Wednesday, December 31, 2014

On the NYC Police

I wrote this as a response to this recent opinion piece from the New York Times. It's an argument where a lot of the sides are at least partially wrong.

The police are rejecting calls for greater checks on their power. These checks are necessary, especially in light of the increased corruption coming to light. They are right to be horrified at the senseless murder of their own, but shouldn't use it as an excuse not to self-reflect which is what this is turning into.

Blasio wants reform but he's doing it wrong. None of his proposals deal with the increased militarization of the police. He also supports the system of pointless victimless crimes responsible for Eric Garner's death, so his defenders are wrong when they say he's part in the solution. Blasio continues to maintain and grow the regulations that caused Garner's death.

The protesters are aware that police power is out of control, but they blame it on the wrong cause. It's an institutional issue, yes, but one driven by a view of authoritarianism that treats people as wild animals who must be corralled. Racism is only one aspect - it's actually a hatred of free will itself that's to blame. The only solution is less control, less central authority. Instead, many call for more bureaucracy in the name of "protection" - which only magnifies the problem.

I find the behavior of police here to be a fascinating social experiment on a grand scale. With victimless crimes no longer enforced, there is no descent into madness, only an improvement in quality of life for citizens of all backgrounds. Proof that what we need for equality and the pursuit of happiness are not more laws, but more liberty.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Card Games on Orthodoxy

The Abrahamic Religions in terms of collectible card games, such as Magic: The Gathering or Yugioh:

The Old Testament is the Core Set. It's where a lot of the basic rules and terms are defined. You need it to play since it sets the world and has several key cards every deck needs.

The New Testament and Quoran are expansion packs that some people didn't like but others strongly endorse as making the Core Set more playable. There are hard core players who strongly push one or the other and they never get along. Most are much more casual on the matter. Over time, some of the cards in the Core Set have been supplanted by these expansions, leading to a "mix-and-match" deck building approach, but there are a number of common deck archetypes that most people find agreeable.

The Book of Mormon is a fan expansion someone assembled on MS Paint and somehow got popular.

Atheists think children's card games are beneath them. Some even react irrationally when they see others playing games in front of them and go on loudly about how bad card games are for society.

Meanwhile, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is Cards Against Humanity.

Monday, December 29, 2014

LARP Concept

LARP idea: you are randomly assigned an archetype with its own powers and abilities. Archetypes include things like vampires, 80's hair metal bands, Smurfs, etc. A whole bunch of weird things that very much don't go together.

The setting: you're all the crew aboard a space ship. (Maybe airship, if you want to be steampunk about it.) The command crew are NPC's and wacky events unfold over the course of the weekend. Players can either work together or against each other to fulfill their roles. Try to get to your destination in one piece and not die (too much).

Friday, December 26, 2014

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Chinese Food for Christmas

My mom cooks all the holiday dinners every year. So I've always had Chinese food for Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Overcompensating

When men overcompensate, they get symbols attached to societal norms of masculinity: giant trucks, sports cars, or gadgets they don't need. When women overcompensate, they similarly indulge in societal femininity norms: shoes, make-up, and dresses. Both are symptoms of fundamental worries of not "measuring up."


To what degree is hewing to gender norms born of fear and insecurity? To what degree are those insecurities manufactured by marketeers looking to sell their products?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Tidbits

Whatever two consenting cedar trees want to do in the privacy of their own bedroom is fine with me. But when they launch their reproductive materials into the air and all over my face, I object.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Hobbit

Chris Nolan's take on Tolkien: Bilbo Begins.

"He's the Hobbit Middle Earth deserves, but not the one it needs right now."

Friday, December 12, 2014

Tidbits

The Washington Redskins today admitted that their name has offensive overtones to the common sensibilities of the nation and have changed it accordingly. They are now just "The Redskins."

Friday, December 5, 2014

Tidbits

What do you call a fan of laissez-faire?

A laissez-bian.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Elf on the Shelf

Santa Claus has some admittedly disturbing aspects when it comes to his monitoring. "He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake." Santa clearly monitors everyone's behavior, but in his case it's designed more in a karmic sense. His generosity and good will allow you to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, it's his presents - he gets to select the criteria he wants to use to hand them out.

"Elf on the Shelf" takes the fundamental creepiness of 24-hour monitoring and goes full bore with it. The express purpose of the "tradition" is to modify a child's behavior by providing a physical reminder that they are being watched and that all of their secrets are being shared with grown-ups/authority figures. This is not some far away person deciding if you're worthy of his gifts. This is a physical spy noting everything you do and making sure those in power know about it - and you're expected to obey and comply otherwise you won't receive any alms.

Jack Skellington step aside. We just found an actual Nightmare Before Christmas.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Love, Humorized

As a writer, I am always open to mining my rather hapless love life for material. Each scene involves a different person. I have exaggerated for the sake of humor.

Scene 1:

Me: Wow! We get along great. We need to spend more time together.

Her: Yes! Definitely!

Much cuddling ensues. Then a departure. Time passes...

Me: Hey, when do you want to meet again?

Her: *silence*

Time passes...

Me: Hey there. How are you?

Her: *silence*

Time passes...

Me: Are you okay?

Her: *silence*

Time passes...

Her: Hey everyone, sorry I was out. I'm back now!

Me: Hey! Glad you're better. Want to hang out?

Her: *silence*

Me: Okay, then.

Scene 2:

Me: Hey, want to go on a date to this place?

Her: Sure, that place sounds awesome!

The date approaches...

Me: Hey, we still on?

Her: *silence*

Me: Oh.

Time passes...

Me: Hey, I know something came up before, but want to go on a date to this other place?

Her: Sure! You're awesome. Thanks!

The date approaches...

Me: Hey, we still on?

Her: *silence*

Me: Oh.

Time passes. This process repeats 3-4 more times. Finally...

Me: Guess she didn't like me after all.

Time passes...

Me: So how have things been?

Her: Great! I'm in a relationship with this guy I've known a while. We've been going out on dates a lot!

Me: Oh. Well, good for you. When did it start?

Her: *gives a date some time after the earlier date requests*

Me: ...Wonderful.

Scene 3:

Me: So did you want to try absinthe?

Her: Oh, I am. I already bought some for the party next week.

Me: Ah, so we can try it there?

Her: You're not invited.

Me: Huh?

Her: I'm going with this other guy. Going to kiss him instead.

Me: I see. So he's a better match for you, then?

Her: No, he's using me as a rebound. I give it a month before he dumps me.

Me: ...Okay. Have fun.

Time passes...

Me: So are you still with that guy you dumped me for?

Her: Nope, it lasted 2 weeks.

Me: So you're single now?

Her: Nope, back with my old Korean boyfriend. I threatened to kill myself and he got back with me.

Me: What a lovely ending to that story...

Scene 4:

Me: So you're a pansexual polyamarous female currently in a relationship with about 5 other people of various genders?

Her: Yes.

Me: But you're listed as single and straight on Facebook.

Her: So? I also hate cuddling.

Me: Okay, we're done here.

Scene 5:

Me: Science?

Her: Science!

Me: SCIENCE!

Her: SCIENCE!

Me: We should date.

Her: Sorry, I'm more interested in a career.

Me: Phooey.

Scene 6:

Her: You're doing that wrong.

Me: Okay.

Her: You're doing THAT wrong.

Me: ...Okay.

Her: You're doing those things wrong!

Me: Sigh.

Her: You're doing that in a weird way.

Me: Could you please stop saying I'm doing things wrong?

Her: Stop judging me!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Tidbits

Lesson title for going over the Box Method of multiplying polynomials: "What Does the Box Say."

Friday, November 21, 2014

Tidbits

Student: What are you wearing on your head, Mr. Baird?

Me: It's a fez. I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tidbits

I wonder if Russian President's kids ever called him, "Pew-Pew-tin" when they did space battle play?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Tidbits

"No one loves you and you're going to die alone" is one of my favorite joke insults.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Tidbits

There are certain moments when Bryan Cranston sounds like Adam West.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Tidbits

You know you're steampunk when you like to pretend a gold accessory is actually brass.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Permanence of Trauma

This is a story concept I thought of the other night.

It's set in a world where there's a species that can love and attach normally, as humans do. But when they suffer trauma or abuse, their response is to permanently bond with the cause of it. A lifetime emotionally chained to whoever gave them that feeling of fear or pain. This connection is unshakable, regardless of willpower: the victim will always tend to obey or be drawn toward whoever induced the bond.

Within the world, this is used as part of their pair-bonding ritual. They are strictly monogamous and use this biological facet to induce an enduring bond that can weather hardship. In these cases, the trauma is consensual and mutual. I picture elves for the appearance of these beings, though elves are overused.

However, problems begin when they encounter other species who aren't subject to this rule and, worse, find this species highly desirable. As a result, you begin to have them forcibly bonded to beings who are not obliged to reciprocate. Worse, you can have more than one bonded to the same person, which goes against their psychology. They become highly valuable slaves, since slavers have to take care not to trigger their bonding process before selling them.

The main character of the story: a male of the species who, when young, was forcibly pair bonded with an older woman. She was later killed, which freed his body but not his mind. Her ghost now haunts him as he travels the land dedicated to a mission: to free as many of the slaves as he can. He knows he cannot undo their past, but he can at least stop the torment they are experiencing in the moment.

The main internal conflict would be the war of his mind. On one hand, it is still possible for him to love and feel emotions for others, However, the assault rendered him unable to permanently attach to anyone, because his attacker is always in his mind. He fights her influence, which asserts itself especially in his low moments.

Thematically, the obvious theme is the impact of abuse: physical, sexual, and emotional. The different forms abuse can take are explored, as well as different coping mechanisms and societal reactions. I picture it being a serial in nature, similar in construction to an ongoing manga with different arcs portraying different instances and a small constant cast.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Tidbits

The NSA uses a multi-level approach, where if they flag one suspect they also go after his contacts, their contacts, and so on for at least 3 levels. As a result of employing this kind of degrees of separation search method, they've determined that the global mastermind of all terrorism is Kevin Bacon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Kubrick's Lolita

Finally filling in some gaps of my Kubrick movies. Started off with his 1962 "Lolita." I went in expecting an interesting film depiction of the book's famous "unreliable narrator" mechanic and instead got a scathing condemnation of the permissive life style of the 1950's that would burgeon into the free love movement of the 1960's. And it has archetypes and attitudes skewered in a way that make it relevant to today.

The way Kubrick altered Lolita's character is absolutely chilling. She goes from the victim of an obsessive unhinged older man to a sociopathic manipulator, incapable of true affection. He even strongly hints it began before Humbert arrived, beginning with the mother's treatment of her. It's going to take me a bit to unpack my thoughts on the film, but the acting was amazing. James Mason and Peter Sellers were excellent choices. The Easter egg of the Spartacus reference (his previous film) was amusing.

Next up are the four films he made before Spartacus: Fear and Desire, Killer's Kiss, The Killing, and Paths of Glory.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Policy Evaluation

Two criteria for policy evaluation:

1) Theoretical - If the policy were enacted perfectly as intended, would it deal with the issue at hand? How well does it address the problem? Does it fall within acceptable moral constraints?

2) Empirical - Can the policy be implemented successfully? How well can it be put into practice? If the policy has been passed, how well has it been doing so far?

If a policy could never actually solve the problem even if done perfectly, than its empirical considerations are moot. Attacking that side is therefore a much stronger objection. The problem is it tends to get into very fundamental concepts of right and wrong, which can be very abstract.

However, highlighting a policy's inability to be successfully implemented due to logistical difficulties or human nature - a more practical side - can be useful as a pragmatic and fact-based argument. "This policy is a great idea - but it'd cost more money to implement than exists in the world" is a very reasonable objection that most people can understand and side with.

I feel like often there are policy debates where two people will argue different support/objection grounds and end up talking crosswise at each other.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

All You Zombies

"Zombies" is the term I like to use to describe an archetype I have had numerous bad run-ins with over the years and continue to be both puzzled and repulsed by.

Their defining trait is the deadness they have inside. There is no true emotional response from them, just imitations of such. They can form no deep bonds with others, lacking the ability to feel attachment or to contemplate future outcomes. Since they have no sense of attachment, they tend to dabble in superficial levels of human interaction, making them willing to toy with others. There is little to no curiosity about the world around them - they have no sense of wonder or excitement at new. They often take refuge in the moment, lacking the passionate energy that enables long term pursuits.

Passionless, frigid, and manipulative are three words I have found useful for them. However, it doesn't seem to capture how broken they are.

I have found they are drawn to certain ideologies, though, such as nihilism, as well as demented viewpoints such as "the mind is just a bunch of chemicals." The question is whether they are broken so they adopt broken views or if they adopted broken views and it broke them.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Prom Theme

"Have you chosen a prom theme?"

"Yes. Cannibals!"

"...Cannibals?"

"Is there a problem?"

"Why not something more...romantic?"

"Cannibals are totally romantic! They're all about heart! And lungs. And kidneys. And spleen."

Friday, October 3, 2014

Tidbits

I once made "Growth" one of my classroom principles. The character I used to represent it? Eren Jaeger.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Alpha Males

Three archetypes of alpha males:

1. Social Alpha - These are the ones who rely on charisma and charm to establish their position. They live for groups and enjoy the social dynamics that comes from interacting with others. They are often eloquent, well dressed, and have an intuitive grasp of what it takes to talk to people. This is the archetype most commonly portrayed in popular media as an alpha male. Many of the "rugged leading man" Hollywood actors fall into this category along with a lot of politicians.

2. Intellectual Alpha - These are the one who distinguish themselves with their brains. They prove themselves with their ideas and analytical skill. They fight and debate to discover truth in whatever subject they are in. The halls of academia are filled with these, and they are many of the richest men in the world. Isaac Newton, Thomas Edison, and Steve Jobs are all examples of this.

3. Iconoclast Alpha - Similar to the social alpha in that they often command a strong charisma. The difference is while social alphas like large groups and socializing, iconoclast alphas prefer to be lone wolves. They often reject societal standards they find oppressive and play by their own rules, for good or ill. They qualify as alpha because of the willpower they demonstrate in living life their own way. Jackson Pollock and Hunter S. Thompson are two notable examples.

Obviously, someone can be a blend of two or three. These are not all the possible types, either, just three I thought of. As for which one I fall into - I just wrote a note exploring and breaking down different kinds of alpha males. It's kind of obvious.

Each of the three also has a negative counterpart, an archetype of someone who strives to be one of them but fails due to flaws in their personality, most commonly insecurities and fear.

1. The Bully - While a social alpha revels in positive interactions with others and seeks to expand his circle for the goal of meeting new and interesting people, the bully wields his skill with people as a weapon against others. Instead of a web, he sees strata and tried to enforce a rigid hierarchy scheme to create the illusion of dominance.

2. The Fake - Unable to create or innovate on the same scale as other, the fake steals ideas to present them as his own. Others will confuse simple memorization with intelligence and try to earn their title by overwhelming others with facts. The worst are the gatekeepers, who "screen" those who can acquire access to information by some arbitrary measure. This can take the form of loyalty tests, political alliance questions, or discrimination by gender or race. They believe that "intelligence" is preserved by denying its spread and hording their ideas - the opposite of healthy intellectualism.

3. The Hipster - Claims to follow his own drum, claims to be "outside the mainstream." In truth, he is shaped utterly by those around him. His rejection of things is based on their popularity, making him no different from those who slavishly follow such trends. Instead of creating a bubble of will around him and plowing through life on his own, he is caught in the flow like others. He tries to pass off decisions with no conviction as genuine emotions. His behavior masks an absence of ideology or ideals. He isn't an iconoclast bursting with energy to burn his own path - he is an empty shell waving in the breeze and calling it dancing.

One reason "alpha male" has such a negative connotation today is that it's these three negative counterparts people have met or encountered. Each claims to be an alpha, while not being one. It is correct to feel disgust and contempt for the negative counterparts. However, it's important to remember that alpha males are not what the dislike is directed at - it is those who are not.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Irrational Elitism

Random WPI flashback: first two years of SFS having to keep my distance since the folks in charge were cliquish and not friendly. (They did everything in their power to make sure new people did not feel welcome, causing an off-shoot of folks who were sick of their bad attitudes.) Third and fourth year were great - new folks in charge with an approach of "Welcome everyone! You are awesome!" It's no wonder that the SFS atrophied a ton in those 2 years, but came back to health once the yucky ones were gone.

That experience is one of my driving influences today when I work cons and as a teacher advising clubs. Experiencing that irrational elitism those two years gave me a good grasp of how not to treat others in an organization, especially when you want that group to grow and prosper. My success with running high school anime clubs can be traced back to that lesson.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Tidbits

"You were looking for a half-Asian wearing a Doctor outfit when you should have been looking for a half-Doctor wearing an Asian outfit." - Daniel A. Burrow, San Japan 2013

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

D&D

The closest I have ever come to playing D&D was making a character in 1999 (this was 2nd Ed, when it was AD&D). She was a warrior/mage dual class, level 5. Unfortunately, the campaign never happened since the GM got busy with school.

Despite my love of table-top gaming, I have never actually played a game of Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder. One of these days I'll fix that. Maybe now with 5th Edition?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

England and Drunk Foreign Policy

Something to note: the British are our essentially drinking buddies when it comes to foreign policy. They're the ones where, no matter what kind of stupid plan we come up with after hitting a bar, they'll go along with it for laughs and giggles.

Rebuild Afghanistan? Sure! Invade Iraq? Whoo! Bomb Libya? Heck yeah!

What I find troubling: they're not helping us with Syria/ISIS.

Just how drunk ARE we right now?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Tidbits

Nolan North does the voice of all three cores in Portal 2. This means you defeat Wheatley by making him more like Deadpool.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Tidbits

Steins;Gate and Atlas Shrugged mash-up idea: "Who is John Titor?"

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Review: "Atlas Shrugged Part 2"

Atlas Shrugged Part 2 was significantly improved over Part 1. Better editing, cinematography, pacing, dialogue - many of my complaints about Part 1 were addressed, which shows they were listening to the fans.
Firstly, they stuck closer to the source material and largely stuck to rearranging Rand's dialogue for flow rather than tying to water it down or rewrite it. You actually hear Ayn Rand's wisdom coming through much clearer this time. One big thing they inserted was D'Anconia's Money speech (albeit edited), which was a gigantic missing piece of Part 1. I'm glad they remembered it this time!

I love what they did with the tunnel scene - it was one of the climatic moments of the book and they did an excellent job capturing the spirit and momentum of the scene when adapting it to film. In the book, it's paced tensely with the lack of responsibility being bumped up the chain and the tension of what to do mounting steadily to end in disaster. Here, they switch more to a visual form, letting you see the mounting crises on the railroad maps and such. It was different from the book, but precisely how it needed to be done to make it work in a film.

The new Francisco D'Anconia was a good choice and Robert Picardo as Dr. Stadtler was great (that's actually who I pictured as the character when I was reading it). I'm not fond of the new Hank Rearden or Lillian Rearden - I prefer the Part 1 actors, but that's a minor dislike.The new Dagny is fine, as is the new Eddie. The James Taggart they picked emphases a different aspect of the character: his showy bravado that masks his lack of confidence and fundamental hatred for competent people. He's less of an outward wimp like the Part 1 version, but it's not a bad change.

They did a good job inserting modern day parallels into the story, such as raising gas prices, both the Tea Party and Occupy Movement, and other little touches here and there largely missing from Part 1. You get a better sense that this is the near future.

Things they still need to improve:

1. 20th Century Motor Company - They keep explaining what happened in a very short and clipped way that just ruins the impact of that story. I really wish they'd just save the backstory for a narrative dump.

2. Flashbacks - They really need to use these. The backstory of Francisco and Dagny, Rearden's childhood, 20th Century, etc. would all be suited for flashbacks. It lets them show rather than tell.

3. Richard Halley - So we got Halley in Part 2 - for all of 5 minutes. They really dropped the ball on this, since music as a thematic element is much easier to do in a movie than a book.

4. Dagny on a Train - In the book, Dagny rides the train a lot. So far, we've had a grand total of ONE TIME where we've seen her on a train in these movies. It doesn't help the train symbolism when you have your train riding protagonist in a car most of the time.

5. Rising Tide of Mediocrity - We get a better taste of "the world is collapsing because only the incompetent are left" in Part 2, but they're leaving out a lot of scenes that in the book helped establish this early on. For example, Chapter 1 had a great scene where Dagny is disgusted by the sloth of her own railway workers who don't want to fix the problem so they don't get in trouble. Dodging responsibility is one of the key systems failures Ayn Rand was pointing out as a flaw of a collectivist system and did so largely through dialogue. Since those scenes would only add maybe 5-10 minutes to the film, they really shouldn't be left out as much.

6. Over Emphasis - On the flipside, there are several overwrought moments where the music and dramatic pauses cross into narm territory. It's good they're taking their time in Part 2 to stress things, but they need to back away from that a little. Increasing the number of minor exchanges (as described above) that reiterate the theme without a need to dramatize makes the point better.

My criticisms are less on the technical side this time and more on the interpretation and higher order film making. They finally have the basics down, now they need to refine it. I'm genuinely looking forward to Part 3 now and I hope they do an even better job with it.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: "Atlas Shrugged Part 1"

Is "Atlas Shrugged: The Movie" a decent film? Yes.

Could it have been significantly better? Yes.

These are my personal thoughts on the movie adaptation. It was not a disaster, but it was not near the level it needed to be. I see this less as a definitive adaptation and more as more a test of the water for a better Atlas Shrugged production sometime in the future.

Spoiler alert for those who haven't read it or seen it.

- No sense of desolation. Atlas Shrugged is set in a "crapsack America." This is the US as it deteriorates. Yet, except for a few shots of unemployed, there's no"feel" that this is a country on the brink. This plays into the overall lack of dramatic tension.

- The impact of the disappearances. In the book, every time Galt removes someone, it hits Dagny right in the gut. He's playing chess with her, trying to corral her into a checkmate as she continues to find moves. Here, it seems like a minor annoyance.

- Too short! An extra 40 minutes could have been added to the running time to include more of Rand's dialogue and messages with no harm done. Gaping omissions include D'Anconia's money speech, the condition of the town in Wisconsin, and the story of 20th Century Motors. More time could have also been spent to set mood and atmosphere, as well as characterization moments.

- The 20th Century Motors story should have been moved to the second film, but with it used here they should have devoted more time to it. The two key facets are the first hand accounts of the sister who instituted the "to each according to his needs" rule and the account of the former employee who saw the consequences. They also should have shown the state of the town (people living in squalor) to reinforce the desolation feel. Have Rearden summarize it in a few lines completely killed this plot's impact.

- In addition to a lack of unifying theme, there's little setup for the events, so they come off as being strung together like pearls. I liken it to "paint by numbers." The writer's forgot that this is an audience that can finish 1000+ page novels, so we have attention spans! Things are mentioned and then resolved soon after, such as the San Sebastian Mine. There should have been far more teasing about these things, with them mentioned briefly at first and only later ballooning into major incidents.

- The general structure of the film is off. You basically have three major events in the movie: the anniversary party, the John Galt Line completion, and Wyatt's Torch. Each of these should have been used to deliver significant developments in character, as they did in the novel. You use the party to explore Hank and Lillian and the Line Completion for his relationship with Dagny. You have the John Galt Line create hope and a swelling of good emotions from the audience, only for Wyatt's Torch to occur as the politicians do a last minute twist that ruins everything. These basic concepts of storytelling are missing.

- The party is sorely underutilized. As mentioned, it should be the culminating event that defines Hank and Lillian's relationship, with buildup along the way. But it also sets up D'Anconia's role later on (which the movie kind of does) with Hank. The two opposing philosophies should have been on display here, with D'Anconia's money speech (one of my favorites) contrasted with that of the rubbish philosopher and other inanities of the guests.

- They got rid of Dagny's train car. She spends more time in cars than in her own train! While it may be a budget thing, it's still a glaring issue.

- A key part of movies is that they're a blending of visual and audio. As a result, movies can use motifs and cues largely unavailable to books and comics.The major one they missed: Halley's Concerto. It would have served as both a perfect leitmotif and characterization for Dagny. By not having the characters smoke, they also missed out on the dollar sign cigarette cue though that one is less important. They also missed little things, such as the cars not being Toyota, but Hammond Cars.

- A motif they overused was, sadly, "John Galt." In the book, it works because it'd only pop up every few pages in dialogue. The time of reading text kept it fresh. In the movie, it's dropped every few scenes - far too often. It's like an auditory bludgeon. They should have been more subtle, keeping it mainly to visuals (such as graffiti) and incidental audio, like in the background of conversations. It should have also been used far more casually. After all, we know to look for and listen to it!

- Likewise, there are cues that would work in book that won't work in a movie. I agree with the writers' decision not to have Hank Rearden demonstrate the agony over his relationship with Dagny as he does in the movie. While that kind of tortured contemplation works in novels where you can see a character's inner thoughts, in a movie it would make him look very silly and emo. They did not, however, provide enough contrast between his relationships between the two women, so he comes off as just another cheating husband with no regrets. Oops.

- Lillian Rearden is played perfectly. Definitely the best actress of the film. She captured the character and dialogue splendidly. If only the writers had given her a proper role!

- With Hollywood's love of white-washing franchises with diversity in the source material (Airbender and Akira), it's nice to see a movie that does the opposite. No complaints for the changes made to Eddie and Stadler, especially since both were good in the roles.

- Other actors who did well were the ones playing Mouch, Potter, and Boyle.

- James Taggart looks too handsome. He seems less like the cowardly schemer who destroys for the sake of it and more like a second rate Jamie Bramber.

- D'Anconia was okay. I have a hard time judging the one they picked because Antonio Banderas has always been the actor in my mind for that part. I could have judged him better if they'd allowed him to deliver the speech.

- Dagny and Hank get mixed feelings from me. The actress playing Dagny does a much better job than Hank. A key problem is that Rand writes these two characters as being high level geniuses, who's intelligence is accompanied by not practicing the normal social niceties. They both have a "I'm here, but unless you say something important my mind isn't" quality to them. Neither of the actor's studied this kind of behavior quirk. Dagny's actress does capture some of the joy the character feels at genuine accomplishment and I appreciate the intensity she's able to emote in several scenes, such as the encounter with Lillian Rearden. Hank, on the other hand...Stiff. He's okay in some parts, but looks more like a shallow businessman than the master innovator Rand intended. They should have tried casting against type here to expand the range of actors and maybe find someone better at mixing both the sense of business and the passion of discovery and invention.

Am I glad I saw it? Yes. But it's not going to get people hooked on Atlas Shrugged. I can only really recommend this to people who have read the book and are curious how this attempt to adapt it went.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Tidbits

Fun activity: do karaoke of your favorite anime song, but replace every word with "Banana."

Friday, August 29, 2014

Tidbits

I use reflexive pronouns entirely too much in my own writing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

An Error of Age

A new countdown has begun! That is: how long before someone at my new school mistakes me for a student there?

At every school I've worked at, I have been mistaken for a senior there. (This also happened when I was student teaching in LaGuardia.) Waltrip has the record for speed: it happened before school began when a teacher thought I was there to register for classes. KIPP took the longest - it wasn't until the third quarter when a guy thought I was a student. NYOS was in the middle, with me being mistaken for a senior about halfway through the year by a parent.

So! As the school year of Austin ISD draws near, we shall see how quickly this mistake is made once again. Will they break the mold and avoid it entirely? Or somehow tie Waltrip's speed during general teacher orientation? (Makes me feel young every time. Especially as the gap increases.)

Monday, August 25, 2014

School is Coming

School starts today! Sadly, that means this blog will likely update less often. "Tidbits" on Fridays will continue and I have some other articles front loaded, but the Monday and Wednesday regular posts will diminish.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Non-Aggression Principle

The Non-Aggression Principle is an axiom of philosophical and political thought that states that the initiation of aggression (such as punching someone in the face when they haven't hit you) is bad and should be avoided. Unlike pacificism, it allows for violence in cases of self-defense, so if someone attacks you, you are allowed to hit back.

A common myth people perpetuate about the principle is that it leaves you vulnerable to attack. However, if you have reason to think someone might attack you, you are allowed to take measures to defend yourself, such as buying armaments or reinforcing your home. Just because you shouldn't lash out prematurely at someone doesn't mean you just sit there waiting to be picked off.

The Non-Aggression Principle is very conservative in how it manages risk. Let's say there's a person. They are doing suspicious things you don't like. They are either a) going to attack you or b) doing things differently from you. You can choose to attack or wait/prepare. There are four outcomes:

  1. They are going to attack you, but you attack them first.
  2. They are going to attack you, but you wait/prepare for it.
  3. They aren't going to attack you, but you attack them.
  4. They aren't going to attack you, but you prepare for if they do.
In situation 1 and 4, everything is fine. You either stopped them from attacking first or left them alone when they weren't planning to do anything to you. However, in situation 2 and 3, you made a mistake and suffer a penalty. So you have a 50% risk of making the wrong choice.

The Non-Aggression Principle says that the loss caused by attacking when in situation 3 is greater than the loss caused by waiting in situation 2. If you prepared correctly there's only so much harm that can be done to you in that initial salvo of situation 2. You can reduce and minimize the risk from that situation in a non-violent manner.

However, situation 3 creates an enemy where once there was none. By attacking, you injured innocent people with no gain. Now the person you attacked can justifiably return the favor and you've locked yourself in an unnecessary conflict. Therefore, the principle concludes, the best course of action is to always wait/prepare and not attack first. It eliminates the chance of situation 3, the worst possible outcome (i.e. murdering innocent people).

It seems straightforward. Why don't more people hold to it? The trick is that you don't have to agree with the principle's weight. You may think the downside of situation 2 is greater, such as discounting the preparation ability due to budget constraints or political will. Then you would conclude that preemptive strikes are better than waiting. That's where a lot of foreign policy debates come from.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Prom Theme

"Have you chosen a prom theme?"

"Yes. Cannibals!"

"...Cannibals?"

"Is there a problem?"

"Why not something more...romantic?"

"Cannibals are totally romantic! They're all about heart! And lungs. And kidneys. And spleen."

(Inspired by this "What If?" from xkcd.)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Romanticism of Superheroes

"Thrillers are the product, the popular offshoot, of the Romantic school of art that sees man, not as a helpless pawn of fate, but a being who possesses volition, whose life is directed by his own value-choices...Thrillers are a simplified, elementary version of Romantic literature. They are not concerned with a delineation of values, but, taking certain fundamental values for granted, they are concerned with only one aspect of a moral being's existence: the battle of good against evil in terms of purposeful action." - Ayn Rand, The Romantic Manifesto

As people, we crave art that portrays a vision of humanity that is elevated and above our current existence. We enjoy works that idealize and present us in a positive light. Seeing a hero overcome obstacles and define life on his own terms is refreshing and inspires us not to settle for things the way they are, but to go forth with courage and strike out to improve our own lives.

Contrast that with a lot of the films we have in theaters today. As I mentioned before, Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey portray bleak passive outlooks on the nature of love. Many comedies portray reality as bleak and harsh, with no purpose other than our immediate moments and any attempts to plan a cause for mockery. Pointlessness to existence and the elevation of primitive emotion over reason are the themes in many films.

However, one genre has succeeded not only in defying the predominant themes but also in finding popularity: superhero movies.

Superhero films are almost entirely derived from comic books/graphic novels. As many have observed, these comic books form our modern mythos. Our pantheon of today is not filled with Zeus or Vishnu or Thor (well, maybe that last one), but with aliens from other planets, billionaires investing in fighting crime, and teenagers given great powers.

These heroes have something major in common: they have a great hand in shaping the world around them. Indeed, most of the stories of heroes involve them defying the odds, overcoming obstacles that would break lesser beings, and changing what seemed inevitable. That concept - that one or a handful of people can change the world an defy the odds - is a value ingrained into the genre.

With a several notable exceptions, many comics are not complex or deep. They fit squarely into the thriller subtype of romantic works, much like the spy thrillers of the 1960's. Just as James Bond achieved critical and popular acclaim for the thriller aspects presents, so today have modern superhero films brought back an interest in romanticism and romantic works as people rediscover the refreshing feeling of watching a clash of values.

Values of the Superheroes

So what are some of the values of popular comic heroes? What are some of the romantic notions embedded into their fabric, apart from the "good vs. evil" plot device? There are many takes on that. The field of comic studies has produced many fine essays on the topics. These are my opinions on the matter:

Superman - Unlimited capacity, mentally and physically. He is what we hope to one day be ourselves in all respects. The ultimate goodness and power of humanity in a single form.

Batman - Man at his peak. He is what we could be in this lifetime, with enough dedication and discipline.

Captain America - The leader and soldier. He is the leader who has earned his place through his own efforts.

The Question - He is someone who hunts doggedly for the truth and lets nothing stop him from revealing it, no matter how much personal sacrifice he has to experience. (I refer here to the original Steve Ditko version.)

Spider-Man - "With great power comes great responsibility." The everyman who, gifted by something extraordinary, shoulders the burden of the world's ills on his back.

That's just a small number. You can fill in your own for other characters, such as Wonder Woman, Hulk, or Iron Man. In general, most of the iconic comic characters, those who have stayed with us for decades, have these fundamental - if simple - values attached to them.

Value-Free and Interest-Free

Comic book heroes don't always have values attached to them, of course. When they don't, the usual result is they fade away.

The 1990's saw the trend of "extreme" heroes catch on: much of Image comics and other indie comic publishers tried to break free of the "goodie two-shoe" mode of storytelling. They creates heroes who were violent, grim, gritty - and wholly forgettable. Linkara of Atop the Fourth Wall has done some very good jabs at Youngblood and other work from this era.

The core problem with the 1990's was simple: the writers focused on the superficial aspects of the genre. To them, heroes were about action, explosions, costumes, etc. It was about appearances. What they forgot were the themes, the defining traits that drove the characters to behave how they did - the values that prompted the character to be who they were. Without values, all they had were people in silly costumes shooting guns.

Some publishers turned to sex, loading the market with "nude cover" variants of their female "heroines." Instead of a heroic amazon warrior like Wonder Woman, they just banked on cheap titillation to get people reading about their generic female characters.

We see this issue today: DC's New 52 has been "grim and gritty" all over again, often discarding the basic values of the heroes in favor of "realism." In doing this, they make the same mistake as Image in the 90's, spawning stories driven by fancy art and action rather than any appeal to the characters' fundamental nature. That kind of comic is empty and hollow, unable to inspire or attract fans.

Some blame anti-heroes for the problem. However, anti-heroes can be done well. The Punisher, for example, acts from a very black and white view of justice and a belief that vengeance is best dispensed by his hands. His values often bring him into conflict with others who oppose those kinds of measures, such as Spider-Man.

Creating New Heroes

Now, it is possible to create new heroes that stand-out. Alan Moore has done this multiple times in a last few decades. Tom strong, Promethea, and V are all amazing values-driven characters. He and other writers show us how we can generate memorable heroes.

First, start with the moral, idea, or concept they represent. This isn't their powers or their name or origin. It's the fundamental value that is central to their being. It determines how they will act, how they'll respond to adversity. This value also comes from you: what opinion or perspective from your worldview do you want to put out there for others to see? Stan Lee created so many wonderful characters because he had views he wanted to share with the world. Be bold and do the same!

Now that you know what you want to express with the character, then come up with an origin, name, and powers. Try to keep them consistent with the idea you picked before. Use symbolism and myths to flesh things out. By knowing what you're trying to say first, the creative choices at this step become easier.

You can also flip these as needed - if a clever idea for a power hits you, by all means see if you can create an ideal to fit it. The important thing is to remember the concept. Skipping that step is what gave rise to the "extreme" heroes of the 90's. One of the critiques of Venom, the famous Spider-Man villain, is that while his powers were neat, he lacked that grounding concept behind him (at least at first). Interestingly, Carnage, with his belief in chaos, nihilism, and that life is meaningless, has arguably had a stronger ideology base to his actions.

Conclusion

Real people are complex and don't perfectly adhere to principles - and that can be an element in your writing. Straying from our ideals is one of the ways we make mistakes and then improve. Here's the trick: you can't introduce that kind of development unless your character has those principles to begin with. There has to be a path to stray from.

In creating Daizhong and the other facets of my new steampunk world, heroes obviously play a role. When designing the characters I want to serve as heroes and villains, I use the techniques I outlined here. I start with what values I want to express in my world and then think of ways for characters to express them. It's not easy - it's so much simpler to just rely on cheap hooks and flashy outfits - but I find it gives them much more life to them. I comprehend what they are much better because I have poured some measure of ideology into them.

In many ways, values are the spark of a life for a character the same way they are the sense of life for us.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Random Dialogue

"I'm not sure I should be taken dating advice from you."

"What do you mean? I'm an expert on creating awesome dates!"

"You took Natalie to a Brazilian Steakhouse."

"So?"

"She's a vegan!"

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Remembering Kubert

As Comics Coordinator for Comicpalooza 2012, it was my honor to work with Joe Kubert. He was a font of wisdom and knowledge in the creation of comics who remained eager to share with the younger generation. As a teacher and a comic creator, I found him a great source of inspiration.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Chains and Foundations

Two dominant forces in anyone's life: chains and foundations.

Chains bind us, holding us back from success by limiting our upward climb. These can be addictions, phobias, inaccurate preconceived notions. They are the barriers to progress and growth that hold us back from fully utilizing our strengths.

Foundations support us, allowing us to stand with sure feet. Good physical care, diet, learning are all things that support a person and allow them to operate at peak efficiency. The emotional support of loved ones is another major foundation.

Tragedy is when someone believes they are breaking the former, but they are in fact smashing the latter. There are many people who believe that the regularity and routine that comes from fostering a good foundation - for example, getting a good night's rest - is in fact something to discard. They become so caught up in discarding every pattern that they fail to judge between them. That lack of judgment, the decision to avoid making decisions and instead generalize, is a key component to self-destructive behavior.

I have found this sort of tragedy common among hedonists. People who advocate that the goal of life is to "feel good" or who seek pleasure at the expense of all else seem more likely than others to view the short-term sacrifice of maintaining the mind and body as undesirable and therefore reject it in favor of immediate gains in comfort.

The consequence is that their long term prospects are diminished, because they lack the foundation to rise higher than their current position. So, in response, they indulge even further, coming to believe that growth is an illusion and pleasure is all that matters. It's a very bleak existence.

Friday, August 8, 2014

TMNT

"I can never find my peanuts and caramel dipped in chocolate when I want to snack on them! They keep disappearing!"

"Look at the box. You bought Ninja Turtles by mistake."

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Romanticism: A Primer

One of my favorite styles of writing, movies, and art in general is Romanticism. It's a genre that is surprisingly common today, albeit in a very simple form, and underscores many of the major blockbuster motion pictures.

Romanticism can be summarized as a piece of art that represents a "clash of values" or some kind of value-statement about the world. That is, the artist has one or more values or ideals they are using art to express in some way, shape, or form. What the values are can vary widely - the uniting theme is that they are present and create a lens through which the art is supposed to be taken.

Victor Hugo is arguably the best known romantic author. His work displays characters who are driven by an adherence to a set of values and who come into conflict because of this. At the same time, their actions are consistent with the values they hold. In "Les Miserable," you have Jean Valjean representing the spirit of redemption and man's capacity to improve pitted against Javert, who adheres to a strict black-and0white view of good and evil.

Romanticism has many forms and subtypes. On the high end, Hugo's "Les Miserables" is regarded as one of the most complex romantic novels ever written. That could be considered a high-water mark for the genre. Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle - arguably the greatest opera ever created - is a thoroughly romantic work, with themes and symbolism drawn from myths that depicts man's clash with the gods. "The Dark Knight" is another, reflecting a clash of vigilante order (Batman) vs. orthodox order (Harvey Dent) vs. total chaos (The Joker).

You also have simpler forms of romanticism. "Good vs. evil" morality tales, such as most superhero comic book movies, are romantic, if very straightforward. They belong to a subtype of romantic works called "Thrillers." Thrillers are designed to provide quick and easy stimulation of the emotions, but not the kind of deep thought provoking reaction of Hugo or Wagner.

It speaks to the power of the genre that it has found such large appeal - see the total gross of "The Avengers" - among people. Many film critics make the mistake of dismissing these stories as "children's tales." They get one facet correct - that Marvel movies are not complex in scope - but then make the mistake that every movie of their ilk is immature. The truth is that "good vs. evil" tales are just an entry level gateway to a much larger and satisfying complex philosophical genre.

Romantic works are able to move people on a primal, passionate level. We are wired to enjoy and seek out a conflict of values - it speaks to our natural talent at judgment and decision making. The most thought provoking conflict stems from two sides, both with claims to being correct, but neither of whom can reach compromise. Only romanticism contains this kind of clash as one of its innate components.

The values in a romantic work do not have to conform to any preset notions of "good" or "evil" to qualify. There can be a romantic work that extols the virtues of communism and romantic work that praises capitalism, both equally valid. The presence of "good" itself is even optional. A main character can be a villain, out to mold the world to his values. (This kind of work would, of course, be rather dark - but it would still be romantic in nature.) The values themselves are not what determine the worth of the piece - it is a) their presence and b) how well the author integrates those values into the structure of the piece.

Romanticism is not a magic seal of quality, of course. There are bad or poorly conceived romantic works just as in any genre. Not every "good vs. evil" story is worth watching. Michael Bay's "Transformers" movies, for example, are "good vs. evil" but largely trash. Ironically, the "Atlas Shrugged" film adaptations fall into this disappointing category. Despite having a clash of values from the source material, neither film is particularly well-crafted.

Romanticism, for me, has always been my favorite type of work. This could be because of my childhood cartoon habits. The original "Transformers," "Thundercats," "He-Man," and other major 80's cartoons all had strong themes of good vs. evil. The Autobots represented courage and teamwork, while the Decepticons were about opportunistic strikes and back-stabbing. It was because of those traits that the Decepticons always lost.

As I go through creating Daizhong and crafting my own steampunk fictional world from which to tell stories, I find myself going back to romanticism as my style of choice. I want to convey values and principles, show them in motion and coming into conflict. I think that will make my writing much more interesting then generic adventures.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Cuddling

Soft light,
Touching figures.

Entire forms,
Illuminated.
The glow radiates,
Warmth pours.

Subtle motions,
The search for life.
Ocean of sensation,
Sailing across skin.

Wave motions increase,
Intimate turbulence.

Hands,
Fingers.
Lips,
Tongue.
Limbs,
Bodies.

Sparks across flesh,
Dancing bolts.
Writhing dynamos,
Powerful comfort.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Game Systems 2: Isomorphism and Immersion

Isomorphism is the mental process where we take abstract concepts and connect them to things in our sphere of imagination or experience. When we process math, we often use concrete models in our heads to clarify the meaning of the symbols. These concrete models can lead us astray, but with role-playing games, it’s this kind of isomorphism that is explicitly asked for on the part of the player.


In games, the typographical decision rules are the rules of the game itself, the core mechanics of game play. The role of typographical decision rules is to take the axioms (the game materials) and to give players an understanding of what constitutes a valid theorem, i.e. what they can do with the materials. By inference, the rules also tell the players what they cannot do with the materials, putting limits on them. (I may deal with negation and recursion later.)


Isomorphism enters use when a game asks the player to translate the decision rules into real-world or imaginary contexts. The decision rules, for example, may outline how a player rolls to set a mine and how the result impacts the grid on the map. But it is isomorphism that allows a player to translate that into an explosion in their mind. Often, a game will specify the kind of isomorphism they want the player to make by using descriptive language. It’s how one game may treat an area effect as the result of a mine, while another may treat it as the result of a magical fireball being lobbed.


What is immersion, then? Immersion is when a player accepts the isomorphism requested by the game. When a player agrees that the decision rules the game is using are consistent with a way to model the imaginary world they link it to in their mind, they are immersed. Their personal vision and the formal system are in sync.


What causes immersion to be disrupted? When the imaginary world they’ve created diverges from the rules of the game. For example, a person using a firearm wishes to make a trick shot. However, the rules for that trick shot are not in the game. It is not a valid move and therefore not a valid theorem of the formal system. The player balks, “knowing” that the trick shot is possible and that therefore the formal system should allow it. They have rejected a facet of the formal system and lost immersion.


This is not always a bad thing. “This game is not for you” is a valid result, one born of a player who wants rules that allow them to perform a certain set of actions, but not finding it in the current game. In these cases, the rules simply do not allow them to take the actions of their imaginary world they desire. The solution is for them to find a different game. There is nothing wrong with this and anticipating who will fail to be immersed is a part of audience selection.


Look at how Tephra handles firearms: there are four classes, from light to super-heavy. Players are free to flavor their guns however they like, but those four classes and associated statistics are all that’s there. A player who wants a more detailed gun system would then be expected to look elsewhere, because those aren’t the valid theorems admitted here.


As stated before, isomorphisms of formal systems can lead us astray. A common trap is to think that because you interpret a system as having a certain meaning, that this meaning must exert force over the system. This is untrue - the formal system exists independently of the meaning the person assigned to it. In some cases, players simply need to accept that not every detail of the world will be included in a certain game. It’s when a player becomes too attached to their isomorphism that they ignore the original rules that conflicts between players and narrators occurs most often.


Next, we’ll look at ways game developers can influence isomorphism and with it the immersion level of their game.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pillars of Steampunk

Steampunk is a hard genre to pin down. As one of the newer subtypes of science fiction, it still has a relatively shallow literary library (both in terms of the number of books and their general quality) compared to its parent, cyberpunk. There's also no widespread agreement on what makes something steampunk versus not.

To help do a rudimentary breakdown of steampunk, let's look at the three S's: science, society, and style.

Science

This is required by the "steam" element - if you don't have the right kind of science, you're general sci-fi, not steampunk. Without the science, you become a historical piece.

What kind of science is right for steampunk? First of all, steam power. Steam needs to be the primary motive force involved, rather than fossil fuels or other fuels. Gas and oil can be present, but should be rare. A possible exception is a story set in the transition between steam and oil, where steam is in the decline. A futuristic take is steam power generated by advanced technology. For example, nuclear reactors are actually steam turbines. Many thermo-energy plants and solar energy plants also use steam.

Next, you have a whole host of mid-to-late 1800's science concepts. The aether is one of the most commonly used. Also common was the rise of logicians in math. They believed that through pure logic everything could be proved and, in turn, science could know and determine everything in the universe. The science should be derived from those early ideas, before there was quantum physics. Leave out Godel and Heisenberg and focus on a physics with hard deterministic consequences.

Society

This is required for the "punk" half of the name. There was a lot of tension in society at the time: colonialism, the rise of capitalism, the scourge of Luddites and cronyism, Social Darwinism. Money was being released from the hands of an elite few and spread to the masses. The old aristocracy fought back with claims of genetic superiority and the use of social forces to control and reign in the newcomers.

This is when a person with great ideas and abilities could earn their fortunes - but at the same time have to fend off the predators who sought to seize their momentum. The emergence of the middle class was tumultuous and is just one of the many aspects that can be present in good steampunk.

Style

Style is just a generally nice thing to have for reader interest. For example, vocabulary. Victorian era words are incredibly important for setting the tone. This doesn't have to be everywhere - a little goes a long way. Likewise, writing with a higher end vocabulary (college level minimum) reflects the writing style of that era, which was aimed at an educated audience.

And of course you have action. A rousing tale of adventure and exploration fits well within the spirit of the age. Seeking the unknown is a great theme, whether it be in the external or internal world. (After all, Freud and psychology are very Victorian.)

There are likely more elements. When it comes to style, I would say Romanticism works over Naturalism (a topic for another time). And when it comes to specific themes, they are numerous and I've only briefly mentioned a few above

Sadly, most steampunk stories have plenty of style, but very little of the science or society aspects. As a result, theycome off as vapid and shallow, having very little stand-alone value apart from being a bit cool because of their aesthetic. A truly deep steampunk novel will combine all three and be written in the romantic style to represent a clash of values of the era.

Monday, July 28, 2014

On Normative Systems

A systems breakdown of how the normative system works and how those who fall outside of norms respond to it.

1. Start with an individual who possesses a trait/behavior that could be considered unique given their local surroundings.

2. Add external tension from a collective where that unique quality is penalized through some mechanism.

3. Now provide a social mechanism for individuals with that trait previously isolated from one another to come into contact (clubs, meet-ups, etc.).

4. Through this contact, an ideology is developed to explain a) the value of the unique trait, and b) the cause of the earlier penalization. This creates a subculture.

5. If the earlier penalization was merely inconvenient, then the ideology will likely focus on spreading information or other non-violent corrections. If the penalization was a more severe form of persecution (such as physical assaults), then the resulting ideology is more likely to stress a physical response.

6. The source of external tension (often a collective) is likely to respond. Common reactions include: a) becoming more tolerant/accepting of the unique trait, b) increasing the harshness of the penalization, c) increasing the isolation of those with the trait to prevent the formation/spread of the ideology, and d) creating a competing ideology that mitigates those of the subculture.

7. The process is repeated, now with the response from step 6 as the external tension of step 2.

Note that this systems breakdown makes no value judgment about the unique trait possessed, nor of the appropriateness of the external tension. For example, if the unique behavior is "a desire to steal," then it may make sense for society to penalize that behavior. The obvious application for this is when the unique traits are in fact valuable to society - such as high intelligence - but are penalized anyway.

Two things I wanted to account for were a) the relationship between how a group responds to being treated different and what that treatment was and b) the use of isolation to discourage the formation of a subculture. We've already seen the isolation method being employed once again with current Internet regulations being considered in many countries. The use of a competing ideology is probably the most popular today, however.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Tidbits

Me: "Alexander the Great was an amazing general."

Student: "Wasn't he also the first Secretary of the Treasury?"

Me: "...That's Alexander Hamilton."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Setting Goals

The statement, "Happiness is my goal" is absurd. It's no different than saying, "Having money is my goal" or, "Pleasure is my goal." Happiness, money, and pleasure are results that come from actions.

For example, when I finish a good book, I feel good about it. Happiness wasn't my goal, though - my goal was to finish the book. The joy resulted from the completion of my goal, of the satisfaction of accomplishing a task. (And, to an extent, I could anticipate that finishing the book might make me happy.)

Bad goal setting underscores many issues we see today, such as pointless careerism (to use George Carlin's phrase), mindless hedonism, and the pursuit of narcissistic "fame." All of these set a consequence - money, pleasure, popularity - as the goal, but without a specified means. As a result, people who fall into them are caught in cycles that prevent their growth and actualization.

Simply wandering through life seeking "happiness" with no specified means is one of the things that leads to directionless behavior. We see this with people who focus only on what makes them feel good in the immediate moment rather than the long term. With no end point in mind, they are unwilling to commit to doing something that might feel unpleasant in the present for the sake of satisfaction down the line.

You need to, at the very least, add a "How" to the statement. For example, "Happiness is my goal that I will pursue by being an awesome artist." There is nothing wrong with wanting to experience joy in life. The importance is knowing how you will get there. There is always the issue of whether or not your selected method will bring you happiness. That requires knowing the direction you want to pursue, the passions you feel and where they might lead. Setting a direction, even if it's not correct, is still better than no direction at all, because once you are moving forward changing the heading is just a calibration.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Six Word Stories

(Based on a concept from here.)

The grave for five had four.

Sun shining on a crewless caravan.

God is dead. He died laughing.

Roommates party while the house burns.

Your life distilled to a moment.

Touch. Breath. Heartbeat. Tingling. Panting. Quickening.

A lone noose in the wind.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Tidbits

Me: "What actor played Professor Xavier in the X-Men?"

Student: "It was Jackie Chan, right?"

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Words To Use

Some words I want to use more in my writing:

Syzygy

Roughly means "alignment." I can probably use this whenever I want to describe things falling into place, such as a plan or an idea.

Recherche

When dealing with the Victorian era, it's good to have several words to mean opulent or refined.

Tallywhacker

Just a funny word.

Mind Palace

Sherlock has helped popularize the concept, but it's much older than that. I wonder how many other ways there are to portray this mnemonic trick?

Bildungsroman

A coming of age story. This actually captures the essence of many magical girl stories and young adult protagonist anime shows very accurately.

Pablum

A good way to insult someone's tripe. Bromide is the one I tend to use the most, but in a similar fashion.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Review: "Constantine Affliction"

Name: Constantine Affliction
Author: Tim Pratt (writing as T. Aaron Payton)

Background:

Set in an alternate universe London in the 1800's. This is a London of mad science, where unquenchable fires rage inside some sectors, creatures emerge from the rivers, and automaton hookers are beginning to replace the real thing.

The title comes from a virus, spread like an STD, that either kills you or changes your sex. The result is societal chaos as men become women and women become men. Against this backdrop, private investigator Pimm eventually partners with intrepid reporter Skye to get to the bottom of things.

Thoughts:

I loved about 85% of this book. The pacing is solid and the world building tidbits are quite good. You get a great sense of not just London of this era, but exactly how this London is different. The mad science vibe from all the experiments gone wrong, as well as little touches to the daily items the characters carry, do a great job of conveying the "far out" nature.

The characters were all well made and stood out. This is helped by snappy and clever dialogue throughout, with good humor. You feel for Pimm as he deals with everything from a fake marriage to being hassled by goons. Skye is inquisitive and go-getter without being obnoxious, a trap that many intrepid reporter archetypes fall into.

The story focuses squarely on Victorian gender roles for its "punk" credentials. Men and women are not magically egalitarian as some games and books try to gloss over. By having a virus swap sexes, it shows how the men fight to retain their status by masking their changes while many women seem eager for the new chance and abandon their old lives entirely. The expectations for women are frequently explored - contrasted with the position of Queen Victoria as the nation's ruler.

My only complaint is that the ending seemed to mash-in a genre that didn't fit, leaving what had been a very solidly steampunk world with a weird add-on.I am a fan of steampunk that is strictly science. While the ending did try to hold to that science angle, it felt too out-of-left-field for my tastes. Still, it's better to be too ambitious than not ambitious enough, so trying to go too far is a mistake I can forgive quite readily.

I am definitely looking forward to a sequel!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Delegation

Delegation: the life saving skill of a director, con chair, or any kind of project. Outsource whatever you can, because it's never enough. Your plate will always have more on it than you can handle alone. And even if you can get it all done, it will never be as good than if you'd spread it around.

Assemble a team of people you know and can rely on, but always keep a few low priority tasks on hand for new people to test them. The people you trust will inevitably have conflicting appointments and be unavailable, so those new people are how you keep the numbers steady. Look for people who are eager and hungry - they will either be all talk or pay off. People with follow-through are worth their weight in gold. Keep them close.

Set the deadlines before you really need them, because there will be delays. Share as much big picture info as you can with those helping you, so they know what role they play and can see its value. If you think you've communicated enough, double check - you probably haven't. Confusion in the ranks is the killer of results. Write it down in steps.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Tidbits

The key to Elsa controlling her powers was really easy. She just needed to make her hair a huge poofy ball and study Buddhist meditation. It's known as the art of Fro-Zen.

Monday, July 7, 2014

On Conspiracies

When my students ask me if I believe in the Illuminati and such, the answer I give them is that conspiracy theories are a bromide. They are used to hide the less palatable reality that what we have are numerous groups and interests constantly vying for power. Their dynamics shift and change constantly as interests align, diverge, and collide.

Two deer locking horns do not conspire against the grass they tear asunder with their hooves - it is simply a consequence of their power struggle. Multiply that a thousandfold, with our modern society as the grass, and you have something close to reality.

Conspiracy theorists do not over-complicate the world - they over-simplify. In their quest to find the "one main villain" they overlook that there are many and that their ranks are constantly changing.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Tidbits

"I'm a high school math teacher" carries a decent amount of gravitas for introducing yourself to parents.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Review: America

Saw America today for the holidays. I recommend seeing it, regardless of personal POV. It has a sufficient amount of content that even if you disagree with the central arguments, it will knock down some of the more common counters and prompt you to think of new ones. Always a good thing.

What worked:

The film has re-enactments of scenes and speeches that are performed quite well. The Abraham Lincoln they chose was very good. I'm a fan of these kinds of storytelling tools for historical pieces.

There was very nice inclusion of historical figures often lost to time, such as Madam C.J. Walker, the first female self-made millionaire in America (who was also African-American); the indentured servants of England and Ireland; and Alexis de Toqueville, one of the chroniclers of early America. As a history geek, I love seeing obscure figures pop in over low-hanging fruit.

The film does an excellent take down of Howard Zinn's arguments, ranging from Zinn's ignorance of timelines, his errors in geography, and mischaracterization of world culture of that time. The "conquest mentality" that Dinesh presents - and the way he contrasts it with a culture of consent - is argued very well. It's always nice to see the hipster poster boy of pseudo-history get taken down a notch or two. (Seriously, saying you know history by reading Zinn is the same as saying you know biology because you went to Ken Hamm's Creationist museum.)

There's a nice range of guests, ranging from Noam Chomsky to Alan Dershowitz to Rand Paul. It was great to see Dershowitz draw the parallels between Nixon's use of the IRS in the 70's to persecute his enemies, the modern cases of the IRS persecuting enemies, and the NSA spying.

Things I didn't like:

The camerawork was awful at times! Whoever was holding it needs to learn basics of framing a shot. The camera would push the main speaker to the side, wobble like a drunken sailor, cut off the tops of heads. It was annoying. Also, way too many close-ups of people and too many "over the shoulder" shots.

When Dinesh tackles the question of American foreign policy, it's pretty meh. He touches on our generous foreign aid (I remember the joke of "The Mouse That Roared," where Alec Guiness quips, "America forgives everything"), but not much else. It lacked meat.

He also has the obligatory "Look at the conspiracy happening right now!" part, which honestly he could have done without. Countering the "shame narrative" would have been feat enough and left the film a nice anti-revisionist piece. As is, it dates itself.

Thoughts:

I think a documentary that does, in fact, explore what history would have been without America's presence would be fun. I was expecting this film to have more of that alt-history flavor. Instead, it portrayed more of how America defied the mores of its time in how it behaved, often for the better. Not what I was expecting, but good nonetheless. This film is a good sight better than a lot of the garbage that gets peddled to high school students in history classes nationwide.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Big C

Here's a couple of exchanges that happened with my students. Turns out several did not know who Cthulhu was.

"Mr. Baird, who's Cthulhu? Is he like Jesus?"

"Yes, Cthulhu is exactly like Jesus. His holy text is the Necronomicon. People call it the Greatest Story Ever Told. You should ask your history teacher about the impact Cthulhu has had on western civilization."

"...Okay."

The next day:

"Mr. Baird, didn't Cthulhu teach Jesus to walk on water?"

"Not exactly. When Jesus stepped on water, he was walking on Cthulhu's tentacles. The Big C was always willing to lend Jesus a hand."

In on the joke were several students who knew what Cthulhu was and the world history teacher, who told them that Cthulhu was a major influential religious figure in tandem with Jesus.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Fabulous Confabulating Gentlemen Presents: On the Repeatability of Succeeding in Making a Target Both Stationary and in Motion Act 2

On a day no less sunny or bright than the one before, Mr. Salviati and Mr. Sagredo are sitting outside, sipping cold drinks, and viewing the gardens. The earth moving automaton is presently shifting the azaleas and day lilies to different plots.

Sagredo: Thinking back to our experiment the other day. I realize that I’m not an exceptional sportsman.

Salviati: What do you mean?

Sagredo: I just think that a top notch bowler would do much better than I did.

Salviati: Let’s test that theory! It just happens that one of my servants was a world class cricket bowler in college. I’ll call him over.

After a few minutes, a gnome approaches. He is an older male servant, though with a well-mannered demeanor. He is dressed in work clothes with spots of dirt on them.

Salviati: This is Faisal. His bowling skill was remarkable. Made him incredibly qualified for his role.

Sagredo: What do you do here, Faisal?

Faisal: I’m the gardner.

Sagredo: How does that relate to bowling cricket?

Faisal pulls out a cricket ball, turns, and throws it. It bounces off a few surfaces and disappears around a corner. A sudden “whack” can be heard, followed by a whimper.

Faisal: I finally got the rabbit that’s been poaching the carrots, Mr. Salviati.

Salviati: Very good! Now, I wonder if you’d be up for helping us with our experiment.

Faisal: Of course, sir.

The parameters are explained. Faisal begins by tossing balls at the patch while it’s stationary.

Salviati: Very good! A 91.67% success rate!

Sagredo: But that’s the same as mine.

Salviati: Indeed it is. Notice that even as good as Faisal is, the wind still nudged his ball a little out of place on its way, causing him to miss. Now for the next stages. I’ll set the automaton to be equal to Faisal’s skill and then to exceed it.

Faisal repeats the tossing. He bounces and tosses the balls using every trick he knows, but the automaton adapts and is able to anticipate, making him miss. On the next run, sweat drips from Faisal’s brow as he aims and throws, finally scoring a success after many failures.

Faisal: Is that all, sir?

Salviati: Yes, Faisal. Well done. Please go back to the gardens.

Faisal departs. In the distance, the whimpering of more rabbits can be heard, preceded by hard whacks.

Sagredo: I say. Are you sure it was even? I think he missed just as much as I did!

Salviati: Indeed he did. His success rate was 54.17% for when it was even - and a mere 8.33% when the automaton’s skill exceeded his own.

Sagredo: But he was such a better bowler than myself! I would have thought that would make a difference.

Salviati: You are correct - his skill with throwing balls exceeds your own immensely. However, raw skill with targeting is not the sole determiner here. In the case of a stationary patch, random chance circumstances - your muscle spasm, the wind - interceded to prevent what should have been a perfect outcome.

Sagredo: So now matter how expert someone is, there is always at least a small chance of failure?

Salviati: Indeed.

Sagredo: Well, I suppose the way to find what that chance is would be to take our rates of success - 91.67% - and subtract it from 100%. But that gives -

Salviati: 8.33%. Correct. Your chance of failing even when success is otherwise all but assured is the same as your chance of succeeding when you have almost no hope.

Sagredo: The world is symmetrical, then! That does give credence to those who believe in a divine creator.

Salviati: However, it’s not quite symmetrical, though. Remember the chances of success when things are even.

Sagredo: 54.17%. Right. This puzzles me. I understand that random chance applies to Faisal and myself equally, so we had the same success rate for the stationary patch. And that it’s the same random chance that allowed us to succeed when the automaton out-matched us. But why was our success rate the same when evenly matched? Shouldn’t his greater talent have earned him greater victory?

Salviati: Ah, but again you focus only on a single skill. Remember, there are two sides at play.

Sagredo: I suppose I keep missing that aspect.

Salviati: ...You see the increase in the ability of the thrower. However, you miss that in being evenly matched, the automaton’s own skill at dodging also increased to match.

Sagredo: But that would mean the key factor isn’t how good a person is at making a target.

Salviati: Correct! What changes the likelihood of success is how they are relative to their target’s skill at dodging. It’s the difference in the two skills, not their base quantity.

Sagredo: Faisal and I got the same percentages because the relative differences were the same.

Salviati: Obviously, being very good at hitting your target makes it less likely that your target will have a greater skill at dodging. And having great aptitude for the sidestep makes it less likely that someone will possess a greater talent at precision strikes. But it is their difference, not their level, that matters most.

Sagredo: An amazing revelation! I wonder how much of our world is based less on sheer quantity and relative differences.

Salviati: That, my friend, is a topic for another time.