dal niente

Month: February, 2014

Things that Every Consumer Should Know

These are based on Australian consumer laws, but in most cases Australian laws are very close to those of the UK, Canada, and United States.  These are just some general ideas that everyone should know when buying things.

  • A business is not allowed to refuse your $50 or $100 bill notes.  They might try because they don’t like giving that much change or they don’t know how to check if it’s counterfeit or not– but to refuse legal tender is, in most countries, simply against the law.  It’s not your problem that they’re paranoid.
  • When you buy something in a store and it doesn’t work, you have the right to demand an exchange or refund on the spot.  None of this bullshit about how they or you have to send it back to the manufacturer (and wait a few weeks).  And none of this bullshit about how they’re not responsible for the things they sell– they are.  If they gave you something deffective in exchange for good money, and they have replacements right there in that store, or the cash to refund you, why shouldn’t you get what you paid for?  Let them send one back to the manufacturer and make their money back later, but in the meantime, you deserve working goods or your cash right then and there.
  • You cannot force a client to be refunded only in store credit if it was a refund for defective goods.
  • If a product is meant to be used a certain way but a sales rep tells you definitively that it can be used a certain way differently, that store is liable for the product not doing what the sales rep told you it would do.  Basically: a sales rep can never induce you to buying something by misleading or deceiving you, and if he/she does, you are entitled to make them pay for it.

On the Bright Side

  • My knee’s lateral collateral ligament is a lot less angry at me today.  But that’s what over 2000 milligrams of ibuprofen, ice, and having my elevated on an overturned laundry basket (while I lie on my back on the living room floor or in bed to do work on my netbook) for a couple of days will do for you.  Frankly, considering how the morning after the injury I couldn’t even walk, I’m really surprised at how fast it’s recovering: today, I can bend my knee almost normally, I can walk quickly and without a cane for support.  No, I’m not going to try running or judo for at least a few more days.
  • I got the printer working with my netbook last week, which is a huge boon because normally, Linux just hates peripherals, period.  Well, more like, Linux hates hardware and will almost never make anything easy for you.  I sometimes wonder why I don’t just go back to Windows, but then I remember: I’m a solicitor in training, and one of the areas I enjoy working in is intellectual property (including copyrights).  I’d be kind of a dick if I was still pirating as much as I was when I was genuinely poor.  That, and every time I boot up a machine with Windows and it takes me more than a minute or two, it makes me cringe a little.
  • I should add that no, we didn’t buy a printer that we couldn’t use– but {CM]’s laptop, which does run Windows (and interfaces with the printer perfectly) is with her in Canada for the next couple of weeks.  So I’ve had to fend off the wolves for myself for the last little while.  GIven that I have to do research for three research papers, one of which is due in two weeks, having a printer is helpful.
  • I’ve finally gotten off my ass and decided to sell a crapload of older PS3 games.  It’s not difficult to do– it’s just a matter of getting it all lined up and writing it all down into a Craigslist ad.
  • I finally got through all the essay questions for a job application– the tough part has been reducing the essays to 200 words or less, which is the limit for each question.  The questions are, in my opinion, huge questions, in the sense that they’re so broad that you’d be able to write a 5000 word essay to answer them.  Once [DilligentB] writes back with her comments, I’ll be finalising that application.
  • I started reading the College of Law materials for class next week, and was pleasantly surprised– the materials are very practical and deal with things which, in my opinion, should be taught in universities at the very beginning of the program.  There are a lot of things, such as how to draft advice and legal correspondence, that I had to look like an idiot and learn on the job.  It would have saved me a lot of trouble if I had just learned these things early on before getting part time legal work.  But I guess that’s the whole point of this “Practical Legal Training” prerequisite to our licensing.  That said, I think I’ll enjoy these courses a lot more than the uni classes, which have been way too theoretical and detached from actual practice for my tastes.
  • I got a 20$ gift certificate from the local supermarket today, because I spent 102.53$.  Yes, I had to spend 100 bucks to get 20 bucks back, and it wasn’t easy to buy 100 dollars worth, let me tell you– but I managed to stock up on neccesities like dishwashing tablets and cell phone credit, which I can use as needed.

Give ‘Em Hell

This one is dedicated to [CM].

http://youtu.be/bxV-OOIamyk

 

The song is “The Fighter” by Gym Class Heroes.  It’s not a new song, but it’s one I keep coming back to whenever I find it in my play list.

-=-=-=-

 

I hurt my knee a couple of days ago.  While doing a grounwork demonstration at the university’s orientation day, which is when clubs show off and hope to attract the next year’s worth of members, my partner did something strange and it hurt my lateral colateral ligament (LCL), also known as the fibular collateral ligament.  The morning after, which is to say, this morning, there was noticible swelling and it was quite painful to walk.  I’ve had my knee up for most of the day, doing work on my laptop with my back on the carpet while my legs hang up on the couch.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

I’m a bit pissed off because the guy who hurt me should not have. On one hand, I guess I could have been more warmed up.  On the other hand, he should have understood when I said “lets roll lightly to warm up” that that meant that he shouldn’t be doing any violent, sudden movements.

He’s the kind of person who is super nice in person, to the point of it being a fault and sometimes frankly a bit annoying because it comes off as being too eager to please.  But when he fights, he is either super timid and non-agressive or full on ferral.  Ferral in the sense that he forgets all technique and suddenly just tries to brute force everything.  I’m not sure why he decided to suddenly go hulk mode on me, and as I said it wouldn’t normally be a problem if I was fully warmed up, but…well whatever.  This is part of risk of this type of activity.  

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

I think everybody feels the same way, but I hate being injured.  Like whenever I’m substantially sick, the reminder of my mortality is never something that is welcome.

But at the same time, I’ve come to appreciate the downtime that comes after it.  I think I have a greater appreciation for the smaller things in life just because the inevitable mental and physical downtime afterwards forces some introspection about what’s important to me, and what exactly in my life are the things worth suffering for.

I’m never going to say that I enjoy being injured– more like I’ve come to find some way to mentally channel my frustration into more positive thoughts whenever it happens.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Being injured always tests my resolve.  Nowadays more than when I was younger, every substantial injury makes me wonder if I should quit.

In a strange way, every time I decide not to quit is probably what makes keeping it up even more important?

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Getting injured throughout the course of martial arts training is analogous to all other aspects of life as well.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

News from the front lines:

  • My thesis topic was approved by a professor who has agreed to supervise my project. She signed/endorsed my application today, and it went into the school’s mailbox.
  • I was accepted for College of Law, which offers the “Practical Legal Training” requirement– basically, it’s a course that leads to licensing as a New South Wales solicitor.
  • Working on more job applications– on to the “essay questions” components.
  • Managed to do some real cooking, having both a real lunch and a real dinner.  I made the time specifically because I feel that there’s only so much motivation I get out of protein shakes and meal replacement drinks, or random “bachelor meals” of rice/noodles with frozen/canned this or that.
  • Have rehabilitated my knee from this morning being unable to walk without a cane due to inflamation to being able to walk with relative confidence, and without the knee buckling.  It’s not going to be judo-able for a few more days still, but all the icing and elevation and compression, coupled with the ibuprofen, has really sped things up.  I’m not normally this disciplined with injuries, but I take special care when it comes to knee problems.

Nothing on this list is in itself a major win– but winning isn’t everything.  It’s more of a byproduct. 

Who I am is a fighter who fights the fights that need fighting.

In which kids ruin everything

Infinitefreetime.com

TheLastofUsMankind Parenthood changes you; everybody says that.  Prolly ‘cuz it’s true, and pretty self-evidently so at that.  What isn’t always obvious is the  ways in which parenting messes with what was probably a perfectly good personality and lifestyle prior to having kids.  I was expecting having a kid to cut into my video game time, right?  I wasn’t expecting having a kid to change the way I related to playing video games, and that’s kinda fascinating to me.

Maybe not to you; I dunno.  Hey: my blog.  Shuddup.

You might remember I got myself a PS3 and The Last of Us around Thanksgiving.  I’ve owned an Xbox 360 (several, actually) since launch; it took until the launch of the PS3’s successor for a game to come out that finally flipped the switch and made me pull the trigger and mix some metaphors up and buy one.

A warning, the only warning…

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Progress Reports

Finding out that you’re making progress is a difficult thing.  There’s little nuanced bits to feeling accomplished– either you notice some little thing has changed that wasn’t a certain way before, or someone outright tells you something that you didn’t even notice.

[CM] is in Montreal doing an elective at a major metropolitain hospital, and she often tells me that she just feels bad: she doesn’t really know what she’s doing, she constantly feels like she doesn’t know enough.  I have much the same problem with all sorts of things at the moment.

Feelings of inadequacy and ignorance are akin to helplessness and powerlessness– they are soul crushing negative emotions that make you feel, well, bad.  She and I talk back and forth about things we’re not good at– getting it out of our systems sometimes helps, and it’s better than nothing.  Sometimes the outside perspective gives us the opportunity to cheer eachother up.  I’ll admit– life for us has been pretty hard lately.  I haven’t seen her since the end of December 2013, and I miss her terribly.  But she’ll be back in a couple of weeks, and my hope is that for all the hardships we’ve faced on our own ends will have us a stronger couple because of it.

Part of surviving a long distance relationship, and life in general, is about maintaining your own life.  It’s hard for me to be supportive of CM if, for example, I’m not even maintaining my own life.  If I can’t get my shit together, if I’m demoralised, she can smell it even though she is literally half a globe away.  My suffering becomes her suffering and it becomes a vicious circle if she’s also having a hard time.  At least one of us has to have something good going on, some “win” to report or bring up the troops’ morale so that one of us can support the other and tell the other that it’s all going to be all right.

I think part of it is just finding the small things to quantify as wins.

So what’s my win for today?

I’ve long been feeling that I’m getting nowhere with judo.  That, combined with injuries, makes me often wonder “what’s the point?”

Today, there were only about 5 guys total in judo.  This included one of the orange belts who started around the same time as I did, and a green belt who has probably a year extra experience on me.  Both of them are significantly bigger and stronger than I am.

Because the class was really small, [K-Sensei] decided that we were going to do some technical development.  Nothing but throwing while he watched and critiqued our technique.

When it came to ippon seoi nage, the one armed shoulder throw, everyone got critiqued the hell out of it.  He had them repeat things over and over.  When my turn came up? No comments.  A bit of a “not terrible.”  Which, in K-Sensei langauge, is about the closest I can get to a compliment.  One of the other guys told me that my seoi nage was super technical compared to theirs– it just seemed so much easier, especially considering that I was throwing people while being smaller than they were.  Yes, I’m patting myself on the back– but I think it’s important to do that every now and then.

Constantly complaining and putting myself down is another way things can get to my head, and I don’t want to read back on this blog some day and think that I was just living a totally miserable life without any satisfaction.  I do have my small wins, and to learn to recognise these is the first step in getting in the habit of a happier life overal.

Later in the night, we were doing o soto gari, the major outer reap throw.  Again, a lot of criticism for the others– but when it came to mine, he told the other students: “that is a killer’s throw.”

“Is that a good thing?” I asked.

“Judo is supposed is gentle, but in reality, it is kill or be killed.”

So I guess that’s a good thing.  I point this out because K-Sensei is a crazy badass.  He’s in his 60s, and recently won a gold at Kodokan– which is judo headquarters in Japan.  He’s a total beast, not just for his age, but in general.  Whenever he scrutinizes my training, I just feel like shit– because he has extremely high standards and his broken English just make him sound extra harsh all the time.  To me, I’m like someone training to be in a town militia, whereas he’s an ex-special forces commando who has the task of being my drill sergent.  [R-Sensei] is a lot more diplomatic– I feel that I learn a lot more theory with R-Sensei because he’s generally a very kind guy who takes the time to explain things clearly and with a hella lot of patience.

K-Sensei, on the other hand, not infrequently will just throw his hands up in exasperation: “FUCK what I tell you about grips!  What is this SHIT! I not teach you to throw with fucking grip!”

So to have him recognise me, even just a bit? It’s a big thing for me. Small things are important.

The Story that could only be told as a Video Game

**Note: This post contains spoilers for The Last of Us, and Left Behind (the downloadable extra chapter). You have been warned!

I’ve been playing video games for a long time. And I continue to do so.  I don’t think that all games are good– in fact, a lot of games are total shit.  But occasionally, you run into a game that is really an amazing package of innovation in its time.   It does something new, not just in terms of gameplay, but in terms of how gameplay and storytelling mingle altogether.  It does something new in terms of how it manages to make you feel.

The latest in this tradition is The Last of Us. I’ve already posted about this title before, but it comes up again now because a few days ago I downloaded and finished the extra chapter, called Left Behind.

Left Behind wasn’t bad– it adds clarification to the main game.  It does have a few downsides that detract from the feel of the main game though– for example, a 14-year old girl who kills about two dozen armed adults, and all you start off with is an empty revolver and a folding knife?  I don’t think we needed to go there– in fact, I felt that one of the main reasons why the main game was so convincing was because fighting was so difficult.  Most of the game is spent playing as Joel, a 40-ish suvivor of the initial outbreak who makes his living as a smuggler.  He’s one tough bastard– give him guns of any sort and he’s deadly.  But given that bullets are in short supply, much of the game is about sneaking around and finding ways to be efficient.  It’s not your typical third-person shooter in that you  can’t get through the game just shooting anything that moves.  Nor is it a Metal Gear Solid sneaking game where you can just take your time sneaking about through vents– In MGS games, whenever you do accidentally get spotted, you can just kill everyone who gets in your way.  It is preferred to sneak around, but the game mechanics are such that even if you fail at being subtle, you will not be punished– you are just inconvenienced.

The Last of Us hates combat, because every time you’re force to fight, you use up precious ammunition, life, and supplies that might have been the only thing to get you through some later scenario.  Although I was playing on “hard” mode (I’ve now taken up “survivor mode), I can say that as far as these types of games go, The Last of Us makes you feel that combat is a last resort, and that if you’re going to have to fight, you need to set up the scenario so that the fight goes in your favour.

That said, Joel being proficient enough that he tapes scissors to lead pipes to use as a melee weapon, being big enough that he can take grown adults hostage and use them as human shields, and literally beat a man to the ground with nothing but his fists and boots?  Combat is pretty visceral, it’s difficult, and it’s a very involved process even when playing as Joel.  True to real world streetfights, as good as you are one on one, fighting hand to hand is really difficult if there’s more than one of them– ubless you chose your angles right, you will very likely die.

Which is all the more reason why, when Joel is injured and you are suddenly given control of Ellie, the first thing I thought was: holy fuck.  How are we going to survive as a little girl?

The part where you play as Ellie in The Last of Us was, frankly, terrifying.  While she can take down an armed adult male with her pocket knife if she manages to sneak up on him, if you lose the element of surprise, Ellie almost never wins a fist fight. It usually ends with a rather horrifying scene where you are being choked to death.  You actually see her eyes go glassy.  Unlike the portion of the game where you play as Joel, and survival entails wrestling for dominance with other hunters, playing as Ellie is about staying the fuck out of head on confrontations with adults with guns because frankly, you don’t stand a chance.

One of the most stressful fights of the game is in the Ellie portion of the story.  A tribal leader of a group of cannibals hunting you with a machete, while you are trapped with him in a burning ski lodge restaurant.  You have your trusty folding knife and… what? Some bottles you pick off of tables?  Eventually, Ellie does manage to get the better of him, but even after you’ve basically stabbed him and scrambled away several times, the difference in the food chain is clear– adults still get up from knife wounds from 14-year old girls, whereas the opposite is not likely to be true.  The leader manages to catch up to her and disarm her, and is literally about to gut her when she manages to get her hands on another weapon.  I wouldn’t say that it was a “touching moment,” but when you somehow manage to take that boss down, Ellie’s mind breaks.

She starts hacking away at the guy’s head with his own machete.

As the gamer, it is one of those moments when it almost makes you cry.  Is this it? You wonder.  Is this the breaking point of a 14-year old girl?  She survived, yes, through tons of infected and tribalistic humans with Joel’s help– she’s held her own through several tough scrapes.  But Joel was always there for her, as much as an emotional crutch as he was a physical guardian.  But look how scared she is, now that she’s on her own.

And look at what it’s driven her to– she can’t even stop herself.  She has been tough all this time– and suddenly, she breaks down after surviving? The contradiction is huge irony, but one that you can’t help but feel bottoming out of your stomach, as she hacks away at the villain, who seconds ago, was about to cut her up into little pieces.  Joel shows up only after that harrowing ordeal, and pries her away from the dead leader, who she is still trying to kill… she doesn’t even realise that he’s dead yet.  And you can’t help but feel terrible.  Yes, you beat the boss, and you were playing as Ellie– and you did what you had to do.  But you can’t help but feel that the whole situation is unfair– yet you wouldn’t have done it any other way.

Unlike other games, The Last of Us does not glorify violence.  It’s presented in a way that you come to loathe it.  You come to fear it, and respect it.  Because it isn’t just a tool in this game– it is something that feeds back into the personality of the characters.  Every time they have to kill someone– whether it’s a man or an infected– you feel a bit of their capacity for humanity dry up a little more.

-=-=-=-=-=-

So on that note, I didn’t like how in the add on chapter, Ellie takes on a couple dozen baddies with nothing but her pocket knife and an empty revolver (although she can take up weapons from fallen enemies).  While the intense combat system is part of what makes this game great, it breaks the theme of “survivor” for a 14 year old girl to basically be that good, even if she has been picking up tricks from Joel (even though he never wants her to learn these things).  I thought that the presence of so much combat detracted from Ellie’s vulnerability, which was a lot more nuanced in the main game.

Despite that the add-on chapter was rather short, it was much appreciated– the backstory that it gives to Ellie and Riley is bittersweet, and reminds you that at the end of the day, she really is just a little girl who has been forced to grow up way too fast.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Anyway, the reason I mention this game again is in part as a follow up to my previous post about appreciation for mediums. Essentially– how is it that The Last of Us is, and always will be,better as a video game” in such a way that no movie or book could ever make it work?

The reason for this is because it’s a game that takes advantage of the medium.  Fundamentally, I like to think of a well crafted video game is like a cross between a movie and a book.  Ideally, it combines nothing but the strengths of the two.  But the main thing that it adds over movies and books is control. 

The modern video game (as opposed to it’s 8-bit ancestors, which require a different analysis) draws several things from movies, for instance– cinematographic technique like camera angles and lighting.  The modern video game also requires great voice acting and character models.  So many games get broken because they have terrible voice acting– or voice acting that seems out of place in particular situations.  Dragon’s Dogma for instance was annoying as shit because, while your NPC allies were very helpful and sincere,  and there were a range of voices they could have and their lines were well presented, they just wouldn’t shut the fuck up, ever. The problem then wasn’t that they weren’t saying things with emotion or energy– it’s that they were saying these things in bad timing to the rest of the gaming situation.  For example, if you jumped off a rooftop (and hurt yourself slightly) one of your NPCs would scream “MASTER! Don’t worry, I’ll heal you immediately!” which just… ruins the mood. I mean… calm the fuck down, okay?

The Last of Us was really smart in this sense because there was some sort of algorithm which decided when dialogue would happen.  So for example, some of your ally NPCs might have a one liner like “there’s a whole bunch more coming! We need to get out of here!” in the heat of battle.  Or someone  Ellie might sigh and say “god, I hate those creepy things” after you’ve managed to get out of an area.  The dialogue is not out of place.  You might be walking through a street, and Ellie might make a passing comment looking at an advertisement from pre-infection days, and a casual conversation will start:

“Well, yeah, some girls back then thought it was attractive to be thin.”

“You mean they had food, but decided not to eat it?”

“…yeah.”

“That’s just stupid.  That makes no sense to me.”

Attention to details was great in that way.  The game builds a relationship over the course of a year in the game world– we see as Joel goes from a callous, selfish bundle of damaged goods to, unwittingly, a redeemed father figure who struggles to fit caring into a terrible world.

At the beginning of the game, he wants nothing to do with Ellie.  Years before he met Ellie, Joel lost his own daughter in the first days of the outbreak– not to infected, but to a normal human soldier who was trying to enforce a quarantine perimeter.  After surviving a car crash, and making it out of a burning town of infected people literally running through the streets killing anyone they can get their hands on, you make it away– only to have your daughter shot by a quarantine soldier? That’s just too unfair.  It is understandable thus that Joel is reluctant to make any associations or form any meaningful relationships with people– much less Ellie, who is about the same age as his daughter would have been.

But you get through a lot together.  We see as gradually, Joel opens up to her, and starts to take on an increasingly fatherly role.  He doesn’t know it at first.  But for example, Ellie asks for a gun to help you guys survive– which Joel declines for the majority of the game.  You can’t help but get the sense that on some level, he doesn’t like the idea of a 14-year old girl dirtying her hands by killing.

At some point, when Ellie and him have travelled substantially together, you can see that it’s like the realisation by a father that his daughter is grown up.  He is still at odds with this because, at the end of the day, she’s still just a kid– but her eyes say a lot about how she’s actually older than her years, and that she should be respected.  And so he lets her, reluctantly, take a hunting rifle.

By the end of the game, their connection is so strong that he goes on a suicide mission to save her from surgeons who want to extract the cure to the infection from her brain– a process that invites certain death for her.

And here’s one of the reasons why this game could only be a video game.  Because it tells a  story while giving you control.

You are basically in this situation: either you can leave Ellie at the hands of the surgeons, who will take her apart for science and probably find a cure for the infection that plagues humanity with the zombie-like pandemic.  Or, you can save Ellie, but in the process, forsake all that’s left of humanity.

By the time you make it into the research facility by storm, you’re a bit late.  After over an hour of making your way through heavy resistance, you kick open a door to the operating room and find that Ellie is already on the table– they’re just about to cut her open.  The doctors and nurses in the room literally have no idea who you are or what’s been going on.  They are just doing this because it’s their job– they want to help the world.

At this point, you have control over Joel.

What did I do next?

I saw Ellie on the table.  I heard the medical staff saying that I can’t be there.  Someone probably said something about oh god please don’t hurt me.  What did I do?  I think one of the doctors tries to stop you or attack you, I can’t even remember for sure.  Kick him away, and shoot him.

With full control over Joel, I walked up close to the remaining medical staff, and put a bullet in each of their foreheads.  The reflex from playing this game for what feels like a year, living life with Joel and Ellie, tells you that this is what you need to do to survive.  And in a twisted way, it was just an instinct to do it at point blank, because that was the best to make sure I didn’t miss– to save bullets.

It was all over in less than 5 seconds: as Joel, I had almost without hesitation killed, for the first time in the game, unarmed civilians who posed no threat to me whatsoever.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

I’m told that if you actually wait, nothing will happen– the game requires you to kill the medical staff in the operating room to continue.  But the execution of this scene was interesting– they didn’t just do it as an FMV where they would show you what Joel does.  They gave you control.  And at least in my case, once I had it, even though I was consciously aware of the fact that they were doctors and nurses who thought they were saving the world,  I pulled the trigger. Multiple times.

Because the game had built into me a sense of protectiveness over my fictional little girl.  And when asked to act? I responded.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Now, the reason why I make a big deal out of this scene is because it troubled me a lot, in retrospect.  It was a choice which I made, and it pained me to make it– but if I was given the choice again?

I would probably do the same thing.

And this is the disquieting nature of this game– it puts you in situations where you don’t get to be the hero.  Where you really feel like you are just one person trying to figure out how to live with yourself.  Where you are selfishly chosing who is important to you, and that for all the ideals that are out there, it can all be reduced to defining moments where you make choices that will haunt you, but which you may or may not regret.

After playing the game, I was mentally exhausted.  I’ve never killed a human before, much less several.  Nevermind a bunch of people who had nothing to do with me, and who meant me no harm.

The Last of Us could only be a video game, because a movie always presents to you characters who are you are empathise with.  A game, on the other hand, and more specifically, a game such as this, doesn’t just require you to empathise.  It makes you become the character. In the cleverest and most insidious of ways, it makes you take responsibility for the storyline– it gives you the freedom to pull that trigger.  It asks you: what will you do?  And time stops– because it is not a movie or a book where the answer is in the next frame or page.  The answer is in your conscious decision– it goes beyond what the character would do, it is a question of what you would do.

Panic at seeing Ellie on the table made me lose myself.  Once I had control, I lined up the barrel, and squeezed.

Never in my history of being an entertainment consumer have I felt so responsible for who I am.

In which I do a terrible thing to a nice person

Infinitefreetime.com

6f3ea03e8955faea12ae49e77eeb792c3d62ac96e2113efaed824ad705c25a9f Today is clearly going to be one of those days where I don’t get a whole hell of a lot done– I’ve spent the day at OtherJob surfing the Web, babysitting the blog, and intermittently going outside to whack the crap out of the ice in the parking lot, which I’ve managed to upgrade from “moderately dangerous” to “safe” over the course of the day.  I have a fair amount of grading and other school stuff in my bag with me and a Robert Jordan book to finish (I’m resisting the urge to write a post called “ Re-re-re-considering Robert Jordan “) and I think by now it’s clear that I’m not doing any of those things.

On the plus side, I have a couple of regular customers and a small horde of eleven-year-old girls in the building, so at least I’m not lazy and alone.

But anyway.  I…

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Lists

Done:

  • Revised the cv
  • Handed in an assignment
  • Worked a bit on the thesis
  • Did the dishes
  • Unplugged the monitor from the PS3, and attached it to the laptop, thus reducing temptation to game instead of write

To do:

  • Vacuum and clean up the huuuuge mess
  • Do groceries
  • Work on more assignments
  • Apply for more jobs

The Book is Better

…well, it might be, to you. But there’s a difference between a “statement of fact” and a “statement of opinion.”

 

Hunger Games.  Game of Thrones.  Twilight.  Lord of the Rings. Narnia. Harry Potter.  You hear it all the time– people who “read the book” have some need to insist on how the book was better.  Sometimes I get into discussions with people about this because I want to know why the book is better, but usually, there isn’t much of way to explain it.

 

Yes, sometimes they were really great books– but most of the time, it’s a conversation wedge to give that person some sort of street cred, because they found the thing before it was popular.

 

Mind you, reasons such as “I don’t like Robert Pattinson” are valid reasons why you didn’t enjoy the movie version of something.

Regardless, there are some people who insist that I must read the book version because it is better.   I’m usually quite doubtful.  I’m not actually the type of person to say that a movie is better than a book or vice versa– I just don’t think you can really compare apples and oranges like that.

 

Fundamentally, there may be similarities between the two media– but saying one thing is better than the other is more or less just a statement about your preferred media.  It’s like one person arguing to another that jazz ballet is better than contemporary, or that classical music is better than baroque.  To jar it a bit more, it’s like trying to have two people compare oil on canvas to a video game.

All mediums have a skill set involved in producing the thing of art.  I remember in undergrad, one of the major fundamental questions that recurred was “what is art?”  One person might show you a urinal, and another might sculpt paint the ceiling of a church.  Is one “more” art than the other?

 

Well, debates of intrinsic artistic quality aside, a lot of this all ignores the capacity of the audience to appreciate or understand the art.  So sometimes, when someone says that a book is better than a movie, it’s because they’re looking for certain qualities in the writing that they don’t find in the screen version.  That doesn’t mean that these qualities don’t exist (although it’s possible). It might just be that the screen version has qualities that the person doesn’t know how to interpret.

 

When I watch a movie, there are a lot of things that I look at.  Use of camera angles, pacing, costumes, location, lighting, mood, music, etc.  Acting is a huge thing too.

Obviously, there are a lot of things that one can go wrong in a movie. One thing that too many movies do wrong is they try to keep their actors’ too pretty.  Another common problem is with action whose actors who only know how to act “badass,” which is really tiresome.

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In a book, it’s about choice of words.  How do the metaphors work to create the image?  Do the words get in the way of the pace of the book?  How much or how little thought was given into the surrounding world– because books often focus on character development, they often neglect things that one might pay attention to in the crafting of a movie scene– like the cracks on a wooden kitchen table, or the different sounds that different shoes make on different floors.  Period pieces like Elizabeth, or historic fiction like Pirates of the Carribean? You know that there’s some special stuff going on that just doesn’t show up in books.  And that includes Terry Pratchett books. 

If you wanted to argue technical stuff, the potential for a movie to really give you something interesting comes from the fact that a book is authored by a single person’s interpretation of the story– wheras a movie is a simultaneous creation of many, including the directors, actors, musicians, costume designers, set designers, editors, etc.  

Fundamentally, a book is an exercise in description, wheras as movie is an exercise in emulation.  A book has very tight control over exactly what you look at.  A movie on the other hand is a different thing altogether– the costume designer’s choices for instance, or the muscial score attached to a scene, changes the feel of a situation completely, even though these things are minimally provided for by the script.  The fact that real actors are putting on real clothes and interacting in real space means that there are subtleties that you can learn to appreciate if the movie as a whole is well crafted.

The question is, which of these things are important to you? You can’t blame a game of chess for not being “physical” enough any more than you can blame Queen for not producing R&B or rap style narratives.

 

 

 I am not saying that movies are better than books.  But what I am saying is that most people who like books better don’t actually take the time to learn to appreciate other mediums.  There is all that social upbringing that makes reading seem like an intelligent thing and watching television the source of stupidity.  But there is a lot that the screen has to offer, if you only know how to look for it.

 

Ultimately, I think that the statement of “the book is better” should always be followed up by you asking the question “why is it better?”  or perhaps, more approrpiately, “what is it about the book that is more important to me?”

 

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I won’t deny that there are a lot of bad movies out there.  Even worse, there is a hella lot of daytime and evening television that is downright painful to watch.  But the medium has nothing to do with it. It has to do with our comparmentalist behaviour towards entertainment– if we keep on treating television as cheap, quick, metered entertainment for instance, it will go in the direction of cheesy cookie-cutter reality television with no real substance or innovation.

Historic literacy/education considerations aside, there is no reason why the screen medium should continue to be any less respectable than the text medium.  Each really has its strengths and weaknesses.  A good book isn’t just a good story– it’s something that takes advantage of the book medium to give a full entertainment experience.  Ditto for a anything that goes on screen.

 

 

 

Below the Law

It seems I’m bitching a lot today.  Here are two more things to add to the list.

The Law school needs to enforce stronger English requirements, and spend more time training us how to meet those requirements.

As it currently stands at the law school, classes have been phasing out class participation and presentation-style assessments.  The main reason for this is because Sydney has a huge amount of international students, who frankly, don’t speak English all that well.  International students pay shitloads of money.  How do you attract international students? Make it easier for them to not only enrol, but to get through classes by lowering the percentage of situations that make it apparent that their English isn’t up to par.

I am not saying that a law school needs to require higher communications standards because I personally think I’m pretty good at writing and public speaking– it’s the contrary.  I have endeavored to become better at writing and public speaking because that’s what I think you need to do law.

As it stands, there is a sizable portion of my class every semester that has difficulty stringing together a coherent sentence.  Even if we ignore poor spoken grammar because we can still “get the gist of it,” I’ve tutored first semester students and looked over their essays.  Some of the people who are admitted into law school in Sydney have absolutely atrocious English.  We’re talking about people admitted into postgraduate law who write papers that, after reading a paragraph three times, I still don’t understand what they’re trying to say.  And what angers me the most? That professors will often be sympathetic of people who don’t speak or write good English– they’ll not be penalised as much as native speakers because the profs will try and figure out what the person means.

Well excuse me– but that’s bullshit.  English here is a prerequisite.  You shouldn’t get any slack just because you bit off more than you could chew.

Well, maybe they’re not looking for jobs where they’ll need to speak or write in English you say?  Okay, fair enough: maybe they just want to take their Australian degrees back to China or something.  I couldn’t care less. What I do care about: why are you resulting in the watering down of my education?

I’ve had four legal jobs (one at a community legal centre, and three in commercial practice) outside of a school environment.  At each and every one of these jobs, it has always stricken me that the real world of legal work is super different from the classroom.  That’s obvious enough– classes are all about theory and the real world is about practice.

However, that’s no reason for a law school to not help you develop the things that they can teach– that means fundamentals of working in the service industry, such as people-facing skills.  Public speaking.  Presentations.  Effective writing.  Even simple stuff like email etiquette.

 

If university law schools as institutions continue to focus on theory, to the point where when we get to a job we are basically learning everything of relevance on the job, then what really is the point of university?  Why don’t we go back to the 1800s systems where lawyering was an apprenticed practice (you’d learn to be a lawyer by just following a lawyer around and doing what he did, like any other trade), without the need for expensive and irrelevant academics?

It’s fair enough that a classroom cannot give me commercial work to practice on.  But there’s no legitimate reason to water down my marketability as a graduate by not teaching me the things you can teach me.

 

Spending Money to Make Money

I’m pretty much done my degree– just about 12k words to write in total to finish two papers and a thesis and I’m done everything I need to do to graduate.

But before I can work, I have to do this thing called a “Practical Legal Training,” which is the Law Society’s sneaky way of requiring you do more school– after you’ve finished school.  Yes, I might have a graduate diploma as  Juris Doctor (the name of the law degree I have), but that’s not enough to apply for a practicing license– I still need to do a $12,000 15-week course.  Yes, after spending more than $100k for the education (mentioned above), they’re going slap me with another $12k bill now.

Sure, I have a spare $12k lying around. No problem, right?

 

I’ve heard that the PLT work is also a total joke.  The coursework is easier than classes (meaning, it doesn’t even teach you anything new) and the “work experience” module is a section where you work about a month or more, likely as an unpaid intern.  I suppose I might be paid if I had managed to snag a good job, but alas– I did everything by the books (according to the school’s non-existent career advice) and didn’t land anything yet.  Yes, I will be paying them to test me on things that they will not teach me, and to work for free.

 

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It would be interesting if someone would write a book about the institution of law education.

 

Sure… people say “you got to play the game.”  Practically speaking– we do.  But how did the game get so fucked up?