dal niente

Month: April, 2010

This is why Americans laugh at us

I was wearing shorts and sandals yesterday, and today, Montreal has a
snowstorm.

Surreeeee, global warming is just a myth.

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2.0

You may hear a lot about “Web 2.0,” but what most people don’t know is that it doesn’t refer to any specific set of technical standards. It refers loosely to the Internet as we know it being a two way communication device; in the past, the web was more akin to newspapers or television in the sense that it was specific people who created content, and you read it. Web 2.0 refers to you being part of the process– even without web page authoring, must of us creating online content through social networking, blogging. We are making connections by using the internet not just as a source, but by being a source.

I like to use technology analogies a lot because technology is something that grew really quickly out of humankind– and by quickly, I mean that we can see incredible changes in lifestlye during our own generations alone, so it’s something we can readily see and quantify since we have a necessarily externalized view. But not only that– because it grew out of humankind, it is something that to some degree reflects us. Either purposely or unwittingly, some of the essence of humanity is in the technology we produce.

That technology is in concept related to humanity, yet in some sense separate because it is not human, is something useful to observe because it gives us insight on ourselves, just how children reflect their parents. This externalized objectification of technology, which includes not only hardware and software but the associated paradigms, occurs because we have to decide weather or not to jump on the new waves. A new bit of tech develops as an idea, but it is us who decide, based on what we believe, if we are the kind of people who will jump on that bandwagon. Do you think the new black and white “television” will be better than the radio? How about those new shoes with velcro straps instead of laces? Will you buy that new 56k modem? Will you go see Avatar? Will you pre-order an iPad?

Technology comes, we see it around us, and like any tools that we see in action– inevitably some of it falls in our laps. Inevitably, we give it a look over and see if we can use it or if it isn’t worth our trouble– but either way, there is an evaluation of the tool going on that determines if we stick with the 1.0 or if we attempt an upgrade.

I think that the problem with workplaces is that a lot of the communication that goes on between people is that they’re what I call “1.0 relationships.”

They are situations where the flow of information and the actions granted are one way. If something between party “A” and “Z” is to happen, they seldom have a conversation– they tend to go through beaureaucratic channels and deal with eachother indirectly. For example, my boss gives me a scrub card, which allows me to get a freshly washed set of Operating Room scrubs every morning when I come in. The card is electronic, is associated with my employee number, and allows me to automatically get a set of scrubs that’s fit to my size so I don’t have to punch in extra codes every morning by using the guest passes. For the longest time though, I only had one credit on the card instead of the two that I should have, and the automatic sizing didn’t work. I asked my boss what to do about it– and she said she couldn’t help me. I had to ask around with coworkers to see if anyone else had that problem; they told me to ask person who refills the scrubs in the machine; who referred me to the laundry department; and the laundry department put me in touch with someone who can manually configure scrub card accounts. Then it was fixed. This whole process only took about a week and a half of telephone and email tag, but when you consider the size of the Montreal Children’s Hospital, I guess that’s not too shabby…?

My point is this: a lot of the relationships, by nature of this so called ‘efficiency’ paradigm that larger-scale organizations are subscribing to, annoy the shit out of me. Are they inefficient…? Well, that probably requires some qualification.

The fact that my boss doesn’t know how to answer my question isn’t necessarily her fault– it’s a very specific sort of problem, and it’s a rare occurance. Rare enough that perhaps it’s not efficient for her to dedicate thought to this sort of issue, especially when somewhere, there is someone who specializes in this sort of thing. Her job is to hand out the accounts. In the big picture of things, as far as the numbers go, this system is more efficient.

But I also believe that in another way, it is inefficient– a good worker is a happy one. And nothing makes a worker more unhappy than being frustrated by SSS (stupidly simple shit) getting in the way of them doing their jobs. So I wonder if in the end, maybe too much scaling of small simple operations is actually inefficient in the long run, because it makes the system incapable of addressing any situation with any of the personality that we need to feel happy about our human interactions?

Dragon’s Breath

*6:15AM *
Phone Alarm: “Dingalingalingalingalinga….”
I hit the dismiss button, and curl over to [Supergirl] to stay warm for a
few more minutes.

*6:59AM *
I wake up: “Oh . That’s great. I have 1 minute to get to work.”

*7:05AM*
On my bike, burning all the lights.

*7:11AM *
At work, wondering how in the hell 3 emergency surgeries yesterday turned
into 7 plus one rollover, and trying to figure out how to reschedule the
first two 7:45 cases since those two families are late. There’s also a
couple of flubs because whoever was working overnight forgot to mention an
inserted surgery, which is a problem because I need to order the rooms
prepped beforehand.

I got to work this morning without a shower, without breakfast, didn’t bring
my lunch, forgot my wallet, was biking in shorts and a shirt with winter
gloves even though it’s like 5 degrees Celsius outside, and, I did it all
with a nosebleed. I arrived at work with tears streaking across the sides
of my face and unable to breathe through my nostrils, because it was so cold
and I was going so fast. I haven’t brushed my teeth so now that I’m at work,
I’m sucking on a mango candy to mask my breath, because it smells (and
tastes) like blood.

Thank God it’s Friday.

Winds of Change

The transition for several of the machines that use from Windows XP and Vista to Linux Mint and Ubuntu has been mostly painless, mostly because the change isn’t so much of a change as it is a wholly absorbable upgrade.  I don’t play PC games anymore, so it’s not like I’ve noticed any inability or inconvenience– the Firefox version on Linux is mostly the same as the Windows releases, and Pidgin is pretty vanilla as far as instant messaging goes so there’s no complication there.  Open Office works pretty much the way I’d expect it to.

So when it comes to change, if something gets passively better, that is to say, it gets better in ways that make my life easier without me having to learn anything new, then it’s a no brainer– it’s great to have that kind of change.  Hassle free improvements? Why the hell not?  If only everything could be like that.

I read a lot recently about Opera, which is a browser I’ve used since my early smartphone days, but which is recently making headlines because it’s been aprooved for the iPhone. Anyway, mobile webbrowsing aside, Opera for desktops (currently at version 10.5 or something) got a lot of good reviews because of it’s proprietary data compression algorithms– unlike other browsers, it doesn’t rely just on cleanliness of a javascript engine to get stuff done.  Opera actually has a server-side to it.  It’s browser seems to me like more of a client than a browser in the traditional sense– because it requests information from the Opera servers, which the Opera servers fetch, compress, then send to you.  This means less data transfer, and ultimately, faster loadings times (assuming that data transfer rates are more of a bottleneck for your browsing experience than your processing speed).  It’s actually quite smart, even if simple, as a concept– it makes a huge difference when it comes to browsing over a 3G or 2G network.

Opera also brings in a lot of stuff that’s not found in Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Chrome, and they’re features that, upon playing with them for a bit, I find pretty useful.  I started trying it out on my desktop as a possible candidate to replace Firefox.

The problem is that Opera is not Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Chrome, and thus, it’s something new.  That’s not Opera’s fault, mind you.  And I think that a lot of the commentary for any tech subject that goes on in tech critic circles suffers from this problem– it’s the placement of blame on something because it’s ‘unintuitive’ or just ‘not comfortable.’

Do you remember the days when people said that using a mouse was unintuitive, and that it would never catch on?  How about all those tech critics who said that the iPod, and then the iPhone, and then the iPad would fail?  Back in the day, I thought that digital photography was a passing fad (I was a diehard film photographer).

Our distaste for change is one of the things that fuels the world of the future, actually.  In most cases, it’s not want of change that makes tomorrow– it’s want of familiarity.  If there is to be change, and if there is a want of adventure, we still have our base of experiences

I’m going to force myself to use Opera for a couple of weeks at home and see if I can get used to it because the functions that it adds (including Opera Turbo) are really quite cool.  The problem is that after using the internet for a decade, it’s just not easy to switch browsing styles, even if ultimately doing so in the long run will improove the way I do my computing.


I’ve always found myself resistant to change.  But that’s a relative qualification.  I may be resistant to change, but every now and then I recognize that it it time to really shake things up and try something new.  Despite my resistance to change, I do every now and then do something drastic and life changing, even if I don’t know how good the end result will be.  So, I suppose you can say that that I go through cycles.  I believe that it’s important to pay one’s dues and to work hard, which is why what I decide to do, I stick to it.  At the same time, I recognize that it’s part of who I am to change interests after I feel that I’ve done a certain amount in one domain.

Change is never easy, but in that way I guess I’ve always been a sadist.  Change is the only way that I open up a door which I can step through and grow in some entirely different way, so I’ve always embraced it. About as invitingly as an ugly prison cellmate perhaps.


Everytime change is on the horizon though, I feel this… emptiness.  It’s a strange sensation.

I’ve come to develop a profound respect for emptiness over the years.  It comes from a distinct difference between Western and Eastern schools of thought– emptiness in Western society tends to be viewed in a negative fashion.  It’s associated with ideas like lacking, poverty, or incompleteness.  That’s capitalism for you– always thinking that more is better, without regard for sustainability or balance.

On the other hand, some Eastern schools of thought see emptiness as serenity, and a calm potential to become.

Which kind of emptiness is it for me?

I think it’s a bit of both.  I think it’s because I forget too easily that I’ve changed a lot in the past.  I just look at myself and think, well, this is who I am– but it’s easy to forget the kinds of transitions, small and drastic, that lead up to this.  All.  Human memory tends to remember some things, but for me, pain isn’t always one of them.  So everytime I face change, I face bewilderment and fear all over again, even though I can look at my own history like reading a textbook and quote the stats that say that “this one is a survivor.”  The part of me that looks at it 

I’m faced with a number of changes right now.

[Supergirl] just found out a couple of days ago that her mom may need to undergo an operation.  As a result, she’ll be leaving for HK as soon as she can, cutting our already short last months into perhaps a matter of weeks.  Her mom’s condition is stable and she isn’t at any immediate risk, but this is that stage where with the mention of major surgery you just try to find out as much as you can before making any decisions. An exact flight date isn’t certain yet, but suffice it to say that it’s sooner than later.  I don’t want to dwell too much on that subject because… there’s not too much I can add to it beyond what I’ve said.  I remain optimistic and steadfast about our relationship.

I told her yesterday: it’s not so much about what we think will happen as what we want to happen that’s important.  It’s a mantra I heard on a podcast last week, and it’s going to be something I’m going to stick to.  In the words of Conan O’Brien:

“All I ask of you, especially young people…is one thing. Please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you, amazing things will happen.”

I guess the big change for me is that I’ve never moved for anyone before.  I have yet to do so, but that’s a huge step.

And on the other hand, I’ve never had anyone want me to move for them before.  That certainly changes things, doesn’t it?

It’s really, really nice to feel not just wanted, but needed.


I’ve got a battle plan of sorts set up, so that’s the way that I’m going to proceed from this point on.  It’s basically pending news from the University… turns out I wasn’t accepted to the university yet, they just accepted that my documents were all in order and that my writing ability is sufficient to qualify me.  But the official word about my admission? I’ll find out at the end of this month. 

Until then, I guess that’s just one more question mark I’ll have to deal with.

Like I said though– I’m optimistic, and having a plan in mind makes me feel a lot more secure about things.

I’ll tell you all about the plan later.


On Thursday, my grandmother was admitted to the hospital.  She had a panic attack, which for someone in her condition, is pretty dangerous.  It’s accompanied by difficulty breathing which to a normal person isn’t such a big deal, but for her, it means possible complications.   Difficulty breathing for most people just means a bit of sweat and dizziness, but for people of advanced stage, it means possible cardiac arrest.

She’s okay, so I’m not too stressed out about it.  Truth be told, going to the hospital has become somewhat of a routine for me– not just because I work in one, but it just seems as if what used to happen every few years between my grandparents when I was a young adult has changed it’s frequency to every few months.

Times are changing– we’re growing up or something.

Have you ever noticed the distinction people make between growing up  and growing old?

My grandmother doesn’t know how to sign her name in English anymore for the consent forms, so I scrawled it on the back of a lunch reciept in a size 50 font, and she copied it letter by letter in size 20.

I’m really glad, at the very least, that the Cardiac Intensive Care unit that gramma’s in has been newly reopened, as of perhaps just a month or two ago.  The place looks beautiful, and it does wonders to put both the patient and family at ease.  Martha Stewart would say, “And that’s a good thing.”

Changes

Finding vs Creating

“The only thing is, she’s diabetec,” says the dad to me.

“No problem, sir,” I reassure him.  “There isn’t much to eat while you’re under in there anyhow!”

He laughs.

You run into parents everyday in coming to the Operating Room who are nervous.  And it is the sort of nervousness that defines humanity, I think.  If you don’t feel nervous when your kid undergoes surgery, even if just a routine tonsilectomy, you’re probably not a very good person.

[Supergirl]’s mom just found out after scans that she has a tumor in her head.  It’s apparently removable in a bit of surgery, an operation that someone else in the family also had 30 years ago (successfully) so one would imagine that it’s pretty safe.  But everyone worries, naturally I suppose.

I’m not sure what I feel sometimes.


The word “geek” used to mean bad things when I was growing up.  It used to mean that you didn’t dress as good as the popular kids (even if your school had uniforms), it meant that you didn’t have the popular friends (although everyone knew your name– it was necessary to make fun of you), and it probably meant that jocks could rag on you, or worse, beat you up for your lunch money.  There was a time when, if you caught someone reading too many fantasy books (like Lord of the Rings) or playing Magic, you’d say they were a geek.

What if they were playing Dungeons & Dragons?  What about video games and comic books?  You’d say they were dreamers, people out of touch with reality, or at the very least, people who spent so much time in a fantasy world that maybe that explained why they couldn’t be cool like everyone else.

But it’s not derrogatory anymore.  It’s about as matter-of-fact as calling someone a gym rat or a movie buff.  These are the everyday people who you asked to help getting WIFI working on your iPhone.  Ten years ago, you called someone a geek because you wanted to make fun of them; today, you go to them because they can make your life easier.  But you worry, even, about disturbing them, because you are ashamed that your problem may seem stupid to them.

Ever notice how that’s all changed now?  The geek may not have inherited the earth completely, but they’ve certainly earned their place in the ranks.  Technological advances have spread the culture like a virus– and while not everyone may be a geek, everyone certainly needs them.

I’m just glad that the stigma of it is almost gone, and people now (at least have started to) recognize the importance of what outworldly fantasy obsessions have brought to the world in terms of both convenience and culture.


About a month ago, I toyed with the idea of buying a new computer for my family.  My parents and my sister live together, and there are three machines in the house– my sister’s laptop, and a pair of desktops.  My sister’s laptop still works, even though she bought it about five years ago.  But the two desktops are in really sad shape.  One of them, Athlon (so-named because it was the first Athlon powered comp in the family) is running Windows XP with an apparently invalid cd key, so it’s no longer capable of receiving windows security updates.  For that reason, I told my sister to stick to her laptop and that machine hasn’t been really touched for over a year now.  The second desktop, Dell (it’s also running an Athlon, but it’s an out-of-box Dell modded for gaming in the Halo generation) with hardware significantly faster than Athlon still functions, but is slowly being crippled under the weight of constant Windows updates.

When I say that it’s being crippled under windows, I kid you not. Before I left for Korea, that computer was getting slow.  And about a month ago, it was so slow that, even though this used to be the gaming rig I used to play competitive Halo on, it takes over five minutes to load up Windows XP on no-frills mode.  Even when it’s loaded, programs will tend to lag forever under the strain of virus shields, malware protection, etc.

The thing is, I’ll admit, those computers didn’t run as efficiently as they might’ve, because I needed to make them idiot proof for my parents in my absence.  My sister is pretty comfortable doing enduser computer things, but nobody in the family is really good with technical bits like security or maintenance.  That meant that I had to rig them such that they would automatically update themselves with the latest security fixes, virus definitions, malware definitions, etc… but you know what? That stuff gets updated so frequently now on a windows machine, it’s ridiculous.  The headache is that trying to foolproof a windows machine for home use by people who aren’t computer savy is impossibly incompatible with efficiency.  I did mostly automate the security and maintenance of the computer — but it meant that every now and then at bootup, a process would start to update definitions, perform a scan, etc.  That stuff eats up ressources like nobody’s business.  I mean, I guess you could avoid all this– by shelling out a crapload of money, that is.  I think you can fix most of your tech problems by shelling out money, because with money you can buy a faster computer with which you simply won’t notice the lag. 

Is that what I’m paying for though? For a while, I looked pretty hard in the Apple camp– I considered what a Mac Mini, and even an iBook, might offer my folks.  My dad’s retired now, and he doesn’t have all that many hobbies.  I’ve been, for years, trying to encourage him to use the internet, but it wasn’t until he started watching things on Google Video or Youtube that he really started showing any interest.  Unfortunately, it takes a dozen or so minutes from hitting the power button on Dell until Youtube is actually viewable.  Could a Mac do better?

Mind you, not to rag on Windows all the time for no reason– I’ve been a Windows user since Windows 95 came out.  I was one of the last to jump on the bandwagon– I hated Windows 3.0, 3.1, and 3.11 most of all. I was a diehard DR-DOS fan, and when Digital Research died out and was replaced mostly by MS (Microsoft) DOS, I was sad.  But Windows 95 gave me a lot of WYSIWYG options that oldschool 80×24 ASCII didn’t, so I turned coats because the future was apparently there.   To give Microsoft credit– it is responsible for huge leaps and bounds in culture, bringing computing to the laymen who otherwise wouldn’t have given terminal style computing a second look.

For the record, I’m the sort of person who largely doesn’t care about how pretty something is.  (Although my girlfriend is beautiful, that’s just a coincidence.)  But Macs looked appealing, despite all that extra glam, because of what I was hearing performance-wise.  I mean, I’m sure there’s a bit of a transitional confusion for someone like me, who went the IBM-clone route back in the 90s.  But for my folks? I think that turning on the computer and doubleclicking a web browser should be the same.

But then another thought came up– Linux.


I’ll cut the story short, and skip to the conclusion– I’ve done several OS installations in the past month.  I’m running Linux Mint on my laptop now.  Originally, I did so just as a temporary measure to try out the distro for the fun of it before installing it for use on their computers, but I liked it so much that I said, To Hell with Vista.  I then installed it on the two computers back home.  Installation took some fuss, but once it was setup, the computers ran smoothly and multiples faster than they used to– Dell, who took about 12 minutes to really load up a Youtube video tolerably on Windows XP, now does the same task in under two minutes running on Linux Mint.  I’ve also, just a few days ago, installed Linux Ubuntu on Supergirl’s desktop, and I’m going to set up [Uncle L] in a week or two also.

I’ll admit that before I tried Linux Mint, I didn’t really Linux distros much thought as a viable alternative to Windows.  [Zanshin]’s been suggesting that I try it since we were in university, but I never got around to it.  I’m am poorer for not having given it a shot.  I’m not sure if earlier distros of Linux are as polished as Linux Mint (release 8, codenamed “Helena”) but I’m just really impressed at the functionality of it all.

Best of all is that for the most part, you don’t need to worry much about virus protection or hard disk fragmentation.  That just doesn’t happen (not significantly, anyhow) in Linux.

With Vista on my laptop, I had to turn off all the effects before I could get the system running as fast as I wanted it to, even though I primarily used it only for web browsing, web design and wordprocessing.  With Mint, I’ve turned on all effects and all those apps still run smooth.  In addition, Linux Mint adds a lot of functions that aren’t natively available in Vista or previous, such as multiple desktops.

For my dad, it means that he can power up the computer and it will actually start in a quick and timely fashion.  When you have someone who is a n00b, you don’t want to discourage them by making them wait forever– you want it to just work. And so far, Linux Mint just works.

Basically, I saved myself the cost of a new computer (maybe two) just by  finding something out there in the free universe that already existed. I guess part of it is just looking for what’s available, what sits waiting in the background outside of the commercial spotlight.

On some level, I really love Linux because of how much I’m paying for it– which is next to nothing (just basically the cost of the two blank CDs I burned the Mint and Ubuntu ISOs onto).  Since I’ve made the changes, things have been going quite peachy– system speeds are way up.  The thing I’ve always been beefing about is that if I pay for something, it should work.

One buys a can of tuna expecting that when he opens it, he can eat it’s contents.  One buys a car expecting that he has to bring it into the shop every now and then for maintenance– but though this model is true for cars, it should not be true for computers.  And I think this is what is dumb about the Windows model– they seem to be suggesting that it is our responsibility to keep things up to date and secure.

While I agree that it isn’t impossible to do so with some savy, Windows does not provide this savy.  This makes it an incomplete product, especially considering that I’m paying for it (yes, I use legal Windows copies).  I don’t know Macs as well, but from what I’ve seen of walking into their official store in Downtown Montreal, they seem to have a program of “if you have a problem, come to us” which is the kind of customer support that seems to be consistent with the price you’re paying.

With Linux distros, it seems that the support is on par with what you’re paying.  For someone using free distros like me, that means that it comes mostly from a community of fellow users.  I’ll admit that sometimes, it’s hard to find a solution and I need to do some clever search querrying to find what I’m looking for, but when I think about it in terms of bang for buck? It’s an amazing deal.  For my needs, and the needs of my family, it’s outshone Windows in terms of funcitonality for infinitely less cost.

Plans

I’ve been wondering lately about my skillsets as a person. It’s been a while since I really applied myself to learning something new.  Granted, I did start working in a completely new department just a few months ago, and I do have yet to really master all of that craft.  I do enjoy work.  But this is incidental– it isn’t what I necessarily want to do with my free time.

So what, really, do I want to do with my time?

Again, I’m not saying that I’m dissapointed with my job, nor do I make light of the amount of work that it took me to get where I am– but I wonder if there’s more out there for me.  I recently started watching the show Chuck.  I think that there’s an eggocentric in all of us, but then again, what do I know about you? All I know is that I tend to view the world around me in relation to myself because there is nobody I’ve known longer. For those of you who watch Chuck, it’s a series about an everyday joe who works at a fictional electronics store called the Buy More (think Circuit City, Future Shop, or Best Buy).  Thing is, he’s meant for greatness in some sense.  As a scholarship student at Stanford University, he gets kicked out on accusations of cheating. Turns out, he didn’t actually cheat– he was framed by his roomate, who is actually a CIA operative, in order to protect him.  Through some dumb luck, he is subsequently plunged into the world of spies.  And through it all, he meets Sarah, a CIA handler assigned to protect him.

The reason why I mention Chuck is because sometimes I feel like him.  He’s the same age as me.  He plays videogames, he understands a bit of Klingon, he’s tech savy and he’s got this way about him that makes him awkward around company at times in some ways.  To a certain degree, he enjoys his job at the Buy More; despite that his friends/coworkers are a bunch of sociopathic neanderthals, he has a sort of home in those ways and he knows the laws of the land.  He believes in helping people with what he’s good at, and as a result, he is their king– when everyone there is asked who the real leader is, everyone points to him because somehow, his helping nature.  It is the kind of place where he can make a difference– but, frankly, it is not the kind of place that necessarily uses all his potential for difference, nor is it the kind of place where he’s surrounded by people of like-minded goals.

And that’s the way I feel.


When [Supergirl] first told me months ago that she was planning to be out of Montreal by the middle of 2010, I remember how I felt.  Sort of, anyway.  Initially, it made me really depressed, because even then I knew that she was someone special above all the other women that I’d ever met.  The first day after she told me, I went out with [SiB] and got drunk.  It wasn’t pretty.  Frustration and helplessness set in– I wondered if somehow, despite my great luck in finding her, this ironic misfortune was just some cruel joke.  I started wishing, selfishly, that she wouldn’t be accepted into those med schools so that she could stay here.  Not for long mind you– but that is a selfishness I will admit, and I am not proud of it.

Overtime, as I came to know her even more, the idea of med school changed in my head though, at least as far as we were concenred.  Initially, I saw it just as an obstacle to our relationship.  But then, was it really?  What’s to say that she couldn’t go to med school and still be together? And so I changed my mind about it– and considered in my head what it would be like to move with her.  It was still early in the relationship, so it was hard for me to really make such a huge choice or to figure out the particulars, but the idea of moving took away the stigma of med school.

And then med school starting representing something else, that was perhaps a huge epiphany for me.  It represent, to Supergirl, a dream.  Something big that she’d always wanted to do.  And for that, over the course of our relationship from when we first met until today, as my love for her grew so too did my respect for her dream.  To the point where I could no longer fathom her not going after it, nevermind wish that she would fail at it just so she’d stay in Montreal.

It was, unfortunately, unrealistic of me to think that I could leave Montreal to follow her to Ireland or Australia immediately.  However, this is hardly to say that it’s not going to happen.  There are a number of question marks up in the air, but the basic synopsis is this: I have decided that I’m going to change things here in Montreal so that eventually, I’ll leave.

I’ve always been a man of baggage.  Some people call that filial piety, and respect this part of me higly, but a lot of people see it as a box that I can’t seem to get out of.  I believe that people can change– they just have to want to.  Up until now, I’ve never had a reason to change, and I’ve borne my responsibilities with a fair amount of pride and high-nosedness.

But this is different– because up until now, it’s been enough to agree to disagree.  The difference is that I want to be with Supergirl.  And to do that, I’m working on changing the mechanics of my priorities.

This has implications in the relationship aspect of my life, but that’s not the reason why I mention this.  The subject of this post has to do with my future– where I see myself in five years, and all that kind of thinking.

And I don’t see myself working at this desk (blogging when I should be entering post-operative reports).

For the longest time, while I was in univeristy, I trucked along because I started a program and just wanted to finish it.  I didn’t care what I finished.  I spent so much time dicking around in college that it was the principle of follow through that was important at this point.  I spent so much time working (almost fulltime work, with fulltime studies) in university that I never looked back and didn’t really wonder if that was the right program for me, or what jobs it would land me.

Now?  Now my life is in order.  My life, frankly, is freaking awesome.  As I’ve said: I have a stable job, a great girlfriend, things are going well on the family and friend front and people are in good health.  What more can I ask for?

What’s in store for the rest of this year though?

Supergirl leaves in July, and my contract with the OR expires in October.  Those are some pretty big changes that suggest to me that, as awesome as things are right now, this is only temporary.

So it’s time to start thinking about where I want to go next.

As I said, I got accepted for my Masters.  That’ll be my next focus– and I think that perhaps, this will be the gateway for me to bring everything together, to where it will finally settle.  It’ll help me get the skillsets that I’m looking for to do what I want (whatever that might be) and somewhere through the course of that, I’ll figure out how to meet up with Supergirl.

I’m really excited about starting my masters… which is something I didn’t expect.

Acceptance

A bit over a week ago, [Supergirl] got her acceptance to med-school at UCC in Ireland.

It was a rough few days for us.

It’s been difficult in some ways from the start because we both knew that she was going for med school overseas, and that that meant there would be some significant changes to our lives down the horizon considering that we met here in Montreal.  We spent three days flip flopping from pretending that nothing had happened (which is ridiculous considering how big a step med school is for anyone) to arguing about it.  It’s hard to really talk about the details because, like any real issues in a serious relationship, it takes some serious thinking and some serious talking.  None of that is easy, especially when by nature a relationship is supposed to be about love and all the delight and fun that comes with it.

I think that one of the reasons why we hurt when things turn sour is because we care.  If we didn’t care, we’d be indifferent to any loss, it’d be easy to decide to draw lines and simply move on..  Love, in that sense, ‘complicates’ things.

I’ve come to realize too that resolving issues in a relationship has a lot to do with honesty, focus and faith.  If you’re not honest with your partner, or worse, if you’re not honest with yourself, there’s no way it’ll work.  It should be a notice that there’s a difference between ‘not lying’ and ‘being honest.’ There’s also of importance the amount of information you volunteer. If you lose focus of what’s important, there’ no way it’ll work. And if you lose faith in your partner– well, why are you even there with them?

In conclusion though, I’m happy to say that we worked things out.  If it seems like I’m glossing over those dark times, it’s because I must– not because I chose to forget, but because, as I said, it’s a question of focus– and frankly, I don’t remember all the details.

I’ve always said this about Supergirl– when I’m around her, she’s either at the center of my attention in front of me, she’s doing something by my side, or she’s watching my back.  When I’m around her, I am acutely aware of how fucking awesome my life really is.

When she was in Asia for almost two months, I can’t say it was easy.  But even when she was gone, despite that I slept in my bed or her bed alone, despite that lonliness the hurt sorta felt right in the sense that at least I had someone to miss.  That’s an awesome cross to bear, if you ask me.

And you know what?

When she came back from Asia, from the first minute that she came back– it was like she never left.

Mind you, med school is years long, and residency is another issue altogether.  But right here, right now, I will be that guy who declares that he will do this “long distance thing.”  I will be the guy who decides that he’s found a girl that makes everything better, makes everything make sense, and makes everything confusing all at once.  She makes me happy and sad in the ways that I don’t understand why, but I can never get enough.

I won’t be initially moving to Ireland.  (Actually, UCC is just the first school to offer her a space– she might yet be going to a different university in Ireland, or perhaps even Australia).  I’m not sure when I can tie up loose ends in Montreal, but I intend to, and then I’ll catch up to her.  It’s not initially as easy as packing my bags and going– I have a lot of other baggage that I need to address first.

But here’s to you Supergirl, for being with me, and for working with me on this.  We’ll make this work!

Almost two Decades of Street Fighter

While you might hear me occasionally go on and on about more modern games, such as /Halo/ or /Gears of War/, the truth is there is always a part of me that will remain adamantly loyal to /Street Fighter/.  And by that, I don’t mean the fighting game genre– I mean, specifically, the family of Street Fighter games.

It’s true that while growing up, I had a lot of heroes, but one of the most lasting fantasies that paralleled something about who I wanted to be or how I wanted to do it, it was all somehow related to Street Fighter.  I have been playing Street Fighter games for over 15 years at this point, with most serious play happening around the year 2000 while I attended college.  Although I’d been playing since SFII first came out in arcades, things mostly became serious when I got my hands on a copy of Street Fighter Zero for PC.  It was with Zero that I first really started appreciating the versatility of control and just, in a sense, the psychology, spirituality and philosophy involved with playing a Street Fighter game.  The lessons learned from then and on carried forward to future games, and even to life.

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In an interesting way, I was  able to “grow up” with the characters.  Over the years, you get to know the people around you.  Friends, enemies, what have you– you come to know what you like about them, what you dislike about them, and the respect you allocate regardless of like.  You also get to see, throughout the ‘chronology’ of the games, how people develop their fighting techniques and styles.

The easiest way to illustrate this bildungs is through Street Fighter games’ Shotokan lineup, at the base of which is the eternal camraderie of Ryu and Ken.  Depending on which title, you get derivative characters such as Sakura, Sean, Akuma (Gouki), Dan, and most recently in SFIV, Gouken.

Take real people who study the same school of martial arts.   You’ll find generally that at the very basic level, they’re all similar– but as they mature as individuals, they’ll start deviating from the norm when it comes to actual combat.  While it’s true that perhaps during kata/poomsae/forms things should look pretty similar if not for the timing, it’s really during combat that you’ll see just what a person has discovered works for their body type and intentions.

During Street Fighter II: World Warrior, the difference between Ken and Ryu was marginal.  There was essentially no difference except for visuals– handling was pretty much the same.  But if you take the Street Fighter chronology of things, that is to say, beginning with the Alpha/Zero series (SFA/Z, SFA/Z2 and SFA/Z3), moving on to SFThree (plus Second Impact and Third Strike), then to Street Fighter IV.  In between, shove in the VS games, such as X-Men vs Street Fighter, Marvel Vs. Capcom (1 and 2), and Capcom vs SNK (1 and 2) and you have a pretty big lineup. Rival Schools (1, 2, and 3) games are worth mentioning as well. The old joke used to be that Capcom doesn’t know how to fucking count to 3… well, I guess now that IV is out, we can update that joke to them not being able to count to four.

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Anyway, back to my point.  And here it’s where those of you who don’t play Street Fighter will probably stop reading because this may be too much detail for you.

Feel the handling differences between Ryu and Ken in SFII.

Now jump ahead– try SFAlpha/Zero.

Then jump to SFAlpha 3.

There’s a huge amount of difference in the way each of those two characters handles despite that they were basically clones of eachother in the past.  By Alpha 3, we notice that Ryu’s fireballs becomes more important, while his shoryuken and tasumaki start becoming more haymakerish.  Ken’s shorkyken and tasumaki tend to become less decisive but more combocrazy. By the time we get to SF Third Strike, Ryu has gone the path of decisive “one hit” killing– his crazy unblockable dejiin hadouken charged super, as well as the point blank shin-shoryuken, are among some of the most difficult supers to use properly.  He loses all the flashy moves, but has some real whopers like the EX-sidekick that hits so hard that it bounces you off a wall.

Ken, meanwhile, becomes more and more stylish– I would argue that Ken in SF Three has the most interesting gameplay out of any character in any SF game (and that’s even though I admit that I don’t actually like using him).  Unlike Ryu, who has the standard hopping overhead (all characters in SF Three have a standard hopping overhead) and his command forward-strong two-hit overhead punch, Ken’s got a plethora of axe kicks.  He’s got a forward leg axe kick, as well as a rear leg one.  And both of those moves have hip transitions– Ken can, for example, fake an overhead front leg axe kick and instead throw out a knee and step-in.  His rear leg axe-kick also transitions from a roundhouse on command.

These kinds of techniques are possible in real life (I like to compare Ken Masters to Andy Hugg, one of my favorite kickboxers of all time) but while it’s difficult to do these things in real life, or to develop a style for them, what’s arguably as difficult is to achieve the martial arts sense to port that into a video game.  While many of the SF characters are fantastic, that is to say, even their basic techniques are impossible, there is a basis, most notably with the shotokans, in real-world techniques.  And it’s not just a question of modeling, animation quality, frame rates or their evolution from series to series.  Especially if we look at the characters of Ken, Ryu, and Akuma, it’s about the evolution of nearly identical techniques to distinctions that make them individualistically recognizable from the head down simply by the way they move.

By the time we look at Street Fighter IV, we do see similarities in the way that they move.  But there are differences that have evolved gradually from series to series and now they are obvious if we look closely.

Ryu and Ken use the old 260 sweep kicks from SFII, wheras Akuma is styled with the “hooked recovery” sweep that was introduced in SFThree.

Ryu has more two-stage punching. Ken’s variability remains with sport-karate kicks.  Akuma’s techniques become more ‘oldschool’ like what you’d expect of classic Japanese Sonny Chiba movies– that is to say, open-palm, bone breaking action.  Even Akum’s throw goes for the kill; unlike Ryu and Ken, who might toss or slam you, Akuma throws you right at his feet and then he slams down the chop on the back of your head, while you’re in the prone position.

You might think I’m looking far into this– but really, what do you suppose they think about at Capcom?  Those who worked on Street Fighter IV are unlikely to be the same people exactly who worked on the old SFs of the 1990s… they’re probably bigger fans than I am.

And I appreciate their work.

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I was having a chat with [Supergirl] this one time while she was out in Asia, and we were talking about her little cousins and their obsession with the latest title of Call Of Duty.  Also how she and her older cousins would basically veto their votes of what to play, and instead load up Street Fighter 4.  She’s new to the Street Fighter franchise, you see.  My name is [Jinryu], and I aproove of that choice.  Let me tell you some of the things I learned, and continue to learn about myself and the world through Street Fighter.

About Mental Toughness.
Which would be one of the most important elements of my badminton and martial arts techinques for the decade to come, not to mention my professional work ethic.  Mental Toughness has to do with not just keeping your cool in relation to a continuum ranging from panicked to stone cold; many people mistake mental toughness for indifference.  In fact, it’s anything but indifference: it’s the ability to focus on a task at hand in spite of distractions, yet on some level to be as aware as possible of the environment exclusive of your person.  This is not despite an emotional, mental and physical stresses, but above it, or beside it– because those sorts of stresses are energies that can be harnessed.

About Confrontation.
I will have my stints where I start playing realtime strategy games, RPGs (anything Square, until my betrayal at the hands of Last Remnant and Infinite Undiscovery) or Third and First-Person shooters. I may even really relate to characters in those games. But, in the end, their time will pass– yet 15 years later, I still find it infinitely relevant to my resume as a gamer that I can do quarter circles with a joystick.

An RPG, you can die and there’s nothing to it– you can feel frustration, you can feel dismay, you can feel time wasted– but, if you are physically standing next to your opponent, in an arcade, you can feel the energy coming off of the guy/gal.  Sometimes, when they throw you when you grab, you want to whip out with your real elbow and smash them in the face.  (Luckily, nobody does that.)

You are also acutely aware of the fact that there is usually an audience.  So it’s not just that you’re squaring off with someone, but that there are people watching you do it.

Street Fighter taught me a lot about confrontation in that sense– how to be a good sport, how to be a gracious winner, and, probably more importantly, how to be a gracious loser.  The thing is, you learn things from effort and from winning, but you learn the most, really, when you do your best and you still lose. That’s when you see what someone better than you is doing, and that’s how you get hints at becoming better yourself.

About Observation:
It was years after I started playing Street Fighter that Naruto came out, but I think that the idea of the Sharingan is a fantastic one.  For those of you who don’t know, some ninjas have a hereditary ability in their eyes that allows them super visual analytical skills.  They can, for example, see a complicated sequence of techniques performed just once, and then duplicate the events.  The eyes necessary to do this with perfect accuracy are called Sharingan– it’s the ability of Dumbass “I’m-so-angry-because-nobody-loves-me” Sasuke, and as well as my favorite ninja, Copy-Ninja Kakashi.

In all wakes of life, the only point of Mental Toughness is to keep your mind unclouded so you can see things going on around you.  In the real world, you seldom get second chances– so you need to get in the habit of paying attention to things that go on around you.  Pre-emptively, it keeps you out of a lot of trouble, and in a situation, it helps you either get out of trouble or stay on top of things.

About Discipline.
Fact of the matter is, the big thing about Street Fighter games is their birth as coin-ops.  Street Fighter I is pretty obscrue nowadays, but from Street Fighter II and on, the legacy of the game rests on the wuxia tradition of the martial arts duel of badassery.  It isn’t a game where your character is significantly more powerful than any of the next– you have similar basic crouching, standing and jumping attacks.  Your special attacks are somewhat unique to you, but my point is that the characters are balanced such that it’s how you play your character and now what character you use that decides the outcome.  A person cannot play 100 hours and collect better armor than you, get a bigger gun, or whatever.  If they get something out of 100 hours that they can bring to the game, it’s skills.

Supergirl and I play ‘co-op’ Street Fighter 4 at her place, since she bought a copy in Asia to play on the PS3 at her place. We’re two completely different sorts of players when you look at the way that we move on screen, but it doesn’t change the fact that she enjoys the game a lot.  Enough to shell out a hundred bucks for a tournament stick on eBay.

The difference in the ways that we play the game though reflect the importance that I attribute to this game– she, first of all, wants to unlock all the characters in the game, so usually we set the game on easy mode with only 1 round to win.  I, on the other hand, like to set the game on hardest.  Make no mistake– I hate losing.  And I lose often, especially when playing a game that I haven’t been playing for months.  But I put myself through that because, in some strange way, I respect the practice of pain.   I don’t know where I heard this, but: pain is weakness leaving the body.  If one wants to be formidable, one needs to put in the time and effort. One needs to earn the proficiency in their craft.

About Simplification.
Especially while playing at the arcades, there are a number of things that can occur that teach you the virtues of simplification.  What do I mean about simplification?

Well, first of all, lets start with the iconic control movement that started it all– QCF+P.  That means you roll the joystick in a quarter circle from down to forward, and hit a punch button when your jotick comes to stop.  It’s the classic Hadoken (fireball) motion.  Sounds simple enough– but, there are a number of reasons why even that can fail you.

There’s, first of all, a broken set of controls.  If your controls fail for reasons out of your control (har har har) like someone before you who was there broke something, maybe you’re not capable of doing that command anymore.

Secondly, technical difficulty.  It’s simply that if you’re emotionally, mentally or physically stressed, a higher challenge technique is more likely to fail because your subconscious is likely to fail at fine motor or mental operations.  What’s easier, carrying 6 glasses of wine with your two hands, or putting them on a tray?  Use two hands if you must– but the less you have to micromanage, the easier it is for you to reserve brain power for the task at hand: kicking ass.

Simplification relies on a simple Murphy’s Law: that things can break down will break down. It’s not that simple systems are immune– but they are easier to understand and use intuitively. It’s the person who has a modular, elementary system of operation that he understands inside out who will be able to adapt quicker.

That means, in a game of Street Fighter, that using a character is hardly at all about learning to do all their special, super or ultra moves.  Although those are essential at the higher levels, you must first learn a good set of Basics: that means, all the normal and command punches, kicks, and throws.

In real life, the same applies: don’t make your life complicated.  The less complicated it is, the easier it is for you to maneuver, to function, and to recover from damage.  That isn’t to say that you can’t develop some complicated, situation specific tools– but knowing your craft, that is to say, your Way, is essentially about understanding the building blocks of your life before trying to build any grand towers.

About Art.

At a certain point in the proficiency of it, you just start peaking.   It doesn’t mean you can’t improve.  You can always improve.  But it gets to a point where you can’t get past a certain point on want of technical ability alone–  you will still need to find a reason, some sort of inspiration  to keep going.  And more likely than not, you will find that the reason you want to get better at something will become somewhat disconnected with the reason the technique exists.  Sort of like with a paintbrush– sure, you want to color a canvas– but why?

What does that action make you feel?  Sure, you can want to write a few paragraphs of text.  But why?  Sure, people take up martial arts, dance, cooking, music– but is the collection of techniques, diasporatic or local, something that evolves simply out of the necessity of technical perfection?

There comes a time when a person just knows there’s something more important that keeps them going.  And that is when your craft, your life, incorporates reasons, although arbitrary, that give it the value of art.

Two Decades of Gaming

If we look back on our childhoods, I think that one thing that we’ll find is that, despite the push for maturity and the how fashionable cynicism becomes in adulthood, we all started off wanting in some way to be a hero or a heroine.  No dicking around:  we really thought that this dude or dudette was cool, and anyone who said otherwise would have to answer to *us*. We might not have put the capes on ourselves as we stared transfixed at the screens, rifled through the pages or clawed desperately to stay in dreamworlds instead of returning to reality, but when we looked up towards those others, either fictional or real, we did so with some unconscious imagination of what it would be like to be that person.  That fantasy world lead our realities, and though we may forget those influences, they are a part of us even if we are today different from who we imagined we would be 10 years ago.

Like most gamers, my approach to that fantasy world is relatively ‘hands on.’  Yes, I read books, I watched television and movies, and I even listened to fiction on radio shows.  But games have always been the modus oparandi for my fantasies, and when I say ‘hands on’ I mean that they allowed me not only to imagine but, to some extent, actualize through the game. My first system was a Commodore 64.  I wasn’t even in double digits as far as my age went when I first figured out how to hook up the coaxial cable to our old Sony Trinitron (which, back then, didn’t even have AV cables).  And once I got that on? I think I must’ve spent hours just typing gibberish.  I didn’t know shit-all about BASIC, much less the essential “LOAD” command that I’d later use to get some games going.  But once I learned to load up games? I burnt through our Commodore 64 in a couple of months.  My uncle gave me another one which he was no longer using, since this was the advent of the IBM-PC Clones, and I went through that C64 in a couple of years, just from gaming.

I’ve said it many times, but I’ll say again that I think I grew up in the golden age of gaming.  It wasn’t just that gameplay moved away from turn-based board-gaming to screen-based mediums, or that ‘action’ actually meant there was a need for reflexes.  Nor was it the growth of a few blocks of solid, centimeter-sized pixels to pre-rendered avatars. 

The real evolution is in how it all allows us to connect with the game.  That was, and still is everything in a game.

We got to see a few frequencies of hisses and sqeaks go to orchestral arrangements that get our hearts thumping as we soar through skies or cross swords.  Data storage took us from storyless games to ones with premises on boxcovers, to one where the game actually had text, to one where we have the visual and audible working together to not just show us, but to immerse us.