my face


Generalized Abstract Nonsense

A Young Gentleman's Illustrated Primer

We build credit instead of savings
southpark me
I was browsing reddit during the day (like you do) and came across this post discussing an article on why young Americans aren't "fighting back" against supposed injustices. Regardless of the content of the actual article, I figured there would be a good discussion in the comments. Indeed there was. One person summed up the zeitgeist very nicely: "We don't actually own anything anymore. We lease our cars, we rent our homes, we build credit instead of savings" (emphasis mine). Even though that's not necessarily true in my specific situation, it feels like it is true for lots of my peers around me. Is it really true? Are things really that bad for many people? Hopefully things will get better. We'll see...

Top 8 Game Designers
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Probably my biggest hobby, and what I spend the most time on outside of work and school, is gaming. As a kid, one of my favorite things to get for my birthday was a new board game. I'm nearly always willing to play almost any game, and could play games all day. I love games.

A common next step, after playing so many games for so long, is to try one's hand at designing games. Maybe it's tweaking the rules to a current favorite, or thinking up a translation of a game from one medium to another. My first serious attempt at game design that I remember was when I was in middle school. My school had a Gifted & Talented program which to enter one had to complete some sort of creative or intellectual project. I made a pretty basic dungeon-cralwer in the vein of Dragon Strike using my brother's Monster in my Pocket toys. It was a blast.

Obviously, computers have completely revolutionized gaming, so much so that the very term "gaming" is now strongly associated with video games. As a result, I often have to qualify myself as "more of a hobby gamer" or "tabletop gamer", although I certainly enjoy many video games, too. One of the first things that drew me to computer programming was, like so many other people, the desire to create my own video games. A complete lack of interest and relative ability in anything computer graphics related kept me from directly pursuing that path, but it hasn't stopped me from kicking around a few design ideas from time to time.

The gaming "industry" is notoriously hard to "break into", and (especially in the video game industry) notoriously unforgiving (see for instance the case of the EA Spouse). Still, a large number of people have found much success in it, which I greatly admire. So, in the tradition of the Top 8 in Magic: the Gathering tournaments, and continuing my current trend of Top X Lists, here is my Top 8 Favorite Game Designers.

As with the movie lists, some commentary on how I chose these: These aren't necessarily the best game designers. For a list like that, see IGN's list for some good ones. Instead, the emphasis is on my favorite game designers. These are designers who either through their games, or even some other medium, have had a great effect on how I view games and game design. Given that, on with the list!

My Top 8 Favorite Game DesignersCollapse )

Now we just have to put them into brackets and have them fight it out to see who will be the CHAMPION. Oh, wait, I've been reading too many tournament reports for Magic: the Gathering...

Until next time, game on!

My Ten Favorite Science Fiction Movie Blockbusters
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Here is the promised follow-up to my previous post (The Top Ten Recent Sci Fi Films You May Not Have Seen Yet), "My Ten Favorite Sci Fi Blockbusters of My Lifetime". The previous list was limited to only those films that according to Wikipedia have grossed less than $100 million. These films all have grossed more than $100 million. Again, no superhero movies were included and I only considered movies that have come out in my lifetime (since 1983).

Why then are so many movies tilted towards the recent years? For instance, in the previous list the earliest movie came out in 1997. I've got a couple theories. First, the arbitrary limit of $100 million according to Wikipedia doesn't reflect the amount of time a movie has been out, nor inflation since the movie came out. That means that recent movies (a) have had less of a chance to make as much money, but also (b) modern blockbusters make a LOT more money in terms of sheer magnitude.

Some other possible reasons: (a) movies that came out during my "formative years" as a teenager/early adult may have had more of an impact on me, so I rate them higher; (b) I'm very much of the "cult of the new" and tend to rate newer/shinier/more updated things higher than older things; (c) the declining costs of special effects have increased the total number of sci fi films that have come out, so there's greater probability of a good one showing up; and (d) science fiction films actually HAVE gotten better since the 1980s, whether because they have learned/improved from the past or because sci fi has reached a certain level of acceptability in modern culture (see the related fantasy film Lord of the Rings winning all the Oscars in 2004).

Enough with the chit-chat again! On with the list:

My Ten Favorite Science Fiction Movie BlockbustersCollapse )

Top ten lists always feel like copouts, but at the same time I like organizing and ordering my "favorite things". Writing these movie lists has prompted me to think up some other lists, so don't be surprised if you see a few more from me in the future...

The Top Ten Recent Sci Fi Films You May Not Have Seen Yet
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A while back, @regorris texted me asking what movie he and zephistopheles should watch. I'm not really sure how I came to be a fount of movie recommendations for them, but apparently I've succeeded in the past and they were looking for another hit suggestion.

Then prototaph and I started a conversation over at his blog about sci fi movies and I promised I'd write this list. So, here it is. The Top Ten Recent Sci Fi Films You May Not Have Seen Yet.

Actually, a handful of these I'm pretty sure everyone on my friends list has seen (and if you haven't, why are you my friend?), but I made the judgment to include a movie based on whether or not Wikipedia said it had grossed over $100 million. An arbitrary amount to be sure, and I'm not even sure it's adjusted for inflation, but it made things easier to rank. Maybe later I'll look at the over $100 million blockbusters.

Two more constraints before we get to the list: I had to keep superhero movies out, otherwise this thing might have been clogged up with them. I like me some mutants and masterminds ;-). Finally, I limited it to only movies that came out during my lifetime. Borrowing a line from my father, anything older than me is a "classic". Therefore, it should go on a list called "classic sci fi films".

Enough chit chat. On with the list!

The Top Ten Recent Sci Fi Films You May Not Have Seen YetCollapse )

So there you go. Anytime you want to see a movie but don't know which one to watch, take a look at this list. If there's one here you haven't seen yet, I strongly recommend you to check it out. Enjoy!

Ten songs to keep me company if I ever become stranded on a desert island
Edited 2011 Jan 17 1130 EST - See below

A local radio station, WTMD, is holding a "Top 500 Desert Island Songs countdown". Listeners submit their top ten songs they would like to have with them if they were ever stranded on desert island.

Here's what I submitted:

I have the uncommon ability of synesthesia. Mostly what that means is that numbers, letters, and words all inherently have a color to me: "1" is white while "7" is yellow; "A" is red while "M" is black.

Very rarely, certain songs and melodies will also trigger my synesthesia. When I hear them, I simultaneously see splashes of light and color in my mind. Most of these songs on this list, like "Map of the Problematique", "Just Like You Imagined", and "Saviour", are such songs. So if I was trapped on a desert island with them, I would get a light show to go along with my music.

Rounding out this list are songs ranging from the entertaining "Rag and Bone" and "Little Sister" that remind me of the simple things in life, to the harsh-but-exciting industrial mixes "Hellraiser" and "Disgrace" that remind me of the science fiction action games, movies, and books that I'll be missing.

Some more in-depth commentaryCollapse )

Edit 2011 January 17 1130 ESTCollapse )

So there we go: Ten songs to keep me company if I ever become stranded on a desert island. What songs would be yours?

Self Identity
I haven't seen the movie Anger Management in its entirety. The combination of Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler just looks way too awkward and forced to me. Still, for some reason, I caught a clip of it on TV once where Adam Sandler's character, Dave, has his first session of anger management group therapy with Jack Nicholson, and something about their exchange stuck with me even to this day.

JACK NICHOLSON: So Dave tell us about yourself. Who are you?
ADAM SANDLER: Well, I'm an executive assistant at a major pet products company...
JACK: Dave I don't want you to tell us what you do I want you to tell us who you are.
ADAM: Oh. Alright. I'm a pretty good guy. I like playing tennis on occaision...
JACK: Also, not your hobbies, Dave. Just simple. Tell us who you are.
ADAM: Um, I'm a nice, easygoing man. I might be a little bit indecisive at times...
JACK: Dave, you're describing your personality. I want to know who you are!

That question, Who are you?, is a very thorny question, when you get right down to it. Like Adam Sandler's character above, people try to define themselves by their work, their hobbies, their behavior, etc. But as Jack Nicholson's character points out, do these really answer the question? What is identity, anyway?

According to Wikipedia, Identity is whatever makes something the same or different, and discusses "identity" with the notion of "equality". So what does it mean for something to be "the same" or "equal"?

Mathematics is, in a way, obsessed with equality and identity. The first four Peano axioms (out of nine total), which define basic arithmetic as we know it, are all focused on defining the notion of equality/identity. The very first of the Zermelo-Fraenkel axioms, the foundation of all modern mathematics, is about the notion of equality.

That's all well and good in the realm of pure mathematics, but what about out in the "real world"? In physics, there is the concept of identical particles, such as the electron, wherein two separate electrons cannot be physically distinguished from each other except for their location in time and space. But because of the Heisenburg uncertainty principle, if two electrons pass "too close" to one another, you cannot physically tell which one is which afterwards! But then, at what "level" do entities become able to be physically distinguished?

One of the greatest problems with applying the mathematical/physical concept of identity to the real world is that things tend to change over time, yet we still ascribe to them a continuation of identity. This leads to philosophical problems like the Ship of Theseus, which I've discussed before.

Still, all of our discourse, at least what I've been exposed to, tends to take for granted that each of us has one continuous identity. There seems to be an instinctive, reflexive, almost primal sense of self. At best, some people will admit that there are different facets of their personality: one for work, one for family, one for friends, etc, but most assume that there is a "core person" underneath. It forms the basis for much of Western science and culture. One body = one identity = the basic unit of "natural rights".

But is this a sound assumption?

I've been pondering a post on this topic for some time now, but I was inspired to write it today when I saw this blog post linked to from the Liberty sub-reddit claiming that "Society cannot act or have rights. Only individuals can act and have rights." And I asked: Why? Again, the author just takes it for granted that "individuals" are the basic unit of action and natural rights. The word, individual, means "indivisible" after all. But it the same way that "atom" meant "indivisible" but was since found to actually be divisible into constituent parts, I think an "individual" likewise can be divided into a whole Society of Mind.

It's not that I believe that Collectivism (the usual alternative to individualism) is right. It's that I don't like the definitions of either individualism OR collectivism. They're not talking about "real" things; only "conventional truths". Instead, "identity", both at the "individual" level AND at the "society" level (and every other possible level beyond and in-between) is an "emergent concept" arising from the interdependence of the complexity of our world.

So how should Adam Sandler's character have answered Jack Nicholson's character in "Anger Management"? Maybe something along the lines of:
JACK: Who are you?
ADAM: I am an illusion imagining itself to be an indivisible entity, arising from the interdependence of everything in the universe, the sum total of all of my experiences and my memories thereof.

Maybe then it would have been better received by critics ;-)

As a postscript tangent: It's funny how I've never had any formal education in Buddhism (I've never even read a book on the subject), but as I trawl Wikipedia in one of my philosophizing moods, I continually end up on pages for Buddhist concepts. Other philosophies that rate highly include Ancient Greek Stoicism, and the Quakers when I'm exploring more religious ideas. Some things to explore, I suppose :-)

Taking a Breather
So, obviously, August was pretty much Epic Fail in regards to my goals. And now September is more than halfway over, too.

What happened?

In August, I spent two non-consecutive weeks out at Fort Huachuca, Arizona in support of a field test there for work. I also got to hang out a bit with agent_scott, who moved out there to Tucson after college, which was hella awesome. I also had final exams/projects for my TWO online grad classes that I took over the summer. That was a lot packed into one little month. I even put my birthday "on hold" to try to get those out the door. I still ended up with a "B" in both classes, which was a bit disappointing. I'm going to try to prioritize my grad work a bit more now.

After the Fort Huachuca field test, I got put on a high profile, ultra-short timeline project at work that will end at a field test in the middle-of-nowhere Dugway, Utah from October 1 through 8. Then anailia wanted to do a lot of redecorating before hosting an extensive "wedding shower"/"engagement party" sort of thing for prototaph and wikith. On top of that, we caught the current plague virus that's going around, which really sapped our health and energy.

But, magically, things started to come together by the end of last week. I was done feeling crappy from the cold. Things stated to work on my project at work. And the "wine wedding shower" was, I think, a success. Now I feel like I can take a breather and actually write something like this in LiveJournal.

But in the time before that, I stopped writing, doing fun projects, or exercising much. The "fitness challenge" project I started with such enthusiasm with prototaph and delirifrank sadly fell off :-(. With all the stress, I think I went slightly in the opposite direction, though thankfully not too much.

Will you see any articles or such from me this month? I don't know yet. There's still a lot to do at work, at home, and for school. I'm going to have to take some effort to re-balance a couple things, re-prioritizing to improve my sanity, relationships, and getting stuff done. Hopefully getting more time to think, play, and learn :-)

Dramatis Personae
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There definitely seems to be a convergence of ideas happening in the social web space. The world went from blogging to MySpace profiles to Facebook wall posts and Twitter updates pretty quickly, until now it seems to be an equilibrium of features in most social websites. We can quibble on whether or not there should be a "dislike" button on Facebook akin to the "downvote" button on reddit, but really I think we recognize what social technology should offer us.

That is, at least, capability-wise. But that's just the "technology" part. The "social" part comes from the other people using the service. In economics jargon, it's the network effect, with the classic example being the invention of the telephone: it's only useful if other people have one as well. Here the 800 pound gorilla in the room is Facebook, where everyone from that dude I never talked to in high school to my sister's cat to my aunts and uncles in New England all have an account, making it very socially valuable to have a Facebook account.

Okay, obviously, not everybody is on Facebook. Notably, my wife anailia refuses to get on Facebook, as does my father who often and vehemently declares that he won't be caught dead on it. Also, it isn't as natural to use Facebook for some aspects of social technology, such as long-form blog articles like what I'm writing here. Finally, there's the understandable privacy and security concerns plaguing Facebook, but that will be true of any large scale social website.

Despite all this, it's still I believe a net positive to maintain a Facebook account. I also have a Twitter account since it provides almost as much value and I have friends there that won't use Facebook. I even have a LinkedIn account that I make a half-hearted attempt to keep updated so as to look professional and all.

And finally of course I have this LiveJournal account to do this kind of long-form blogging. But LiveJournal has been slow to adapt to much of the social web innovation going on. For instance, it's hard to see updates such as comments on my friends' posts without clicking through to each post. Furthermore, LiveJournal's corporate ownership has changed hands a number of times in the last few years, before ending up with a Russian company which I'm not sure how far to trust. Finally, and perhaps the worst offense, LiveJournal has rolled out these yucky, yucky Flash and JavaScript ads for us free users which, I believe, discourage many people from reading posts here.

And then, I have to manage all of these personal sites, independently. How laborious! twitterfeed has been useful to help automate this, but Twitter's own limitations become glaringly obvious since it can't show picture, video, or text snippets, making my Facebook stream look rather drab. And recently, I just found out that LoudTwitter, which I used in order to ship my Twitter updates to loud_psyllogism quietly went down earlier this month.

So for all of these reasons, I've been investigating what else is "out there". Tumblr emerged early on in my web searches as a viable, slick alternative. Very recently, Posterous popped up in discussions on reddit and I have to say I'm very intrigued. Bonus points: It will auto-post to my LiveJournal account so that anailia can continue to read my random ramblings and not have to switch websites!

But looking at the bevy of features offered by Posterous, I realized how there's room for even more. It seems to have the "export to other services" thing down pat, so I don't need to force my friends to join me there to see my stuff (thereby nixing some of the negative aspects that the network effect can have on startups). But now seeing that, I want to be able to "import other services" so that I don't have to login to LiveJournal, then Facebook, then Twitter, etc to see what all my friends are up to. Google Reader can almost do that, and has itself recently become more social. Friendfeed, however, seems to be the leader in this domain. Unfortunately, it also has the limitation that if you comment on an item in Friendfeed, that comment doesn't go back through to the linked service, so it's hard to have the conversation that the social web is supposed to facilitate. But certainly that's implementable. If only someone could do that, and somehow combine Google Reader or Friendfeed with Tumblr or Posterous, to give us the ability to read, post, comment, and share across ALL your social networks...

The best analysis I read is that the social web today is evolving like email did with the Internet before even "Web 1.0". Eventually, standards evolved such that anybody could send and receive emails to/from anybody and the world was a happy place. Hopefully the same thing can be done here towards the end of "Web 2.0".

While we're being imaginative, another analysis I read discusses how the social web is currently forcing people to have to adopt the same persona at home, work, family, and play. Everyone's heard of the teacher who was fired because they had some bad MySpace photo. So this ideal social web site would have to allow you to present your different personas to the world, so a potential employer can see your "work" persona while only your close friends can see those compromising photos from the other night, thus allowing you to effectively manage your dramatis personae

Possible? Desirable? What do you think?

I got 99 problems... but a breach ain't one
Gotta share this:

(Click the pic for continuing hilarity)

Also, lyrics.

"Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks": A Review
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My sister lapetitelune enthusiastically recommended this book to me: Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks by Ethan Gilsdorf. A book about fantasy and gaming? Should be a slam dunk with me, right? Well, not really...

From the product description:
An amazing journey through the thriving worlds of fantasy and gaming.

In this enthralling blend of travelogue, pop culture analysis, and memoir, forty-year-old former Dungeons & Dragons addict Ethan Gilsdorf embarks on a quest that begins in his own geeky teenage past and ends in our online gaming future. He asks, Who are these gamers and fantasy fans? What explains the irresistible appeal of such "escapist" adventures? And what could one man find if he embarked on a journey through one fantasy world after another?

The book evokes, in me anyway, the famous Parable of the Prodigal Son returning after so many years to great celebration. That parable always irked me when I was younger and learning about it in Sunday school. It took forever for me to grok what was even trying to be said with that parable -- it simply made no sense to me -- and even then I'm still not sure if I 100% agree with its message. I never did like that prodigal son. In "Fantasy Freaks", the author was a fantasy freak and D&D geek in high school but "grew out of it". Then, decades later, with the onset of the Lord of the Rings trilogy he tries to "return to his roots" and immerse himself in it again. Once I realized that I was viewing his journey through that lens, I tried to back off a bit, but that definitely colored my early reactions to the book.

Now, if you're reading this blog you probably already know that I'm a sci-fi/fantasy freak and gaming geek (and if you didn't, why have you been reading me?). However, it never occurred to me to label this as "escapism", yet Gilsdorf throws this term about a lot. I simply don't see any of it as anything fundamentally different than any other form of recreation or social experience. I also kinda took offense to the negative connotations that he associated with fantasy fans "trying to escape", whereas so called normal people don't.

The author, middle aged at the time of writing the book, grew up in a time when fantasy and gaming wasn't as socially acceptable as it is now. In that respect I'm rather lucky. The original Revenge of the Nerds came out a year after I was born, and I grew up during the Triumph of the Nerds. Even if it wasn't exactly "cool" to be a nerd, there was still an amount of "geek pride" developing that I was able to tap into. So I never felt the need to "grow out of it", and indeed in college I embraced the geek identity even further. I may not broadcast it as much as others, but that's more due to being naturally reserved and not wanting to let random people into my inner domain than out of any fear of "geek oppression".

I was hoping for more of an answer to the first question ("Who are these gamers and fantasy fans?"), but with a whirlwind of personal interviews all over the globe I didn't feel like I got a good handle on anyone. Nor did I get any good "big picture" view, but I suppose that's to be expected with any extremely diverse group of people. It was on the third question ("what could one man find?") that I think the book succeeded most. The book ended up being mostly about Ethan Gilsdorf (even if he didn't want it to be), and about some of the tragedy and trials of his life. In that, it was a very authentic, sincere, and personal story. Although at times it comes across as just a whiny mid-life crisis. Also on that track, the rest of the book just "got in the way" of completing that emotional arc. It ended up making the book feel haphazard.

In the end, I don't feel like I need any sort of explanation into the culture of gamers and fantasy fans. I'd be more interested in reading an exposition on why NON-gamers and NON-fans seem so often to find fans "weird" or even sometimes "threatening". Why DON'T they like these things, too, or at least why don't they understand why others like them? THAT, I think, would be a more interesting sociological study to read :-) . I can understand (even if I don't agree with) religious objections to fantasy. But what about science fiction, or historical reenactment, or roleplaying modern day cops-and-robbers? Why would these be stigmatized? anailia suggested that some people lack the imagination to be able to get into sci/fi fantasy and gaming. Is that it, or is there anything else? Help me understand :-)


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