnel approaching, still a way off, but lit, and bright compared to his surroundings.  Behind him, the clawing and noises grew louder, and the chittering had changed suddenly to hissing, and he could smell foul air entering his part of the tunnel, making him cough.

Finally, the tunnel opened up, and he became free of his confines, once again able to run.  He glanced back over his shoulder, and caught the glimpse of a pair of shiny red eyes, seeming to glow in the dim light of tunnel, and sharp white fangs beneath them, snapping out as the creature tried to lunge forward at that same small passage, its head barely able to squeeze into that narrow bottleneck.  He smirked, then sniffed once more, making him wrinkle his nose in disgust, before turning away and dashing down the remainder of the passage, his cloak streaming out behind him.  Emerging from the tunnel, he found himself in a massive chamber, with a ceiling barely visible from his low vantage.  Sunlight diffused into the chamber through a hole in that ceiling, which further complicated his estimation of the chamber’s dimensions.  A large stone platform took up the center of the chamber, directly beneath the sunlit aperture. Looking around quickly to assess his new surroundings, he said, “I’ve arrived in the chamber, mistress.”

Yes, I see that.  Now, get up there, and get me what I asked for.

He looked around, again, taking stock, before deciding on a promising looking wooden scaffold, propped against one wall of the chamber, as his means for ascending.  He ran over to the one of the four posts forming the base the scaffold, and pushed himself against it, wedging himself between it and the wall.  Trying to put his back into it, he pushed on the wall with both feet.  “A little help?”, he grunted, straining, the wooden structure moving very slowly toward the center dais, a loud grinding sound echoing through the chamber, as the posts scraped along the stone floor.

Oh, you try to frustrate me, but I don’t get to return the favor?

He continued to struggle to move the scaffold away from the wall.  “Do you want this done or not?”, he snapped back, his voice straining with exertion.

Very well.  Don’t say I don’t do anything for you.

Another surge filled his brain, and he stared at the base of the scaffold.  Suddenly, the scaffold shot forward, and slammed into the side of the dais noisily, shaking the floor beneath his feet.  He winced, murmuring, “Subtle.  Very subtle,” before approaching the base of the scaffolding and beginning to climb up.   It was not a short climb, but the structure made it easier to scale, and before he knew it, he was on the plateau of stone that filled the middle of the large space.

He looked around atop the dais, and saw a variety of objects littering its surface.  Great urns, with mysterious contents he could not see were scattered about the expanse, along with large feathers, from what could only be large, great birds.  Piled high on one side of the dias, was a repository of large scrolls, laid out side-by-side.  He rushed over to them, and scanned over the large seals which kept them bound tightly shut.  Spotting one in blue of a great talon, he grasped it, and slid it over the small pack on his back.  “I’ve got it.  Now, to get the…”  A loud crash behind him interrupted his report, and his eyes went wide.  One of the large, red-eyed, furry creatures from the tunnel was snarling at him, approaching, stalking him, its large tail snaking behind it menacingly.  “Oh, great…”

It leaped at him, and he dove to the side, falling flat on his stomach, the large scroll on his back making it hard to twist and turn.  He scrambled on all fours, to the center of the table, and tried to regain his footing.  From the scaffold, he saw yet another large, red-eyed, sharp-toothed head hissing at him.  The second creature climbed onto the table, and the two creatures circled him, eying him, looking for the right moment to pounce.  The first shot towards him, and he wrenched himself out of the way, causing the creature to fly past, barreling into one of the urns, toppling it, spilling its murky black contents onto the stone in a pool.  Distracted, he didn’t see the other, which pounced on his back, dropping him prone again, and the creatures teeth snapped at his head.  He squirmed, and the fangs tore the hood of his cloak, shredding it, the cloak’s tie at his neck pulling his body backwards.  He gasped for air, as he scrambled frantically for traction on the stone surface.

Thunder rang through the room, and a gust from one side of the chamber knocked the creature off him.  Not waiting to see what had happened, he scrambled towards the edge of the dais and jumped, catching onto a craggy stone surface – the wall of the chamber.  He scrambled up the surface, pulling himself up onto the ledge above and cursed, finding himself with his back against against a large wooden wall, barring the entrance to a large portal.  He could see bits of sunlight through the imperfections in the wood, but a quick test with his shoulder proved the wall to be immovable.

The creatures, meanwhile, had started racing around the dais, driven to a frenzy by the thunder.  A second urn toppled from the dais to the chamber floor, shattering on the stone, more viscous black fluid pooling beneath the shards of clay.  A number of the scrolls had been strewn over the dais and the floor below, crushed and mangled in the chaos.  A giant presence revealed itself from across the chamber, with a loud, booming voice which filled the room.  In his fear, the voice was unintelligible, and he reached desperately into his small pack, drawing out a large silver hoop.   He inhaled sharply, and drew the hoop up about his waist.

The presence followed the creatures, who appeared to be racing back towards the tunnel from which they came, clawing at each other as they both attempted to fit into the tunnel at the same time.  A sudden flash of light –  and the creatures, both in the mouth of the tunnel, ceased to move, black wisps of smoke rising from their corpses.  The presence turned towards him.

He screamed, “Mistress!”, his back pressed against the wooden barrier, eyes clenched shut in fear.  Another sudden surge shot through his mind – he shrieked and the barrier suddenly gave way behind him.  Air buffeted about him, and as he opened his eyes, seeing the blue of the sky before him, he yelped in surprise.   Shards of the broken barrier were falling about him, as he plummeted toward the earth far below.  He grasped the hoop about his waist tightly and yelled, “Alarielle!”

The silver hoop glowed in his grasp, and his falling immediately slowed.  He outstretched his arms and began to glide down, escaping the mysterious presence behind him,  as it cast a large shadow down over him from the ledge he had just fallen from.  He continued to float down, gliding across the large lake that had surrounded the compound that had housed his quarry.  He whooped in triumph, feeling smug as he finally reached the ground just beyond the lake.  He made his way through the dense foliage, away from the lake, and quickly ran to his mistress’ meeting point.

Well done, Mortimer.  The letter you have just retrieved will be well received by the Circle.  You have earned your reward.

Mortimer scampered out of the foliage, looking extremely pleased with himself, and ran to his waiting mistress, climbing into her outstretched hand.  She gently picked up her familiar, relieved him of the scroll, and put him on her shoulder.  “Phew, you stink,” she mentioned to him, as she began walking down the dirt road away from where Mortimer had appeared..

“And whose fault is that?”, he retorted.  “This is going to cost you double.”  He tried to shake out some of the mess from his mottled fur, to no avail.  He sighed in frustration.

She laughed and reached into a pouch, bringing up a large kernel of dried corn, holding it up to the cloaked guinea pig on her shoulder.  “Perhaps, but you’re the one that needs a bath.  And give me back my bracelet.”

Grumbling, he nodded to her, grabbed the kernel, and nibbled on it, shuddering at the prospect of the wet evening to come.

January 17, 2012 Posted by | Creative Writing | , | Leave a comment

人生は字幕が必要。

I’ve never thought much about understanding what others are trying to say – it’s a natural function of interaction in this world.  I understand what I can, and if it’s in a language I don’t completely understand, but know a few words, I find myself listening for those words, just to pat myself on the back and say, “Hey, I know a little about what they’re talking about!”

I’m pretty fortunate, compared to others I’ve met through my life to understand bits and pieces of quite a few languages, even if I don’t speak them.  I can understand a little French, some words in Spanish, some characters and readings in Chinese – even if I don’t know how the Chinese would say it, and I’ve gotten around in Japan without speaking English to the natives.  It’s not often I come across a language I know absolutely nothing of.

That changed last night, and now I get a little bit of the frustration that some of my friends have shared with me regarding subtitled programming.  The missing lines.  The nuances that are missed by the translator in order to keep the text readable at the pace of the movie.  The uncertainty of how good the translation actually is, compared to the original dialogue.

Last night, on a whim, I watched The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – the original 2009 Swedish film, not the recent US production.  (Ironically, the Swedish title is not The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but Men Who Hate Women – Män som hatar kvinnor.)

It was good.  A tad graphic at some points, but the story seemed compelling enough to watch, the plot interesting, and the filming fascinating due to the foreign feel of the technique.  The best part of the movie to me, though, was also the part that made me have to work to watch this film – it was in the original Swedish, with subtitles.

I’m fortunate in my experiences with Japanese films and anime, that I don’t normally need to actively acknowledge the subtitles – I take in the entire picture as one, and don’t really notice myself reading the subtitles at all, unless I come across a translation that just makes me go “WTF?”  But while watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it occured to me that I’m able to do this, simply because I understand Japanese enough that I’m using the subtitles to fill in words that I don’t know, but that I’m actually listening more than I’m reading.  With Swedish – a language I’d never heard in actual usage until that movie – I didn’t have that luxury.  I had to read it all, and keep up with the film itself – not a difficult thing, but a very different experience for me.  The movie could have been done in Tolkien’s Elvish, like parts of The Lord of the Rings and I probably wouldn’t have known the difference.

Now while this was a bit more effort than I’m used to putting into movie watching, it wasn’t bad – in fact, it’s part of what sticks out in my mind about the film.  I’m certain that if I hadn’t seen this version of the film, there would be little compelling me to see the US production, and the compelling parts to me about the US film are going to be the differences between the original film and this new remake.  Budget, for one thing – the original was filmed for $10M, and the remake spent nearly nine times that amount.  Recasting the parts – differences in what the Swedish makers were looking for versus their American counterparts.   And, of course, what was changed between the two films – what was included, what was left out, and what was added.  All in all, it will be interesting to see.

I think the reason why I can do this, is that I don’t feel that it was the fact that the film was Swedish that made the film work.  It didn’t appear to draw upon Swedish culture, or anything that said “If this was set in any other culture other than the Swedish culture, it would fall apart.”  I’ve seen examples of films where this mentality seems to hold – most are Japanese horror films, the ones that don’t use Japanese superstition and folklore for inspiration – but I’ve also met at least one that I am sure wouldn’t have worked – Shall We Dance? is my prime example, as the nuances of gender interaction in the Japanese culture were the driving forces behind the main plot.  How could that work in a US production – especially with people as far removed from ordinary as Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez?

But I digress.

What I came to the realization of, last night, was how much I take interpersonal communication for granted.  I don’t normally think about it much –  certainly not when speaking English.  Things are said to me, and I just instinctively – or is it reflexively? – respond.  It’s very much an assumption that I heard everything correctly, and in context, and I can respond with very little effort.

Still, I’m not sure that it’s the best way to do things – or even a good way.  It’s not that I don’t follow what’s being said, or that I don’t respond pertinently, but I have a tendency to treat a lot of situations similarly, as I respond to what I hear, not necessarily what is being said.

人生は字幕が必要。- Life needs subtitles.

I firmly believe that if I had this one thing in my life, I’d be far, far less prone to making mistakes.  And mind you, I mean subtitles as in “This is what the person means,” rather than closed-captioning “This is what the person just said.”  It’s often completely different, and it’s that part that usually causes me problems.

It’s those differences that catch my eye when I’m using subtitles – the “Wait a sec, that doesn’t seem like what was said” moments.  I’d be as infallible as I could be, if I had just this little tool – and I suspect that a lot of other people out there would be, too.  After all, that’s a lot of what Dr. John Gray’s Venus/Mars books are all about, isn’t it?  That women and men communicate differently, and that acknowledging that and responding appropriately to what is meant rather than what is said would bridge many gaps between the sexes.

And in my mind, that’s part of what these ‘subtitles’ would do – let me know what was meant, not said.

Business would benefit too – motives and underlying thoughts would be evident.  There would be less secrets in open conversations, because there’d be less ‘talking around the subject’ going on.

…and as long as I’m dreaming, I’d like a pony.” – Susie Derkins, Calvin and Hobbes

I think the point of all this, for me, is that I need to wake up and try to be an active participant in my own life, and in my interactions with people around me, rather than just trying to cruise through the day.  Writing, for once, makes me think about how I communicate things, given the ability to write, read, edit, and re-read what I present to the world, before it’s actually published.  It’s an active form of communication, and is one that remains active, for the most part – save the cut-and-paste form stuff I send out at work.  I think when I write, and edit, and try to ensure that what I’m actually ‘putting to paper’ is well thought out, grammatically correct, and spelled properly.

How many people, myself included, do that sort of thing when speaking?

I do it, but mostly when I speak in another language – primarily because that there isn’t a language other than English that I’m comfortable enough in to just speak.  I know bits and pieces of other languages, but English is my one and only fluent language.  I speak it without thinking.  I just say what I say.  I adjust how I say things based on the audience without thinking about it.  I can say “Whassup?” to my coworker next to me, and “Hello, sir.” to the director sitting in on the team meeting, without skipping a beat, but in Japanese, for example, most sentences that come from my lips have been thought out, listened to internally, edited, re-heard, and re-edited many times before they actually come into existence.

And, oddly enough, I don’t stick my foot in my mouth nearly as often in Japanese.

Think before you speak.  It seems simple, but I think very few people actually do it.  I don’t, most of the time, and I think it’s a bit disturbing that I feel that I’d need a tool to make myself do that, just to avoid saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

It’s a brain thing, though – and I think it illustrates that I really need to engage the person or people around me when I’m talking.  It’s only the right thing to do.

So to the people out there reading this – thank you for lending me your eyes.  Hopefully, I can be the same if I ever have your ear.

My 2 yen,

Akiosama

January 16, 2012 Posted by | General Musings | , , | 2 Comments

Digging Up the Past to Change the Present

Set the wayback machine to 1994, Sherman!

Once upon a time, there was a new game on the market called Magic: the Gathering.  It was new.  It was fresh.  It was different.  It was fun.  It was something I was told “Don’t do it!  Your wallet will thank you,” by friends who did play the game.  It was one of the first, and best accepted game in a new game type – the Collectible Card Game (CCG) – a game where you collected cards (in packs like baseball cards) and tried to build decks out of the cards to play against other players.  It was sold out everywhere.

And then one night in 1994 in Sacramento, I sat down and played the game with some friends using their cards.  We sucked.  We had a blast.  I was hooked.  It was still sold out.

Then, late that year, or maybe early the next year, they released a Revised version of the game, and it became accessible.  And I was still hooked.

Fast forward a few years.  2001.  I’d played the game for a few years, but nothing serious.  I built 100-card monstrosities that I thought were good decks.  But now, I was down in Los Angeles, and it turns out, cards were more readily available here.  More people played.  There were tournaments now, for prizes and cash.  Who’d have thunk it?

Now, what does this have to do with anything?

Well, around that time around 2000-2001, something was coming into being that would affect the game forever.  People on the internet began to write about the game.  People who were regularly winning tournaments started talking strategy.  Websites based around these articles were created, and regular columns helped players learn and become better.  The tournament scene soared with new players – players versed in Magic theory and playing at a level I didn’t even know existed.

And I began reading some of these articles.  Some were junk.  Some were boring.  Some were highly analytical.  Some were entertaining.  Some helped my game.  Some went right over my head.

But I read and took in a lot of new ideas, and my game changed.  Those 100-card decks were complete junk.  I could make well-tuned 60-card decks that ran circles around the old stuff.  I played in tournaments and played regularly with friends.

So I hear you ask again, what does this have to do with anything?

During that time, I found an author whose work I enjoyed tremendously, and whose contribution to the game, while a bit more layman than much of the stuff out there, introduced more real-world ideas into the psychology of the game.

Now, in 2012, I find myself reading those articles again – remembering the past and how they helped my game – but thinking about the ideas outside of the game.

And… onward to the point of all this.

————————————————————————————

– Bringing out the Dead, by John F. Rizzo

Read it.  Yes, it has a lot to do with the aforementioned Magic game, but then again, it doesn’t – and that’s the part that really has me thinking.

We all do things in this world that are primarily for our own enjoyment.  These things are called hobbies.  It’s interesting, though, to see how these hobbies, which we do for ourselves, can be scrutinized by others, who will draw conclusions about you based on the hobbies you do.

For example – the hobby Dungeons and Dragons evokes a certain image of the person playing it.  That person is probably somewhat introverted, probably nerdy and socially awkward, not in great shape, but possibly smart in that geeky sort of way.  Maybe they have a costume in the closet, attend Ren Faires, and maybe are a little too ‘in character’ when they play.

And you might not be wrong.  Magic itself isn’t too far removed from D&D, and there used to be a need to ‘hide’ the hobby, to avoid criticism like Rizzo mentions in his article.  “That game is for geeks and nerds.”

Now, in 2012, the game is more mainstream.  All sorts of people play, and it has less of the stigma that it seemed to carry before.  Like Poker, it’s been popular enough to get television time (ESPN2, I believe it was).  There are players good enough to make decent money at it.  There are ‘sponsored’ teams, worldwide tournaments, and players all over the world.

And the people playing collectively have spent years refining the game, and it’s nothing like what it used to be.

But the point of all this isn’t the game.  It’s finding something that you do because it’s a part of you.  Passion, Rizzo calls it – the state of being alive.  Not being dead.  Being proud to do what you do.  Not hiding.  Realizing that you can and should do some things for yourself, and only yourself.

And this comes back to me in 2012, not for Magic – which I still play off-and-on – but for life in general, because I’ve come to realize that passion is not an easy thing to have.  I have ‘died’ over the years, so to speak, and I can see it clearly.

I’m a superfically passionate person.  I can get into just about anything.  I have many, many ‘hobbies’, which I’ve felt I’m passionate about, but in truth, it’s very superficial, and my recent rediscovering of this article has opened my eyes wide to it.  I collect hobbies more than I do hobbies.  I can muster up passion when I look at hobbies – I can get excited when other people tell me about their hobbies.

But I’m not passionate in the way that Rizzo would call alive.  Really, in the whole Alive/Dead spectrum that he uses to describe people’s passion toward their hobbies, I’m a vampire.  I find myself listening to others, and taking in their excitement, and I can return the same enthusiasm about things I consider to be my hobbies, but when it comes down to actually devoting time to them, I don’t really come alive.

It’s an interesting feeling, ‘living’ off the vibes of others – and I see that’s what I’m doing now – and I really don’t think it’s what I want anymore.  It’s time to change that part of me.  I need to stop thinking of doing, and start doing.  I want to be able to define myself based on what I do because I want to, not based on what I do because I must.

Which brings me to my second idea in all this.  If I want to make this change, I need to conquer my ‘Bruce’.

————————————————————————————

Stuck in the Middle with Bruce, by John F. Rizzo

Read it.  Yes, it has a lot to do with the aforementioned Magic game, but then again, it doesn’t – and that’s the part that really has me thinking.

Self-fulfilling prophecy.  Setting yourself up for failure.  Not listening to that voice of reason in your head, even though you know it’s right.

My life has been full of that.  Doing what I know isn’t the smart move, because I think that I can change the outcome, even if I really know I can’t.  In my hobbies, that represents the grand ideas and high standards I set for myself when I try to do the hobbies, which leads to enough discouragement for me to switch to a different hobby and drop the previous one for a while.

With Magic, it was psyching myself out of matches, simply because I thought my opponents were better players than I was, and therefore I should lose.

With World of Warcraft, it was the idea that I could keep up with players in the top guilds on the server, but at the same time putting time into other activities, and not doing the things (practicing, research, gearing up) that was necessary to play at top level.

With my models and miniatures, it’s coming up with elaborate ideas for the crafts, ideas far beyond my current ability, or the desire to paint like the pros with experience I have, just because I’ve read the theory behind the craft, thoroughly.

With video games, it’s thinking that I must complete the game at 100% completion rate, and that anything less than that isn’t good, and giving up at the first mistake.

With my writing, it’s comparing my writing with published authors’ writings, and focusing on simply what doesn’t seem to work, without looking at what might be good.  (Also, it’s fear of criticism – which keeps me from actually putting pen to paper much of the time, which is as much Bruce as the high expectations are.)

And with my life, it’s falling off the wagon (whether it’s about getting healthy, cleaning up, or improving things in my life) at the first sign that things aren’t going as smoothly as planned.

It’s a constant battle, and one that I’ve been losing up to this point.  But admitting there is an issue is the first step to fixing the problem, or so I’ve been told.

————————————————————————————

So, for 2012, the year I say “Bring it on, I can take it!”, Bruce is my demon, and this is the year I exorcise my demons.

It’s going to take patience.  It’s going to take dedication.  It’s going to take igniting some passion for those things I’ve said to myself in the past “I want to do that!”, and putting in the time and effort to reach that point.  Life should be about the journey, not the destination, and I firmly believe that being passionate gives us the energy and the desire to stay the course.

I wonder what passion feels like?

Do you have it?

My 2 yen,

Akiosama

January 13, 2012 Posted by | General Musings | , , | Leave a comment

The First Soul

Alden Cherudim, initiate pseudomage of the Tenth Circle, smoothed his white robes, trying to stand taller, and stared at the door of the small wooden house before him.  He shivered, the warm summer breeze feeling cold as it wafted through his blond hair, and without thought, he clutched at his robes, wrinkling them again.  He looked from side to side quickly, the sensation of eyes on him chilling him further, though nobody appeared to be anywhere in view.  The road he stood upon looked empty, following the edge of the plot of land the inhabitants of this house – only marginally larger than a shack – tended.  Havershim, this area was called, but this house was miles away from anything resembling a hamlet, much less a town.  The only other feature of this empty road was an even smaller shed, leaning against the side of the house, presumably where this farmer kept what tools he used.  All in all, there was a dreariness to the setting that made Alden even more nervous.  A coughing sound came from inside the house, and Alden looked ahead at the door once more.  Mustering up a bit of courage, and taking a breath, he stepped forward and knocked on the door.

“Who… who is it…?”  a weak voice croaked, behind the thin door.  More coughing.

“My name is Alden.  Alden Cherudim.  The Circle sent me to tend to you.”  Alden touched the door and it creaked, opening enough for him to see an elderly man, disheveled, unshaven, beneath a thin blanket, lying on an old bench.  To the left of the door was a small table, a dark bottle tipped over upon it, a small stain near its mouth on the table the only evidence that it once contained anything other than dust.

“Tend?  Ah, yes…  I’m dying, aren’t I…?”  The man sighed weakly, and let his head rest again on the bench.  He stared up at the ceiling, his breathing labored.  “The Circle only comes out here… for the dying…”

Alden blinked and straightened up, his voice regaining a bit of its normal timbre.  “That’s not true.  Last week, the Cir-”  Coughing interrupted Alden’s retort.

“I’m sure…  that I don’t want to spend my last arguing about the Circle, ” the old man said, regaining his breath.  He smirked, and turned his head to look at Alden, who had now entered the house and was standing next to the bench.  “At least you made it in time.”

Alden smiled and produced a small cup from a pouch on his belt.  Holding it out with his left hand, he held his right, palm down, just above the rim.  A weak blue light came from beneath his fingers, and he pulled his hand back, revealing clean water in the vessel.  He leaned down and placed the cup to the man’s cracked lips and helped him drink.

The man drank, and sighed, coughing once, but releasing the tension in his body.  “Alden, was it?”

“Yes – of the Tenth Circle.”  Alden nodded his head in a slight bow, setting the empty cup on the table.

“Carr, they call me.  Just Carr.”

“Carr,” repeated Alden.  “An honor to meet you.  Is there anything I can do for you to make you comfortable?”

Carr started to shake his head, and then stopped.  “The… the Circle didn’t make it in time for her…  my Mel…  Will I still see her…  you know, After?” he asked, his raspy voice trembling with fear.  “She didn’t have her rites.”

Alden paused for a moment, trying to keep his face neutral, before smiling slightly, and nodding.  “Of course.  Tended or not, all souls are cared for After, for the universe detests waste,” he answered, paraphrasing his master’s teachings.  “She will be awaiting you with open arms.”

Carr relaxed again, and settled back on the bench, gazing up at the roof, as if  the sky was visible through it.  “It hasn’t been that long, you know… since she went to the After.  A year or so ago.”

Alden smiled, and looked down at Carr, nodding, urging him to continue.

“She used to have hair – long hair… the color of a field at harvest…  and a smile that could warm from anywhere in a room.  We grew up together, worked the farm together…  Lived together.  I miss her…” he trailed off, for a brief second before continuing, a bit more energetically.  “You know she had the best bread in this county?  The inn up the road always used to buy her bread…”  He smacked his lips as though he could still taste it.

“And as we both got older… her hair became silver like the moon…  and still shone.”  He sighed wistfully, but then, his face darkened.

“And then, a year ago, she got the water-lung.  First, she was tired.  Then pale.  Then feverish.  Coughing all the time.”  He looked sharply at Alden, “And then… he showed up.  One of the ones like you.  Fancy robes, and all.  Said he was there to ‘tend’ to Mel.”  His stare intensified and Alden shifted on his feet, feeling the heat from that glare.  “I thought he was a savior.  Thought he was there to help her.  I asked him to look at her, to cure her, and he just looked her over, and said ‘It appears that I’m early.'”  Carr was shaking beneath his thin blanket, and he coughed twice, his body wracking in spasm.  “And then…  he left.”

He sighed again, his body settling once more on the bench, his gaze returning to the blank ceiling.  “I never saw him again.”  His voice softened to almost a whisper, “And Mel… my Mel… she passed a week later.  I came here after… to get away.  It hurt too much.”

Alden stood, silently, just staring down at Carr – at the old man who was abandoned by the Circle – and said mechanically, “I am sorry… that the Circle could not fulfill its duty to your wife,” his mind stunned by the story he had just heard.  “May she rest peacefully in the After,” he finished, barely whispering.

Carr shook his head once, and closed his eyes.  “You are not to blame, Alden.  Tonight, you have done the Circle’s part… for Mel… by listening to an old man.  By tending to her memory…”  He smiled and coughed once more, weakly, his breathing going shallow and his voice trailing off.

Alden walked over to the bed, and laid his hand upon Carr’s brow.  A faint, soft green glow came from his palm upon Carr’s forehead, and the old man wheezed once more, and then was still.  Silent.  The glow filled the small room, and he lifted his hand, drawing a small golden orb of light from within the man he had just been listening to.  He turned his palm up, and stared at the orb – Carr’s soul – that sat so small in his hand.  Alden swallowed, entranced by it for a long moment before placing it in a dark cloth bag at his waist.  As the soul dropped into the bag, it briefly illuminated the inside of the bag – empty, except for Carr.

My first soul, thought Alden.  He thought back through what Carr had said about his visitor the year before and wondered what it meant – why hadn’t the Circle helped Mel?  He gazed into the nearly empty bag as if looking for an answer.  Finding none, he took hold of the bag’s strings.

Alden almost thought he heard the words “Thank you” from his bag, before it cinched shut.

January 11, 2012 Posted by | Creative Writing | , | 2 Comments

2012 – What I hope to accomplish

Here we are, one week into 2012.  I feel as though if I don’t write things down in a list in regards to what I hope to complete this year, that by February, I’ll have no idea what I meant to do in the first place.  I’m sure I’ll add to this list mentally as the year goes on, but here’s (Il)Logical Progression’s 2012 To-Do List (in no order of importance):

  • Get out to see at least one concert – I really got into modern country music last year – Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Zac Brown Band, Luke Bryan, Darius Rucker, and a lot more.  As Brantley Gilbert sings, “Country must be country-wide…”, and it seems that Los Angeles is indeed a rather popular venue for Country Music, despite the bad rap it’s gotten over the years.  Last year’s Taylor Swift concert series (4 events) sold out practically overnight.  I’m hoping to get out to see at least one concert this year – my hope is for Lady Antebellum in March – they’re playing with Darius Rucker and Thompson Square, both of which are performers that I enjoy.  If Shinedown or Rascal Flatts gets out here this year, I’ll try for those, too.
  • Tidy up – I’ll admit, I’m not the neatest person, and I think it’s about time I get that in order.  It gets in the way of getting stuff done, leads to some damage to my things, and just shouldn’t be tolerated anymore.  I think if I can get this in order, it will lead to the next thing on this list.  This goes for my car, too.
  • Set up a place I can do my hobby work – I have a couple craft hobbies that I enjoy doing.  For those that are new to this blog, those are miniature painting and scale modeling.   Looking around at home, though, I notice that there are too many boxes that are just collecting dust for both of those hobbies, mostly because it takes me nearly 20 minutes to set up a good place to work, and another 15 minutes to close down when I’m finished.  That’s over a half hour just prepping and cleaning up a space to work!  So, if I can eliminate a majority of that time by having a dedicated workspace, I might be more inclined to actually do something with these hobbies. That goes for setting up my air compressor and airbrush this year, too.  I’ve had it for far too long to have never used it.
  • Continue writing, both here at (Il)Logical Progression, and for my ‘novel’ (?) –  Writing here lets me keep in practice, and gives me an outlet to just say whatever’s on my mind.  I don’t do that enough, and while I don’t know who’s actually reading it, it’s not really the point of it all, now, is it?  At least for the blog.  In addition, I hope I can get more chapters out for my story, and who knows what that could end up being?  The idea seems solid enough to me – who am I to keep it from taking form?
  • Get healthy – I’m honestly trying to commit to getting healthy again.  I want to eat better – but not suffer – workout more and get in somewhat athletic shape so I can do things I’d like to be able to – like basketball, golf, and bowling – without worrying about passing out.  And to that effect, I need to get my asthma under control.  It sucks, but it’s something I need to do if I a) want to do those things without risk, and b) live a longer, more comfortable life.  I’m not getting any younger.
  • Define myself – I realize that so far in my life, I’ve not really been able to say anything definitive about me – except that “I’m a quintessential Rabbit/Libra.  I’m good-natured, open-minded, prone to looking at both sides, and try hard to keep the peace,” – but I’m not really that young anymore, and I don’t really know what I want it to say on my epitaph.  I really need to figure out what that is and really work towards it – I need to stop drifting along in life.
  • Secure work – This isn’t totally in my control, but I feel like I’m off to a good start for 2012.  Fingers crossed.

And that’s what 2012 will hopefully look like for me.  I’m hoping that this list here, and the itch to update it, will keep me honest with myself in 2012.  Lord knows I need the help.

Stay tuned!

My 2 yen,

Akiosama

January 9, 2012 Posted by | General Musings | , | Leave a comment