Monday, March 28, 2016

I smell a rat...err, some other rodent.

Two rats looking like miniature polar bears. D'awwwww...
When I was about 10 years old, I watched a friend's gerbil for a week or so while he went on vacation. I'll call the friend Harry, and the gerbil Latte. I don't know whether it matters, but I met Harry through another friend, and wasn't super close with him. Either way, young Mark thought Latte, the gerbil, would be as cuddly as his own pet rats, which had the benefit of knowing me and let me pick them up and cuddle in my hand and the usual stuff that people get pets for.

Latte was different. Several days into my care, I figured it was time to pick up this slightly-muscular ball of fur and reap the rewards of holding that fuzzy critter. Well, Latte wasn't having any of that and first bit me, then leapt to his death on a hardwood plank that was lying on my carpet. At least, that is what I told Harry and his mother when they came back from their vacation to the sad news. Young Mark, ashamed of what really happened, told them that lie and the others were good enough people that they didn't question the randomness of their suicidal gerbil.

The truth is that after Latte bit me, I angrily swung the rodent by it's tail, and it flew off and hit the carpet. I thought that when he bounced off the "soft" floor, he was still alive...until a moment later, the poor thing never got up.

We lie to cover up shame, protect others' feelings, and to get people to do things they might not do otherwise. Lying is pretty gat-damn useful, and an amazing social lubricant. The cost of it is variable, from the dignity-saving flattery to the friendship-sabotaging backstabbing.

More than 20 years later, I remember exactly what that scene with Latte, Harry, my mom and I looked like, and am still ashamed about the lying as much as the action. For that time between, I developed a REALLY tuned moral detector. I don't call it a moral compass, because I breaks da rules all de time. But I do like to call people on their bullshit, and ask that both sides respect the rules as often as they can. This makes me a pretty lousy guest to some interactions, but I really do put effort into giving some genuine thoughts to my friends, family, and conversation partners who stick around long enough.

One way I've tried to use my detector for good is trying to understand why a lie comes out instead of pointing it out, embarrassing all parties involved, and making others spiteful. I'm working through this practice of empathy, and it takes patience I never knew I had, but I think it's a lot more useful than simply taking the wind out of someone's sails in the name of integrity.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Games of frickin freezing Spring 2016 part 1

Yep, yer boned!
March has been super rainy so far. That, or sunny and cold as hell! I've been preoccupied packing and moving, and even ventured outside for a walk or two. This month started with a renewed interest in StarWars Battlefront with my good friend Jacob. Other than that, gaming this month has been pretty sparse: I'm finishing up the 100% trophies on Guns Up, and the plan is to try and finish Dishonored by the end of the month.



March: Super Metroid (SNES/Wii U Virtual Console).

Kraid.
This month, I went 20 years back with Super Metroid (1994). For those of you who don't know of this gem, it's a action/adventure platformer. Your heroine, Samus Aran, gets a distress call to a science lab in space. She investigates to find everyone has been killed off by brain-sucking jellyfish called metroid. Just then, the lab starts to detonate, and as she's escaping the blast, her ship gets damaged and you end up crashing on Planet Zebes.

These games are paced excellently in terms of difficulty and complexity. You start off being able to jump to platforms, then you get the ability to "morph" into a ball to explore smaller passages. Next, you find heavier firepower, which also opens new kinds of doors. When you hit a barrier, you often have to head to another part of the map to find a powerup that lets you access the previous point. You do this for all of the Metroid games, and it's no wonder that Samus's standing animation shows her panting.

The music has many memorable music tracks, a few of which are really atmospheric, and others are actual themes. I never thought about it until my recent playing of Metroid Prime (the 2002, next generation sequel,) when I realized just how cleverly these games handle the blend of background noises and setting with music. The item theme is an example: it's been the same in all games, and is certainly a distinct pattern, but not really music.

And now I leave you with Smooth McGroove, who does acapella versions of video game themes.


Fears...


Recently I was venting with my mom about our current shitshow of American presidential candidates. She didn't seem super worried; she thinks that if the lying, cheating, bigoted Republican frontrunner wins, he'll be limited enough in his decision-making. Or maybe she believes that someone more experienced in actual governance will win. My hope is for better unified healthcare instead of this dogshit system that's been cobbled together over 100 years. Ohh, your coverage means that you have to go to this hospital, not that one. This medication is covered, but not that one (despite needing both). It's complex, I get it, but we need to dismantle it and build a better system, instead of the current band-aid ACA. I'm confident that American tourists' reputations will continue to improve overseas, as we are more distanced from our leaders. Because honestly, the Baby Boomer generation's policymaking could be a little less selfish.


Another fear I've had as an adult is related to how much I used to want to be a father. I wanted to be a parent so badly and raise the perfect good-looking, quick-witted genius who is just barely less clever than me. Of course, between lots of living overseas and my massive life-shift to frugality, that desire has diminished. I also think the world sucks too much to bring a child into. The news is doing its work; I think my (partially?) black child is going to be shot by a police officer, or some dipshit politician is going to make policies that limit my children in some way. Lots of people get over these and have children anyway, but this collection of phobias are what keeps my party at 2 members.



I fear for my girlfriend, who studies late downtown and doesn't know how to defend herself. I am afraid that I won't have enough time in my remaining healthy life to visit all the places I want to because of other obligations. I'm worried about breaking down at work and quitting without having another job lined up.

Sure, I know that there are lists of valid counterpoints to how to solve or combat these fears, but I'll be GD'd if it doesn't keep me up at night.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Stuff I enjoyed reading...cheap or free

A blog post about reading, yippee!

I've been a long-standing Amazon Prime subscriber, and really enjoy the free monthly Kindle book I get. I generally don't pay for brands, unless it's secondhand or damn cheap! Amazon works just fine for me, as I think the Kindle is a fantastic, low-cost well-built device. I regret not plunking down an extra $40 for the backlit Paperwhite, but I digress. I want to write a really short blip about some of the books I've read over the last few years. These books were free checkouts from the Prime Lender's Library.

Reader's disclaimer that I tend to remember the characters rather than the over-arching plots.

The Rho Agenda trilogy by Richard Phillips is about 3 high schoolers who find a crashed alien ship. They gain powers and become heroes. The books are awesome and very exciting to read, though I don't remember who or what exactly the antagonist is. Two of the characters are brother and sister, and I liked the coming to terms with how strong they were and learning when not to help. I'd recommend these books, though.

Looks...hot!
Whispers from Mirrowen trilogy by Jeff Wheeler. I read a lot of fantasy, and really appreciate when magic has a cost. In video games, this is mana; for vampires, blood; in Mirrowen, it's sanity. Some characters in this series can control fire, as they lose control of both their minds and the fire. Another big part of this are the dryads - tree spirits who enter the human realm through trees which they are bound to. The characters' dangerous journey to save a dryad and then the world are pretty cool, but I mostly liked how the characters dealt with their challenges. Also, the Legends of Muirwood trilogy by the same author, and a pretty good read.

Yeah...something like that, but more modern.
Witching Savannah by JD Horn is about modern witches in the South. The main character is the forgotten, no-magic-having shadow to her sister, who's been groomed to be the next great witch in the large family. The third book gets a bit weird with a plot twist, but the magic definitely evolves as you go through the books. My favorite character started off as an avatar created by a conglomerate of powerful witches. This human-like golem starts off as a way for its creators to participate in important meetings from afar, but this character ends up evolving into a more complex being with its own feelings.

I want to read The Chronos Files series by Rysa Walker again. It had time travel and an awesome sense of adventure, but I think I got lost in the plot because I took too long reading the books. I really liked the story here, but honestly can't recall what it was about. But time travel is awesome, so read these books!

I thought of Warhammer while reading Frontlines.


Marko Kloos' Frontlines trilogy was an easy read about a planetary soldier who fights aliens who are clearly winning against humanity. The world has been divided up to Western forces versus Sino-Russians. As the two sides of humanity are duking it out over Mars and other colonies, they are periodically attacked and decimated by giant aliens who are able to undo humanity's progress very quickly, with superior technology and firepower. I really liked the battles, the military talk, and the author's imagination on what will happen to earth in a couple hundred years.

My absolute favorite read in the last few years has been the Traveler's Gate series by Will Wight. These books have my favorite things about the fantasy/magic genre. Will Wight's universe is awesome: there are 8 territories with different magic, properties, and creatures. One of them is a snowy desert with vicious, hairy, hellions that look like moving piles of snow. Another territory is on a lightning-stormy wasteland with flying lizards and other scary things. The main character Simon ends up in a strange territory that's a very large house with trapped rooms, insanely powerful weapons, and creatures trying to kill him behind every door. Another character from this "House of Blades" talks to these magic dolls, which help him fight and provide both quips and counsel. This trilogy had funny, engaging characters, a creative setting, and an awesome sense of progression. I would have no problem paying for future books from this author.


These are Warcraft characters, but remind me of some characters in Traveler's Gate. 

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