Sociable

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What I'm doing

I've been chipping away at Bram Stoker's Dracula, which I picked up at the used book store for a couple bucks.  I didn't realize it was written in the form of recorded letters, journal entries, and newspaper clippings.  What's weird is that it reminds me in parts very heavily of Salem's Lot (which I read right before this) and I have to continually remind myself the chicken came before the egg in this case.

Overall it is very engaging so far considering it is a bit passively written.

In other news my work instituted an enterprise wide collaboration system with Blogs, Wiki-like capabilities, groups, and projects.  A lot of my creative juice has gone there instead of here in an effort to kick start the site and hopefully build a readership amongst my colleagues and maybe even some influence on real decisions.  It's been weird writing only expositions on work-centric themes but a good challenge.  I'm really thinking of taking the Intro to Non-fiction Continuing Studies course in the fall because of this.

Finally, I just wanted to take the time to thank Zaynab for giving me the guts to rename my blog, I really am happier with it this way even if I did lose all my comments! Woo, my comments are back!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Made the Move

At the risk of losing part of my readership I renamed to Human Fail Machine complete with a new address.  Unfortunatly, Blogspot/Blogger lost my entire historical comments in the process.  There is an official thread in the Blogger forums with 165+ people in a similiar situation.  Epic. Fail. Google.

If you want to read the comments you can actually find them at http://humanfailmachine.wordpress.com/ where I had experimentally imported this blog prior to the move in case I liked it better.  Getting there...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Route Eighty-Ate

"Hot town, summer in the city..." crooned out of the radio as Lenny bounced along a snowy route 88.  The little Volkswagon was buzzing through the shallow snow drifts up the valley at a pretty good clip but Lenny was worried that if he did stop he wasn't going to get started again.  Visibility in the failing sunlight was low, but it was still better than the blinding glare that he had expected before the snow began to fall in the late afternoon, obscuring the sky.

This job better be worth it, he thought to himself.  It didn't pay a lot and it was way over in Tankerville, a backwater upitty little place through the Deepfoot Valley along Route 88, but heck if it wasn't better than anything he'd found in Thornton.

A pair of dim headlights peaked out of the canvas of falling snow in the oncoming lane and Lenny tightened his grip on the wheel; you never quite expected the full force on the wheel from passing another vehicle in snow this deep.  He idly hoped this one wasn't bigger than an SUV but Lenny wasn't overly worried; he'd driven in bad weather before and he always made it where he was going because of his one simple rule: never, ever stop moving.

Coopertown, Population: Done.

Gary wished he hadn't wasted all that money on life insurance.  Grotesquely, this was the only thing he could think about as he ran across Central Ave in the dead of night carrying a shovel in both hands.  As he passed under the diffused spotlight of a street lamp he caught sight of the blood and brain matter on the blade of the spade.

I bet they had life insurance, thought Gary, fat lot of good it did them.

Just then he noticed he was running straight towards Coopertown Co-operators where their slogan was bannered across the window, "Insure now, for piece of mind!"  Man, had that guy made the most fitting and timely typo in what was proving to be the short history of human civilization.

Movie Review:: Ninja Assassin

Ninja Assassin - Legendary Pictures


A movie about ninjas produced by the Wachowski brothers and Legendary Pictures. Awesome. Or is it?

To be honest, I was dissapointed by this movie. It had a predictable storyline and the fight scenes were difficult to follow as they were very dark. I'll come back to these. The acting was adequate and the story and ending left it open to a sequel. The main weaknesses of the movie for me were the slightly silly feeling Europol agency and agents, they felt like they came right out of a Hong Kong Jackie Chan movie to me, and the lack of emotional investment in the main character's motive.

The latter shortcoming was a result of the way the backstory was shot. Often I could not tell which child was which and so there was a difficulty in attaching the emotions to the right person. Also the backstory scenes leaped ahead years at a time and with a limited building of the emotional connection between the characters that was, to me, a result of the brief nature of some of the clips. In the end I didn't really feel the lines the main protagonist were throwing around in the heat of his revenge were powerful enough to really motivate that revenge considering the desparate brashness of it. But that's just me. In reality, I didn't need any of this because the story arc was pretty predictable with maybe one or two slight novelties along the way, and at that some of them even seemed gimmicky or cheesy to me.

Visually, the movie had a lot to offer. Some original and cool effects and fight scenes that were unfortunately often hard to really make out. I will concede I watched this movie at Galleria which seems to have a poorer viewing experience than a Silver City (poorer sound too). The darkness, though, was for effect as the ninjas lurk in shadow and it is their magic. I'd like to see this again on a good TV to catch what I missed in the theatre. One thing that I could not miss was the blood and visceral death effects. The blood here isn't the bright, contrasting, almost comical Kill Bill blood but the deep ruddy blood of film noir but gushing in gouts that could sicken a horror afficionado.

In the end I had to ask myself, what was this movie trying to be? I think, it was trying to be a nostalgic ninja movie updated with some cool ninja effects and brutally hyper-realistic fight scenes (realistic if you take the premise that ninja are as supernatural as legends posit) that don't flinch at the question, what happens if someone with incredible strength hits you full swing in the head with a razor sharp katana. These things it excels at and so, this movie succeeds in the fashion of Ninja Scroll. In that regard, I think a well considered sequel could have a place and if they beef up the story (now that the stage is set) to incorporate the other 8 ninja clans we could have a very cool movie.



My recommendation: If you are not a steel-gutted fan of ninjas or a voracious consumer of the occasionally innovative action special effect, don't bother with this movie.

Monday, November 30, 2009

What's in a Name?

Hello my trusted readers.

I've been sporting the name Epic Fail Hour for a little while now and I've recently come under the notion that the name could be better.  I have taken a liking to the name Human Fail Machine and propose a name change of this blog to that.  I feel the first name evokes an impermanence that was appropriate when I started blogging but the new name implies the potential and need to fail is inherent in the undertaking and that it's somehow more permanent.

I like that it is a metaphor for a person and not a time.

Also to me it seems less cynical and more poetic (what little I know of that).

What say you all?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Weekends Wasted and the Challenge to Fail


Another weekend come and gone.  I am always so excited for the weekend to get here only to spend it entirely camped out in front of my computer or my XBOX or sleeping in to make up for my self-destructive weekly habits.  Sometimes it seems I spend my whole life looking forward to being disappointed.


But don't we all?  We look forward to movie releases, book releases, game launches, TV Shows, holidays, vacations, family events, seasons, weekends, classes, trips, finishing things, starting things, buying things, meeting people, being rid of people, and accomplishing something.

Look at how much life we miss out on in the meantime!  Not to mention many of those activities end up being less exciting or fulfilling than we imagined.  But some of them do, some of them are completely fulfilling, and these always involve great loves or great people.

By all means look forward to that writing class in which you will be enriched by other people's passions or look forward to that turkey dinner with the family where your love banks will be recharged.  Look forward to making music or poetry or playing sports; look forward to whatever you are passionate about. 

But please don't just look forward to them, actually do them.  Are you looking forward to seeing your sister next month?  Call her!  Are you looking forward to learning guitar?  Play!  Are you looking forward to meeting someone? Go out and look (or talk)!  Are you looking forward to being in shape? Work out!

That is sometimes hard enough to do for the little things but what about the giant ones like pursuing your dreams, taking risks, and trying something new?

This concept has played in the lives of generations of people.  Most of us are held back because we are afraid of failure and rejection.  We have the misconception that if we do not succeed immediately we are failures and that is somehow a bad thing.  I've got news for you; humans are fail machines.  We are designed to fail at something until we get it right.  If you are not failing at something new, then you are doing it wrong.  Sure you learn a bit from success, but you learn so much more from failure.

Whatever you do, don't hide at home behind your hopes and dreams, venture forth and fail!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cirque du Soleil: Alegria in London



Last Friday I attended Cirque du Soleil: Alegria in London and was very impressed.  The show was well produced, immersive, engaging, musically enchanting, funny, and evocative.

The show starts with the rather queer Nostalgic Old Birds wandering around the stage and down into the floor audience only to be corralled by the bitter and captivating Fleur.  Fleur acts as our guide of sorts through the landscape of Alegria and kicks things off after a bit with a lively and participatory marching-band stroll through the floor audience.  He had us all clapping along to the beat emphatically as the lilting tune rang out joyously with the odd pause for an exultant shout of "Alegria!" from Fleur.

The actors at fairly regular turns enter the floor audience and even interact with them and pull them occasionally on stage.  Most of the main Acts do not, but much of the in-between bits do and these are the highlights of the show.

The show could be roughly divided into Characters and Acts with the Acts being of the breathtaking and impressive variety and the Characters bringing the human quotient acting as the glue holding the show together.  The White and Black Singers provide a beautiful lyrical backdrop to the Acts and the live band really pumps out some impressive beats and tunes; you would not believe it is all being performed live if you could not see them at the top back of the stage jamming away (and in costume no less).

The show does not lack in acrobatics, contortions, or visually interesting coordinated activities (I rather liked the trampoline "roads" that were choreographed on) and if you were hoping to see incredible feats of female flexibility or impressive feats of male strength, you will not go wanting.  What the show absolutely excels at, however, is the clowns.

Here is the description of the clowns from the main site:
The clowns are witnesses to the passing of centuries, the social commentators of Alegría. The clowns reflect the eternal spirit of mankind. They are grounded and realistic, telling little stories of everyday life – where everyone is a hero, where anyone can fall in love and suffer a broken heart. The clowns are visionaries – philosophers of absurdity. Endearing, comical and child-like, they turn the world into a circus.

And what a wonderful circus!  They both brilliantly mock the Acts themselves and also provide their own narrative.  From the two clowns that experience a friendly rivalry throughout the show, to the heartbreaking clown that emotes sadness in a way that only a fully simulated blizzard can top.  Yes, a blizzard makes a rather impressive bookend prior to intermission I would say.

To get the most out of this show I would encourage you to either buy a program (I did not) or read the descriptions of the Acts and Characters on the website.  There are many layers to Alegria and most of them are not apparent without some priming.  Be aware that, as in our case, the Acts on the website may not precisely be the acts performed due to the nature of staffing a touring show and the highly-skilled demands of the acts, although equivalent substitutions were made such that I didn't notice.

This was my first Cirque du Soleil performance and it will not be my last.  Many thanks to the talented cast of Alegria for putting on a wonderful show in London, Ontario!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Office Bingo

At work we are running a Bingo game for United Way charity in which we purchased 3 cards for about $5 and the winner splits the total collection in half with the charity.  Numbers are picked by a program and put on our corporate intranet site and I currently need 3 numbers for a full clear to win.

This got me thinking about the math and geometry behind Bingo cards.  For example, did you know that 5 blank numbers in a diagonal across the board is the minimum you need to block any full rows or columns? 

Did you know that even if the FREE middle square is counted as given, 5 is still the minumum number you need to block rows & columns, you simply blank out the number above FREE and to the left of FREE and give them the FREE and diagonal square in I column (or a similar mirror pattern)?



Or this, based on a choose formula of C(5, 15)xC(5, 15)xC(4, 15)xC(5, 15)xC(5,15) you have a total 111,007,923,832,370,565 possible winning card combinations. C(5, 15) is 3,003 possible combinations for a single column.

I was about to figure out my rough odds of winning based on the fact that 58/75 numbers have been drawn (find out the number drawn from each column and the number left in each column, etc) but when I started to think about it I realized I don't really care that much and I should probably do actual work today.  But heck it was fun thinking about it.

I also invented the concept of a Super Bingo that uses unique permutations instead of just combinations, meaning that 5 bingo cards with the exact same numbers would not all be winners at the same time.  So you would be drawing B-(3)-10, meaning Column B, Row 3, number 10.  This could work for World Bingo events where the number of possible participants warrants a greater number of possible combinations.

Now I know why all those old folks like bingo so much, they must be doing the math while they blot away!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Depths of Despair

Bubbles streamed behind the submarine as it floated along the sea floor.

"Here it comes everyone," said Dr. Smythe, "New Atlantis!"

As the sub burst over the shelf ledge a glorous blue structure rose over the horizon like a galaxy of lights being born in front of them.

"It's beautiful," said Kelly under her breath.

"Amazing," said Sam, "You built this?"

"Seatech, along with 3 countries and a couple billion dollars, yes."

"How did you overcome the pressure?  What about prolonged exposure to..." began Benjamin.

"Can it guys," said Kelly, "I swear you'd talk during the Sermon on the Mount.".

New Atlantis stretched its tube-like fingers across the viewing window as it grew even larger, bubbles occasionally billowing up the glass from the sub's motion.

"Hang on," said Dr. Smythe quietly, "this should be fun."

The sub rocked gently at first but it quickly grew to a violent shudder as it drastically picked up speed, rushing forward and away from the ledge.

"Don't worry everyone, we just hit a feeder current slip-streaming over the ledge."

"A feeder for what?" asked Benjamin.

"This!"

The sub suddenly plummeted straight down into the trench beyond the ledge.  The pilot brought the nose down to match their trajectory, stopping the lurching; the city scape disappered as the pitch black maw of the trench devoured their view.

To Ear is Human...

The warp core thrummed on its lazy cycle as Geordie LaForge layed under the console beside it performing a diagnostic.  He had been under almost every console in Engineering trying to track down this problem.  it had started about 2 days ago when the Enterprise had finished running some short range scans on a previously unknown type of ringed gas giant.  After they had warped away he had started to notice the differences in the power readouts; just a few points at first, then a few percents, and now getting worse.  As Chief Engineer he was silently seething over it he had no idea what was causing it.

That was when Lt. Barclay entered Engineering whistling an almost familiar tune.

"Good Morning Chief!", exclaimed Barclay, "Fine day to run diagnostics isn't it?"

"Whatever you say Reggie," said Geordie, slightly distracted, something had his mind buzzing but he couldn't put his finger on it.

Childhood Twilight (The Twilight of Childhood?)

"Oh what a save!", Desmond shouted as he rolled over onto the ball, his legs extended into the air.  He had thrown the leg pads up in a desperate attempt to repel Tim's rebound and had succeeded in muting the shot.

"Nice one Des, I thought I had you," said Tim receiving the old tennis ball as Desmond scrabbled up in his 'crease'.  Crease being a fairly accurate description on the canvas covered driveway.  Most of that same driveway was cast in shadows now and the boys could feel the truly good hours of hockey ending and the truly good hours of bonding approach.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How to Avoid Hypochondria

Hypochondria is the condition of suffering from an imaginary ailment or symptoms and in 2009 almost anyone can suffer from it.  The way to avoid Hypochondria is by avoiding it's chief cause: The Internet.

Never, ever, look up a symptom list for a malady you think you may on some remote level have, all that will happen is that you will begin to think that every minor discomfort is in fact one of the symptoms.  Worst of all is looking up an isolated symptom on somewhere like WebMD and linking to all the wonderfully scary diseases and ailments that it could indicate.  Stay away from that unless you want to attribute some harmless sleeplessness (brought on by stress no doubt) to a pending stroke or some bizarre syndrome of the day.

I've been sick since last week with a decently bad cold and started to feel better by Tuesday of this week.  I felt achy by late Tuesday and rundown and achy with a headache on Wednesday and decided to look up symptoms for H1N1.  Next thing you know I'm up at staff health getting my temperature taken because I am sure I have a fever.  Needless to say the nurse indicated my temperature was fine.

Fever or no, I am still sick, with a cough and running nose and fuzzy-head, but so far I'm really not in any position to think I have H1N1 as I lack several major symptoms.  Give it enough time and my brain can manifest those too.  Thanks, Internet.Publish Post

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Bitter Sweet Treat

His teeth pressed through the firm consistency of the jelly bean as his mouth exploded in saliva.  A moment later, as if it almost had been present before his mouth watered, the sweetly sharp tang of fresh peaches bit into his tongue.  The taste washed over him as he began to chew it into a gummy pulp.  Swallowing, the pulp raced down his throat, chased by a tangy aftertaste.  His mouth grew chalky and robbed of moisture as the poison absorbed into his bloodstream.

"Peach, nice touch," croaked Robert as his throat closed up and he slumped over dead.

The Technologist!

"Bang! Bang!", rang Maxwell's Silver Hammer as it came down upon her head, in two swift blows.

The teller dropped to the ground as the bank erupted in a shower of shrieks and moans.  As the body fell away a sinister smile spread across Maxwell Edison's lips revealing a row of perfect white teeth.

"Anyone else want to reach for any little hidey buttons, cellphones, beepers, guns, or tazers?" His voice rose in pitch as he spoke, sounding feverishly excited as he hit the crescendo, "JUST TRY IT!"

The bank lobby fell to quiet moans and weeping as a pool of blood spread out from Missy, the late teller's, lifeless heap.

"Now Mr. Borrowitz that is a fine idea, yes," he said wryly as he lilted around on the bank manager that had been slying towards the vault room, "Let's get to that money shall we."

-

"The madman Maxwell Edison has seized control of the Utopolis Central Bank building," creaked the ear buds hanging around Tim's neck as he talked on the desk phone in his cube.

"This install will only take about fifteen minutes Mrs. Shaw, I'd just ask that you avoid using the old software until it completes upgrading."

"12 people are visible inside the..." the ear buds continued.

"Not a problem Tim, thanks for calling me back so quickly on a Friday," Mrs. Shaw oozed into the phone.

Tim reflected how pleasant people were when things were going their way.  He knew full well how different they could be when they weren't.

"It's my pleasure, give it about 20 minutes and check for a new icon, if you don't see it, give me a call back."

"Great."

"Have a great weekend Mrs. Shaw."

"You as well!"

This is when the nagging feeling in Tim's mind, present since he had reflected on Mrs. Shaw's reaction, hooked his attention on the ear buds.

"That sounds bad," he mumbled, slipping in the ear buds.

"...presently housing one-hundred million in gold bullion, police expect Maxwell Edison is looking to score big but sources close to the police report they are completely baffled how he plans to escape with it."

"Shit," said Tim, he had started to rise at the name Maxwell.

"...What was that?  Oh my god, we just saw two flashes of light from inside the bank.  That is normally a sign of Maxwell's Silver Hammer and could mean another hostage was just executed!"

"Jesus," said Tim grabbing his coat and running past Soren's cube.

"Hey Soren, check on that install I just started in a half-hour, for PDF Reader.  I gotta grab a coffee!"

"Ya, no problem, what is it life and death coffee?!", yelled Soren down the hall.

"It might be," said Tim to himself as he hit the stairwell running.

Heart Race

The world moved, and his mind was still.  He found this therapeutic and looked forward to it more and more these days.  Troubles seemed to cloud his thoughts of late and the detachment of his newly favourite past time helped to sort it all out.

Something streaked by on his left and he knew it was time to "thread the needle" as he had heard it called.  This part he just liked for the sheer thrill of it.

Quickly he careened to the right a few degrees and counted the heartbeats to the turn.

Eight, nine, now!


He dug his toes in and dragged himself into the turn with his front limbs, only to immediately twist to the left and kick his back half around into a 90° turn.

Oh yeah!  Now to give it some speed!

Windmilling like an Olympic rowing team his sleek body quickly regained his speed just in time for the second dogleg, but not before he buzzed by Tim's seat in a blur.

"For Pete's sake Smokie, lay off!  It's late!" Tim cried out in surprise, clutching the arm of his big comfortable computer chair.

"Sorry guys, my cat is being a nutbar again," Tim said into his headset, resuming his game.

But Smokie didn't hear, or wasn't listening, as he deftly completed the second bend.

Left, Right, 6 more heartbeats...

Sally and Me

The littlest tree in the forest belonged to me.  I called her Sally and years later I would name my own dear daughter after her.  She was poking up through the grass at the base of an old Oak Grandfather when I found her as I was exploring the hills and woods near our home.  I was 12 years and 42 days old; I know exactly because I had been determined to count each day to my next birthday for I was convinced that would be the year I finally got a pony.

Finding Sally was so accidental I nearly crushed her in doing so.  I had been climbing absently up the gnarled trunk of the Oak with my eyes more on a delightfully fuzzy caterpita' (as I called them for far too long) than on the tree, and I slipped, sliding all the way to the bottom and onto my side.  Before I could consider hurting or crying, I spotted the little branches sticking magically up through the shady grass in front of me.

Oh and what magic!  Before my eyes was a wonderous world in which I was the size of the sun itself and a lone tree spread its lopsided roof of leaves out over the overgrown hillside.  The old oak's leaves rustled as a breeze whiffed by and a sliver of sun crossed my cheek and bathed my little kingdom in gold.

"Why hello," I said in a voice just as golden, "I think we are to be wonderful friends."

Yellow Soul

Everything was cast in the warm hues of yellow common to buttercups and sunsets.

Well that's not quite right, thought Jordan, it's about 30 times that strong.

It had been getting steadily more and more yellow since last Friday when everyone, even the vehement naysayers, had to finally admit the scientists were right.  That was the first day the comet appeared in the sky beside the sun.

Nearly a week later and what had started as a large day-star was now Sol's little brother, trotting along at a leisurely pace across the sky.

Really you'd expect more to have changed in a week than just the peculiar colouring, Jordan mused to himself.  I mean sure the U.N. had scrambled to assemble a battery of scientists, and most recently nukes, just in case, but people were still heading to work and banks were still foreclosing properties and those poor African tribes were still being forced into squalor by their own leaders.  But hey, at least they probably didn't know or care that the world would likely end within the month...

Last weekend was "sick"!

Many words weasel themselves out of straightforward meanings via the appropriation of newly minted memes and social contexts and idioms.  That is not how I meant the usage of sick in the title, in this case it is a poor pun of sorts.

Man, when did I start sounding like a complete geek when writing??  Well because I was down with a cold all weekend and the better part of today, I am going to put up some short story 'beginnings' from my Thursday writing class.  Keep in mind these are all written in one go and not edited or filtered as I went and started on a dime, so to speak.

Each will have it's own post and title, comments are appreciated and vote for one if you want me to try to finish it!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Time-slice Paradox

One thing that I do not excel at is so-called Time Management.  The bare truth of the matter is that I simply don't "get it".  Perhaps it is a function of my preternatural obsession with the literal defintion of the namesake I carry (Shirk), or merely a learned behaviour unwittingly harvested from a bout of debilitating depression as a teenager.

Often lauded as key in Time Managment is Multitasking.  This is a term often thrown at me in the context of what I do poorly, as if an evolved human adult should inherently be able to do it well.  The term itself comes into the popular lexicon through computing and the famously multitasking processors in our home computers.  It is implied through it's popular use, and idiomatic use in self-management circles, to mean the ability to and act of performing more than one task at a time.  This is utter nonsense. 

In computing, with the exception of multi-core processors, multitasking never entails two processes having control of the main processor core at one moment, but rather it is the ability and act of priority switching between them.  Even in multi-core processors the trick is that there is more than one processor core available!  If you equate a cpu core to the human brain - which I might point out we have only one of - it is clear Multitasking really means, the ability to juggle multiple tasks based on priority, focusing on only one at a time.

Given this better definition of Multitasking I contend I am actually pretty decent at it.  Where I fail is in judgements involving relative priority and efficient use of focus length.  In the first case, priority is highly relative and subjective.  Nine out of ten times my problem is in not using another persons relative priority matrix but instead using my own.  Since I am a selfish, egoistic being, this is fraught with hazards.  So fair enough, I'm basically a newb at applying an understanding of what other people find important.  Luckily I am lately able to get pretty close as I build a secondary internal matrix of 'common priorites' such as timeliness of arrival (people hate it when you are late or make them so), fullfillment of promises (if you say it, do it, and not late, see #1), observance of details (do everything you said you would neglecting nary a detail), and added value (only if you've done the other three).

My main challenge is in efficiently determining how long to focus on any one task.  My nature is one of the artisan, focusing intently on one work of art until it is completed then moving to the next.  I am not a slave to this nature and do juggle mutiple tasks at once but I'm all to often stuck focus-firing one item down until I've long past the time where my priority matrix should dictate I switch targets.  This is where I encounter the Time-slice Paradox.

In my personal life I have many, many pulls on my time, such as, cleaning, laundry, organizing, planning, preparing, gaming (oh so many games), reading, writing, exercising, cat time, sleep time, friends time, travel time, etc.  Any number of these things feeds into two factors in regards to my feelings towards a given day, 1) my sense of personal effectiveness and 2) my sense of accomplishment.  The Time-slice Paradox is essentially the Heisenburg Uncertainty Principle of life management.  The more clear I am about 1) the less sure I am about 2) and the reverse.

On a day where I return from work and perform 1 hour of each cleaning, reading, writing, eating, XBOX and PC I will feel a very high sense of personal effectiveness but will feel like I accomplished very little in any of them.  On a day where I come home and spend no more than an hour on cleaning/eating and spend 5 hours playing a game on XBOX, I will feel I have accomplished a great deal on that game, but been fairly ineffective overall, wasting most of my time on one thing.

Perhaps this is only something that effects me, a result maybe of my own skewed sense of accomplishment, but it no doubt plays into all my Time Management woes, confusing my ability to rationalize the proper size of time-slices to use in my multitasking.  Considering I am lagging on writing assignments, slacking on blog posts, slumming in a chaotic apartment, starting to watch 2 new TV series, and sitting on 4 or 5 new games... this is going to be one heck of a paradoxical month.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Body Worlds is the Science of Cadavers

Halloween weekend, what better time to go see preserved corpses on display with their internal organs on the wrong side of their skin?

My ex-girlfriend, and still good friend, Amanda and I took a jaunt up to Orillia this last weekend with the idea to treat her friend's family to a trip to the touring Body Worlds display at the Ontario Science Centre.  In all fairness this was Amanda's idea, I personally had the idea to sleep in and eat candy.  Her idea was a sound one, however, and I was interested in checking out the exhibit and the rest of the Centre.  Then I found out these were real people's bodies entombed in plastic polymer and got grossed out.

Let me tell you, in person, it is still a bit unsettling.  Perhaps most unsettling is how blasé you become in regards to a human body sans connective tissue doing an inverted bicycle spin while split into 3 parts vertically by the end of the long-ish exhibit.  At first, the various bodies and organs are fascinating, with lots of little cards laden with interesting facts.  Sure I knew a lot of it from textbook Biology in high school but there is something so much more real about, well, reality.  While certainly instructive I had to wonder at the bizarre inventiveness of the the exhibit designers and whether the poses were a way to sensationalize a rather simple discovery.

The discovery I mention is the science/art/patented process of Plastination.  This is a very marketable name for the act of submerging a previously living organism in an acetone bath and then a liquid polymer bath and applying a vacuum at each step, thus forcing the polymer into the tissues of the subject and preserving them.  Okay, I'll admit it was a very good idea and has allowed a versatile and stable form of anatomy preservation and makes a fine teaching aid.  I don't know how well it fits as a travelling exhibit, at least in it's current form.  I'd say you could cut it down by a third in size and one may experience a little less cadaver overload.

The rest of the science centre was very interesting with a lot of fun hands on activities to entertain and inform.  If you have kids with you, and intend on seeing the Body Worlds exhibit, the ones that were with us (of whom several were younger) seemed to find it interesting but doing that exhibit first is a wise move.  I can't imagine them finding the bodies interesting for long enough to see the whole thing if they knew there was lots of fun buttons to push and wheels to turn just down the hall.  Also be forewarned the Planetarium has limited scheduled shows and you'll want to check on the times so you don't miss it - we did.

The rest of the trip involved a pleasant stop over at my Dad's up in Orillia where I checked out his new laptop and regaled him with my interminable opinions and vehemencies.  That night I finished reading Salems Lot after mon pere turned in, the Dark Tower grows in stature with each Stephen King read I complete.  I also managed a visit with my good friend Jim down in Barrie where we played some video games and watched a movie of sufficiently creepy nature.  The movie in question is well worth it if you like being scared of things that go BUMP in the night.

To all that I visited and to Amanda for sponsoring the journey, my thanks for a fun and memorable Halloween '09.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Offence is in the Eye of the Beholder

Modern Warfare 2 is probably going to be in the news this week over a leaked scene from the upcoming Infinity Ward game's opening act that involves some things that may offend some viewers.  First off I don't want to spoil the game, for that you can read this article and watch the video and I've got to give credit to @rockbandaide for the link. Let's just say it is not any different from the violence already present in games, but who you are playing and who you are performing the violence on is the drama.

And there it is, the key to the whole puzzle behind why IW included the scene in the first place, drama.  In the comments following that article is a litany of complaints primarily focused on how offensive and morally objectionable it is to play that part of the game and not one of these people realizes what they are doing.  They are complaining that a wonderfully immersive story has pulled them so morally and totally into a scene as to make them feel actually guilty, bad, and abhorent for being the character they are playing.  I fail to see how that is a bad thing, given the role you are playing at the time!

This scenaro is akin to a game about WWII putting you in the shoes of an SS soldier tasked with throwing a swtich at a gas chamber or enforcing order at a concentration camp but in doing so crafting the experience in a way that is horrifying to play.  Do you see the power in that story-telling?  The complex moral issues that can be addressed in that space?  We could deride it for being offensive and horrifying but that's exactly what they are trying to do!

Bioshock received acclaims for many things, one of which was it's moral decision in the gameplay and how it vexxed the average gamer.  It made a strong case for the use of interactive fiction as a vehicle to make us experience a disturbing reality, not just watch it on CNN.  I agree that implementing these sorts of gameplay elements should be considered carefully and carry proper gravitas, but I'm afraid mainstream media and consumers may not be able to differentiate a successful implementation from the truly offensive implementation.

This latter would be a game where you are applauded and cheered for performing atrocities in cartoon fashion, making it instead a light-hearted romp.  Wait, that's called Carmageddon isn't it? 

Speaking of which, another deeper layer to this topic can be found by studying the list of banned games on wikipedia.  There you will find the reasons in different nations for banning various video games and the reasons are often enlightening.  Consider who you are specifically playing as in the MW2 leaked gameplay and assume you are an American consumer watching this sensationalised on FOX NEWS, and then compare it to this paraphrased summary of international censorship.

China
Several banned for "smearing the image of China and the Chinese army", and/or for portraying Tibet, Sinkiang, and Manchuria as independent countries and Taiwan as under Japanese control.
Germany
Multiple banned because of Nazi references
Japan
Banned (until altered) one game for having a weapon with the same title as the atomic bomb used on Japan near the end of WWII.
Mexico
Banned one game for Mexican Rebels being antagonists and stereotyping the city of Chihuahua and Ciudad Juarez.
Saudi Arabia
Banned (Pokemon card game) for "promoting Zionism and gambling".
South Korea
Used to ban any game with a fictional North/South Korean war.
United Arab Emirates
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (MW2's precursor) is banned because in some cutscenes the player shoots Islamic soldiers.

Woah wait, what?  It turns out the first iteration of this game was banned from a middle eastern country for a reason shockingly close to the one that may incite American media.  Okay, I'll give you that there are some key differences beyond the nationality of the victims, but ultimately I contend that the main reason western media may renounce the scene is for the exact same sentiment as all these countries: an offence against a point of national tenderness.  For Germany and Japan it was WWII and for America it is 9/11.
 
I guess what I am driving at here is that Offence is sometimes in the eye of the beholder, but unlike beauty, we don't jump at the chance to experience it.  And rightly so, I just hope we don't miss out on the beauty of a rich, mature, interactive experience in the process.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Boy

The beasts attacked in pairs. Shamroth would always remember that. Like wolves they had descended upon the small camp where his family slept and where they now found their final rest. A piercing wail sounded from his left and right in unison and two of the creatures lunged at him from the ring of glinting eyes. His stomach dropped. Hungry paws tore the ground towards him and guttural huffing followed the bobbing eyes over the torn bodies of his family. He felt his young death approach.

His mind screamed, turning on itself and tearing in blind terror at every thought and instinct, looking for salvation.

Two lunging – too many - so big - nowhere to run – surrounded – everyone dead – no use – hide – hide – behind the shield – this shield – it was ...

“Averil, lend me your heart”, he whispered.

Seeming to hear them from outside himself, those words cut through the fear within him like a hot iron, searing away the confusion and doubt and pain, and leaving the burning of a new resolve. His gut leaped back up into a knot and his body surged with expectation as he braced his father's shield in his left hand, and the borrowed short-sword in his right began its arc up from the ground.

“NOOO!”

One beast slammed into his shield obliquely as Shamroth simultaneously lunged into it with all his might, while swinging the sword up and out through the head of the second attacker caught in mid stride.

Twisting his torso around with the motion of the swing he let the shield slide down and followed the sword through into the face of the first beast.

A pair of wails behind him. He pushed the first creature off his sword with his shield arm and spun to meet his new foes.

He would make his father proud, in the service of Averil, that much was decided.

Fours eyes streaked towards him. He dug his heals in and charged, shield first, screaming.

A shuddering double crunch seconds later rocked the shield on his arm as two mid-air bodies rebounded onto the packed earth.

Shamroth slid to a halt and looked over his shield, waiting for the next beast, “Who's next?”

Terrible seconds ticked past, the air thick with throat noises, and then pairs of wails pierced the flickering ring of light from all directions and the circle collapsed inward.

He caught the fastest one in the right side of the head with a wide slice and then swung his shield out like a door to catch the runner up flat in the nose. The short-sword's back-swing caught third place in what must have been it's shoulder and it crumpled to the floor. He dropped his shield back in place in time for it to be slammed into by another snout going for his soft guts. The sound of beasts crazy with hunger and hatred crowded in on his senses.

He spun a half-circle on his shield leg and slashed aside a leaping attacker. A sudden flash of fangs headed for his face and instead caught his improvised shield punch edge-on, redirecting the now wrecked muzzle towards the last recipient of his sword.

He looked up in time to see two massive bodies coming straight at him suddenly swoop out wide and swing back in viciously. A figure-eight slash darted out in front of him, over the shield, and the pair attempting to pincer him from the front skidded to the sides.

Something wet slapped his neck as a massive body slammed into his shoulders, sending him over his knees. He was aware his neck suddenly felt cold and distant as he sprawled forward. He tucked his right shoulder in and tried his best to spring with his left foot as it left the ground.

His right shoulder hit the ground too hard as the large body pushing it back-flipped across the dirt ahead of him. Momentum followed his tuck and he rolled along his shoulders, dirt gritting into his neck and head as it scraped the ground. A burning fire suddenly replaced the cold one as he rolled over awkwardly onto his feet.

At least he knew what happened to his neck now. He had a flash of clear thought as he teetered forward - he was damned if that thing was going to enjoy its snack. Shamroth led his remaining momentum through into a wild lunge with his short-sword, catching the thrashing body in the chest. With a shout he threw his weight and body fully into the lunge and drove the sword up to the hilt into the vaguely dog-like creatures chest, resting against it as it twitched. This one was bigger than the others.

All he could hear was the distant thunder of a coming storm.

How many had there been?

“They attacked in pairs.”, he said, the words stumbling out of his mind and into his hearing. His head was buzzing with pain from somewhere behind his brain.

That was when his eyes fell on the edge of the shadows directly in front of him. A pair of massive yellow-red eyes hung nearly 4 feet in the air as the ground in front of him darkened. It looked like the shadows themselves were growing out to swallow him with those massive eyes showing the way. What he had thought was distant thunder grew with the eyes and the creature let loose an angry wail that pealed out of the shadows and echoed off the hills around them.

This last one was no puppy and it looked like he had just killed its hunting buddy, or worse.

Perhaps worst, Shamroth had no doubt the alpha-beast's wail had awakened the dead. He wasn't sure how he knew that, but for now he was just glad it wasn't these dead. He pushed himself to his feet and stooped down, struggling to remove the short-sword from the neck-biters torso. His bloody fingers slipped off the undersized grip even as the buzzing - that had now moved into his brain - confounded their coordination. Why couldn't he figure this out, why was the sword so slippery?

The creature, now largely visible in the firelight before him, was roughly the size of bears he had seen back home. It wasn't a bear though and it wasn't a dog, but it was dog-like with massive fangs in it's muzzle and eyes that seemed to reflect the fires of the underworlds themselves. Sure, maybe this thing could be a dog if it wasn't for the complete lack of a tail or... skin. It's flesh seemed to boil on it's frame like an orgy of muscle and blood.

The beast tensed as their eyes locked and Shamroth knew he was fucked. That burning in his chest, forgotten but THERE ever since his whispered prayer, suddenly roiled and flared and burst through him, freeing his brain temporarily from that infernal buzzing and filling him with certainty. The beast tore into the earth, springing forward, its jaws opening as a second dead-raising wail rose from its maw, rending the air between them.

With unnatural grace Shamroth stood into a shield-lean, looking straight over it into the beasts meteoric eyes and shouted with a booming authority that sundered the wail in a shock-wave.

“BY AVERIL!”

The shock-wave of the Command cracked outwards and ripped over the edge of his Father's paladin shield, catching the rim alight as it cascaded into a holy runic symbol that emblazoned on the surface then separated away as golden fire. The holy symbol slammed outwards straight into the alpha-beasts jaws. A burst of light lit the hills as the shield slam tore through the beasts frame and then evaporated into the night air, sending a spray of muscle and gore into the camp and campfire.

As the flames sputtered out, Shamroth fell forward to his knees, his Father's shield clattering in front of him.

“Dad”, he said with a strangled breath as he slumped forward onto the shield and slipped into blackness.

The shield glowed softly long into the night, drawing protective runes of sun-dapple onto the boys face, while the dead roamed.

The Ice Cream Assassin

I'm rather fond of most of the names I come up with for characters in RPG's and online personas.  I guess that's the nature of the game (pun) when creating a persona or even a fancy pronoun for yourself.  I am aware many of them are kind of lame without a rigorous backstory to beef them up.

My first nickname was Torsion, a simple and elegant word that I frankly picked because it sounded cool and I was about 15.  This was back in the days of, or before, 14.4k BBSs, and I picked it as my codename in The Third Courier.  Since the game was a SPY game and had a Wicked Cool Codewheel, how could I not pick a cool sounding codename?  It grew into my 'nick' in IRC and around the old ISP I worked at as a student. In those days one felt the need to rationalize your nickname and I evolved this charming backstory.

Def'n: the twisting of a body by two equal and opposite forces (torques).

In my teenage angst I took this to be a literal definition of the human soul and it's struggle to survive between the forces of good and evil.  Sounds snazzy huh?  The problem was this second possible defintion.

Def'n: the spermatic cord that provides the blood supply to a testicle is twisted

And believe it or not I was running into an alarming number of folks that had this predicament or knew of it.  This didn't totally dissuade me until years later and in the interim of Quake 1, Threewave CTF, TF, Quake 2, and on into Univeristy I continued to be Torsion or occasionally TorsionMaster to add some "Umph".

At University I went by all manner of names, whatever took my fancy in the hot game of the day Counter-Strike Beta X.  By 2002 I was ready to move on to a new persona and while reading the borrowed books for the Wheel of Time series I came across a passage refering to a group of folks as oathbreakers.  Shortly thereafter I saw the movie Ronin and my concept of Oathbreaker was born.

In my mind Oathbreaker was a man who had borken an oath to his lord and rebelled over a matter of deep honor and thus become a kind of ronin.  As a badge of his betrayal and his greater moral directives he self-titles himself Oathbreaker, embodening both shame and pride.

Nice eh?  Except for one, everyone called me Oath for short (sort of ironic no?) and the name was taken a surprising number of times!  Regardless, I ran with that tag in Counterstrike and beyond and occasionally still do to this day.  I had a subservient persona Commandant which served me well in all the WW2 games of the last few years.

Then came World of Warcraft.  Oh man, now I needed a half-dozen names.  Here is the short list:

Shamroth - My Paladin and first character, created on Beta WoW as a dwarf and reborn as a human (to be near my GF's human) after launch.  Name came out of thin air, turns out it is really some peoples name.
Unius - My Night Elf Druid. Name again came out of a combo of syllable sounds in my head, turns out there is a band named Unius.
Kleehv - My Dwarf Warrior, obvious play on Cleave
Sprox - My Gnome Mage
Veox - My Gnome Warlock - Twink but also Sprox's evil brother/twin.
Rethguals/Stabbajabba - Night Elf Warrior(Slaughter backward)/Gnome Rogue - Twinks
Undershot/Overshot - Dwarf Hunter killed to make a Dranei Hunter.

But as much as I loved these characters, they have little backstory.  This is a result of them existing solely for WoW and my letting WoW contribute their own backstories through the contexts of the quest lines I pursued.  That's not entirely true, I've always had a feeling of who they were but nothing concrete  Now I've started to use these names everywhere else and I feel the need again.  I've used them largely because while Oathbreaker is often taken, Kleehv never is.  Kleehv is now my XBOX360 Gamertag.

Then comes along DDO and now Shamroth the Oathbreaker is a slighlty different Human Paladin, and Kleehv Stoneshorn is a slightly different Dwarf Fighter, and Unius Brushwalker is an Elf Ranger, and they are joined by Conora Sunborne the Human Favoured Soul.  Now I want a backstory to keep their feeling intact.

And so I have the hairbrained scheme to write that backstory for each, within a neutral world of my own creation, and make a real story out of it.  I took a crack at the opening the other day, introducing a young Shamroth and his first experience with the Goddess Averil and a tragic event that proves to shape his life.

We'll see how that goes.

As for me, I'm still Oathbreaker, or Kleehv, or Shamroth, and I'm seriously considering changing them all to TheIceCreamAssassin.  Why?  That one needs no backstory, it's simply who I am.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Beginning of the End of the End of the Recession

The price of gas is hovering near a dollar off and on and I'm seeing more job postings trickle through at work.  U.S. news is riddled with other issues such as Health Care Reform.  I think this might be it.  This might be the first dilation of the pupil of my eye in reaction to a hint of the light at the end of the tunnel.

I've been lucky enough not to feel a lot of the impact of the 'economic downturn' aside from the innundation of the associated catch-phrases that is unavoidable and the constant employer excuses for cutting costs more than ever.  Considering my company also claims to be doing 100% great in the current circumstances I'm not sure the Scrooge & Marley treatment is validated.

Aside from light tunnels and Charles Dickens references it has been an okay summer.  I saw some enjoyable movies this season that were not franchises.  I was sure that day was done.  Either I'd have to stoop to Twilight or Harry Potter, I was resigned.  Luckily The Hangover and District 9 stepped up to deliver some good, original, experiences, while Star Trek positively surprised me for a franchise.

As far as seasons go, this one has been somewhat violent.  Sudden terrible thunderstorms were a bit more prevalent than I recall and it certainly seemed like World Epic Fail Hour (WEFH) was finally at hand on more than one night.  We'll have to see what the season of Winter beholds once we are completely done with the season of Construction in a month or two.