dal niente

Month: October, 2014

My Final Xanga Update: After over a “Year’s Silence”, Xanga Finally Opens its Mouth and Sings its Swan Song

Sigh.

Soullfire

September 9th, 2013, was the last mass update provided by the “XangaTeam” when they went over to the “new” Xanga 2.0 “WordPress” format. After that,..silence….and more silence.

Unanswered were questions running through the mind of many- here are a few:

1) Why is Xanga 2.0, which is costing $48/yr, operating with less functionality and features than free WordPress?

2) What happened to the “Front Page” and other user and community friendly features Xanga 1.0 had?

3) When can we expect to see improvements to restore all the community centric features of Xanga 1.0?

4) if Xanga 2.0 is on the WordPress platform, why is it still shut off from the rest of the blogging community so that not even free WordPress users can leave comments?

5) I thought you guys said Xanga 2.0 was going to keep all the community features as “1.0” and would be a better deal than…

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Work

Tomorrow will be my last day working at [The Institute].  I had a handover meeting with the CEO, Business Development and secretariat team today to figure out how my projects will proceed.  Yesterday I assisted at the annual general meeting of members.  I just have a few loose ends to tie up today in terms of paperwork, but tomorrow all I have left is essentially the fortnightly project leaders’ meeting, and then I’m done.

After that, I start working at [the Firm] full time as an employment lawyer.

 

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

The CEO told me this morning that I’ve been invaluable in my role because of my ability to work in the office. As in, I don’t just know how to feed double-sided documents into the document feeder– but knowing how to work with people in a politically charged environment.  And, in a pinch, I can just stand around and be helpful at an AGM by passing a microphone around to members.

 

I didn’t really think very much of it, but I guess that I have my time in the healthcare industry to thank for that.  Looking back at it, I was in my early twenties when I started doing serious administrative work, and quickly was getting a taste of office politics.  Read: backstabbing.  I also remember that I hated it at the time, and I think that this was largely due to a disillusionment of how the world worked.  There I was, a young adult (or whatever you call someone who is no longer a teenager) doing a grown-up’s job, and wondering why was it that in reality, it seemed that grown-ups in a hospital were more concerned about office politics and power plays than helping patients. But I digress.  You can learn all sorts of things at any place at any time.

When compared to a lot of other people, I’ve had a pretty diversified work history– and that’s given me a very electic mix of corporate skills that have really come in handy.  Especially as I increasingly come to terms with the fact that I’m no longer supposed to be the office junior.  I’m no longer 16, and I can’t just look up to “the adults” to tell me how to do something– at this point, I am one of the adults, and I’m increasingly taking ownership of my roles in my companies.

There are a lot of people out there who got better grades than me in school, but grades really aren’t everything– finding someone who can work, and add functionality to an office, is very difficult.  Oftentimes, the people who put all their points into book smarts are some of the most awful people to work with.

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

 

In the coming weeks, one of the things I’m going to be discussing with my boss at the Firm– who is also a university lecturer– is how I’ll be a guest speaker for her class.  I’m not sure what I’ll be speaking on just yet.  Not employment law– I mean, why get me to speak on something as a guest in  a class that my boss teaches? More likely, it would be something along the lines of career counselling or mental health and wellbeing advice.  I’ve been thinking about this casually over the past few days, and there are a few notes that I’ve been mentally keeping with regards to how I go about this.

 

  • I need to keep in mind that if people want career counselling, we have to “work with what we’ve got.”
  • This means that some of these students are going to be the types who have always lived at home with their parents, who have never held a part-time job in their lives, and who may very well be rich kids who were sent to law school by their parents.  They might be total assholes.
  • On the other hand, they might be super keeners who are perfectly book smart.
  • I suppose, basically, they can be any personality type imaginable– which means that they’d actually need personalised advice.
    • The challenge, therefore, is to give advice general enough that it can be useful to one group of students without villifying or insulting the life decisions of the other group.
    • Basically, this boils down to telling them all to pull a Neitszche or a Derrida.  Look deep into your deepeest of hearts and see where you need to improve.
  • I haven’t quite figured out what to say to International students except “learn to speak English.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Anyway, more planning on that later.

 

Next week, the first order of business as a full time solicitor is to finish writing my own employment contract. It’s time to get an annualised salary, instead of being a casual worker.

 

Variety is the Spice of Coffee?

Every time I press the buttons on the coffee machine at [The Institute], it makes me a drink that tastes different from the last time I pressed the same buttons last time.

Should I be worried?

Monster Hunt

2014-10-08

When I was younger, among other things, I wanted to become a professional writer.  I mean, sure, I write professionally for work everyday– words are the most important thing to a legal practitioner after all. But I’m talking abut fiction. And better yet, fantasy and science fiction.

There is a lot that goes into the making of a good comic book, and I’ll use the above three panels to come to ideas of of things to appreciate in the art.  I’m not an art historian or anything like that, but these are just some general notes on what I see here to let you in on what I think and appreciate about a good comic.

  • What is the message that we’re trying to convey here?  You can call this a theme, or the message.  What is the set of panels trying to tell us?
  • Are the characters growing?
  • Oftentimes, the environment provides part of the “foil.”  The “world” is often what the early chapters try to describe to you, and exploring the world is often as important as exploring the characters and messages.
  • Half of the language of a comic book is visual– If done correctly, you don’t have a sentence that is out of place or extraneous.  You can build messages, characters, and environment through visual tricks that cue reflexes of your understanding, based on cultural upbringing.

So what do I see in the three panels above?

  • The subtle lens flare on Mom’s face reflects that Aurora probably doesn’t remember too clearly what mom looks like.  It’s also easier to picture her in some sort of heavenly context.
  • A progression of time.
    • Not just because of the age of Aurora, specifically indicated in text boxes, but by the metaphor presented by the seasons in the background (see the tree)
  • Development
    • Again, not just the age of Child Aurorora to Teenage Auroroa.
    • We see the father, in cell 1, as the relaxed husband and father.  Wearing a t-shirt and with a warm smile, he’s happy to let mom explain what the parents do to earn the bread.  It is a gentleman away from work, beaming at the gentle voice of his wife as she explains using the language of children: “heroes.”
    • By cell 2, the father is probably wearing an outfit not unlike one that he might be found at the time of Cell 1.  But the selective presentation of it gives a median mode to this era of time, when “work clothes” come into the living room.  The father is not going to bullshit his daughter. His warm smile is gone, but this is replaced by a paternal concern to help ease the void in their family– Young Aurora now sits where her mother once sat, because she is now the only woman in the family.  She still has some time to grow into this space.
    • By cell 3, the father is in a time frame where the home has been invaded by the reality of the outside world– in wearing his fighting gear at home, he has brought work home.  The cell 1 living room is no longer insular enough for a vocabulary of “heroes.”  There is only the reality of “monsters.”
    • By cell 3, we aren’t sitting down anymore– we’re on our feet.  What started off as an expression of longing and confusion in cell 2 in aurora is replaced by an expression of apprehension, maybe a bit of dread, because she probably saw this coming.
    • By cell 3, dad wearing a mask means we’re at war.  The mask is protection, and when it’s on,  we don’t see the warmth of Cell 1; or the sigh of Cell 2.  In Cell 3, a utilitarian mask comes with the message that decisions have been made and all that is left is to follow through with what needs to be done.
    • Notice the body language.  Cell 1: Mom pointing in a relaxed, casual way.  Cell 2: the somewhat weary condolence hand on the shoulder.  Cell 3: Contrast Mom pointing with Dad pointing, with a sense of purpose: like a military recruiter telling YOU that it needs YOU to do a certain job, because this job is important.

On Substance, and Crossover

An interesting article I read from one of my favourite newsletters:

www.grapplearts.com/Blog/2013/05/bjj-lessons-from-a-sushi-master/

Tech Journalism

When I was still living in North America, I hated seeing the news on at the hospital. There was this TV that was just showing CNN all the time, because that’s what CNN is good for: being the reel, on repeat, of a shocking images, usually voiced over by people at their studious blabbing all sorts of bullshit reports that grossly exaggerate.

 

To put it in perspective, I remember when 9/11 happened.  I was in college at the time, and my girlfriend at the time, [Zaitseva], had family in Boston.  More specficially, her dad was there on business– and reports from CNN on that day were that Boston was being bombed by terrorists.

 

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

 

For all the inconsistencies of CNN, people still watch that shit.  People still want to be informed of all the hype, and to have things repeated to them– to have ideas fed right into their heads, maybe.  I understand that sensational stories will always catch the headlines– it’s excitement, right?

I wonder though, when are we going to lose our taste for cheap shit like this.  When are we going to be able to  look at things, get past the marketing that is laid thick upon some miniscule source product, and really be able to judge what is underneath? I am not saying to be a cynic– I am saying to be critical and pragmatic, and to consider the real relationship we have with the things that present themselves as “important” to us.

 

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

I’ve noticed over the years that CNN style reporting is very mainstream nowadays– it’s moved on even to benign forms of news.  My particular pet peeve is how the trend is so strong in tech journals and websites.  They can just blab and regurgitate crap for months on end of when they think a phone will come out.

For example, at the time of this writing, Google’s next generation smartphone, the Nexus 6, is projected to come out sometime at the end of 2014.  But for months now, there has been speculation and rumour all about it.

Why does any of this matter? Really, who gives a shit?

Sure, it’d be nice if we knew for sure how it would fare head-to-head against iPhone 6– but rumours are just rumors.  Spending time on so little information is such a waste of time.  The impressive thing is how websites can go on and on about the rumors, writing up entire articles of information that basically is just conjecture at best.  Why don’t we get any useful information– like the “flexibility” of iPhone 6, before lining up for it?

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

I recently got an Android Wear watch, the LG G (which goes with my Nexus 5).  It’s a relatively new pieces of technology– this particular model of wearable “smart watch” has only been on the market for about 2-3 months at this point, so it’s still in its infancy in terms of both hardware and software support.

What annoys me about the tech journalism industry is how ridiculously uninformative they are about Android Wear.  In looking it up on Google, you’ll find a number of similarities between the articles written about Android Wear, which sound good when written out for marketing purpsoes– but for people who want to know something substantial about the assertions, the articles turn out to being “factually true” without being “pragmatically true.”  I’ll go over some of these common tech journal assertions to illustrate what I mean.

  • They all make generalisations about how there are thousands of apps that are Wear compatible.  Yes, this is true– in fact, almost any Android app that does notifications is Android Wear compatible automatically.  However, what functionality is actually usable from the watch?  For instance, the basic Google Calendar that you find bundled with your Google acount, which is accessible by web and via most Android phones’ native app– you can get notifications of upcoming calendar events on your Wear device, but you cannot schedule calendar events, or see your calendar generally without additional third party apps.
  • Yes, it has voice recognition– but it doesn’t mention that it has no voice recording functions, and that voice commands are limited.  Further, unlike voice recognition for your phone, your Android Wear will only listen until it thinks you’ve finished a single sentence.  That means that if you stop talking for more than about 2 seconds, it assumes your voice input is concluded.  That means that if you really want to use the voice dictation to reply to a message, you will have to talk– and talk fast– because if you stop, your message will fly out to the internet shortly afterwards.
  • Every second website that talks about the best apps for Android Wear invariably quotes the same apps– invariably, this includes Google Hangouts.  Nobody gives  a shit.  That like trying to advertise that someone should buy a particular iteration of Windows, just because it can be used with a USB mouse.  Nobody gives a shit.  An sms/IM app is standard fare on a mobile device– and if it comes pre-loaded on the watch, why is it on a top ten list of things in an article that is supposed to tell me something new? Furthermore, why do the articles only tell you about how Google Hangouts allows you to send messages over data (instead of SMS)– which is a 5 year old technology at this point, and nothing new–  when they should be telling me about how I cannot initiate a message from my watch, and can only reply to them? How I can’t even see my Hangouts contacts list from my watch?  How I can send SMS to contacts, but that the target identification is absolutely horrid?  Waitaminit– this all makes it sound like Hangounts on Android Wear is actually pretty horrid.  So what’s it even doing on the top ten list?  Well, that brings us to the next issue.
  • People who write tech articles about products probably don’t even try these products– they’re regurgitating what they’ve read off of the manufacturer’s website, and added in conjecture and assumption.  Tech articles are paraphrasing manufacturers’ content!  Which is why you don’t get anything new.  Indeed, it’s marketing linked to marketing, and the most likely place to actually get worthwhile information, believe it or not, is by reading the comments section where people bitch and moan (not unlike this post right here) about how something actually doesn’t work as advertised.

 

Mind you, not all internet writing is like this.  Some people do actually put some thought into things and are actually reporting useful information.  I am subscribed to a few sources that have a pretty fair history of saying it how it is– but whenever I just want to know about something I know little or nothing about, and for which I don’t have a reputable source already in mind, Google dumps all this bullshit on my screen. But if you look around and really pay attention to some of the information asserted by some really big name tech blogs, it’s disgusting how little relevant content there is.  And this shit drives e-commerce somehow.  It’s no wonder that adoption rates among older generations (like my own parents) are so poor– because there is such an inundation of incomplete and misleading information.

 

And so I wonder– what is driving the proliferation of this quality of reporting?

Let me tell you something

Have you ever noticed that some of the most overweight people– or at least, the most inactive– are the ones giving you the most advice about dieting and how to be healthier?

It drives me fucking nuts.

seeking misfortune as a symptom of having a dark soul

I haven’t had too much time for gaming recently, but what I have been playing with what time I have is Dark Souls II. 

This game builds upon the previous Dark Souls and Demon Souls games– I’m a big fan of the series.   But this game isn’t really for everyone, because like it’s predecessors, it is at times ridiculously difficult.

Some things that one quickly notices about this game is that no tutorials are provided.  The game doesn’t force you to look up and down and figure out how you like your Y-axis looking.  It doesn’t force you to learn to jump or parry or attack.  These things are there, in the form of optional messages you can read from signs– but the game doesn’t force you to learn them.  And, well, if you’re unfortunate enough to miss any of these early signs, you simply might not learn a basic technique.  You might go through the entire game not knowing how to jump over a hole, or how to parry a sword (both of which are events that can instantly kill you).

What I love about Dark Souls II is that, yes, it’s difficult.  But it’s difficult in a way that challenges the player to be a gamer.  I’ll speak more of this distinction in a bit.  Generally though, one of the main enjoyments I get out of the game goes beyond the game world itself– it comes from the smugness I get at being good, and getting better, at a game that most people simply don’t play because it’s too hard. Despite the extreme challenge of continuing to play this game, its fans persist because the game rewards you with a true sensation of l33tness.  Not many people make it to the end of the game, however.

 

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

 

The tendency as we get older is to make generalisations about how the past was better than the present.  Thus, for me, “when I was a kid,”:

  • There was less light pollution in the world, and I could see stars at night
  • Music (from the 90s) meant something
  • Kids learned to code in school, and learned “logic” generally
  • People spent more time face to face than they did sending emails and messaging
  • Technology was more about awesome functionality than it was about design and branding

Any one of those is a debatable topic in itself, but the one I want to get at right now is that videogames, back in the 90s, didn’t spoonfeed you.  Things were more difficult back then, and this forced you not just to play the game– it forced you to become a gamer.

Define gamer.

A gamer to me is someone who converts a scenario into math– it’s about coming to a clear understanding of the rules of the system, and then finding and developing a muscle memory in hidden efficiencies to more effectively resolve problem scenarios.  It’s about creating tools, either in game or in your head, and applying them in a way that gets the job done.

The difference between generations is that an increasing amount of gamer processing is being outsourced– the gamer doesn’t have to think about as much as it did before, because the games are making it easy for the gamer to do things.

To give you an extreme example– gameplay in the 80s featured instant death in most games.  Pac-Man only needed you to touch a Ghost– and this wasn’t something that you did by accident, since the Ghosts were actively chasing you.  Mario Bros games feature pits that can kill you instantly– and this was in an age before power-up items gave you the ability to fly or float.

First person shooter games? Games such as Wolfenstien 3d, Rise of the Triad, Doom, etc– you had a limited amount of health, and that was it– unlike the industry standard for FPS and TPS now, which is to have health regenerate if “rest” without taking damage for a few moments.

Times are changing.  Track, for instance, the evolution of the Prince of Persia concepts.  Slip up on the 80s version? You got diced, impaled, or fell to your death, and that was it.  Fast forward to the late 90s and early 2000s versions, and we see an increasing introduction of the concept of using the “Sands of Time” to rewind to a moment before death– to the point where the latest Prince Of Persia game has you simply never falling to your death, ever– if you do, you’re automatically rescued.

 

Don’t get me wrong– I loved the last PoP game that I played.  While time has rendered games easier, improvements in sound, graphics, and technology generally enables us to tell a much more comprehensive story. The original game had a story that could be summed up in essentially one sentence: Save the Princess.  The gameplay was the game– and by that, I mean, the mechanics of running, fighting, climbing ledges, etc.  The new PoP has a full world that, even at it’s time, was visually stunning; had a great orchestral score; and some excellent dialogue and voice acting.  Not to mention the move away from a misogynist portrayal of a useless princess waiting to be rescued with a strong woman-sidekick.  (Well, even the “princess” in the new PoP raises some gender issues, but it is a step in the right direction).  Anyway– I’m not here to talk about PoP today.

 

There are other examples of how games have gotten easier, most notably within a franchise– look at the progression of Resident Evil / Biohazard games for an easy example.

Perhaps this reflects that with better technology, gamers expect more eye (and ear) candy– and perhaps this means that the gamer’s experience is akin to a move away from the mechanics of gameplay being in itself a development of skill; and moving instead towards gaming as a more spectated artform (albeit an interactive one, compared to movies for instance).  It could also have something to do at the age-groups that games are being marketed at.

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

 

Dark Souls II reverses some of these trends.  There is a storyline– but it’s not so much of a character development driven plot as it is a gameplay driven one, with the world’s and characters’ histories there for you to pay attention to if you want.  The game punishes your for lacking skill.  Button mashing in this game will get you killed.  And if you have no understanding of RPG stats and levelling up, your efforts will be rewarded with a lopsided and unplayable mess of a character– and the game will not warn you that you’re doing this.

Auto-save means that you can’t go back to a better save game.  And an interesting feature, like in the previous games of the same studio, is that non-player characters meant to help the player can be killed (purposely and accidentally).  If you accidentally kill a key merchant in the game, or the character who you have to go to to trade currency for upgrades, you might as well just restart the game from scratch.  This means that handing the controller to your 10 year old cousin and giving him the 3 seconds necessary to kill (or anger) a key NPC means that those 3 seconds will cost you your hundred hours of gameplay so far– you will have “broken” your game beyond salvage.

Another interesting feature is the “currency” of the game, which is souls.  Basically, kill an enemy, and you will get souls.  There are no experience points in this game.  Kill an enemy, you get souls– but once you die, you drop all your souls on the ground.  You have one chance to get your souls back– find the place of your death.  But if you die again before you do that? You permanently lose those souls.  Which wouldn’t be so bad, because you could always earn them back.  But the problem is that the game has a matchmaking algorithm that counts the total amount of souls you have earned in the game, whether or not you spent it on something– meaning, if you earn a million souls and die, and lose them permanently, the game still considers you a million soul individual for the purposes of matchmaking allies to you.  This means that it becomes harder and harder to find co-op partners to help you, the more you lose or waste souls unnecessarily.

Further, every time you die, your total HP takes a hit– when you are “reborn”, you start with 10% less life.  Meaning that, if you keep dying, you keep starting with less and less life.

 

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

Some aspects of the game seem unecessarily punishing at first, but there is a really good feeling that comes with it once you figure out how to deal with it.  For instsance, there is a foggy forest where you literally cannot see more than a few meters in front of you– and to top it off, there are enemies that are almost completely invisible that will come to kill you in this forest.  At first, I was getting mauled– it took me something like 5 deaths before I started getting over the horrible inequity of the situation, mastered my emotions, and thought to myself: “Okay. So what do I have to do different, so that I can get a different outcome?”

I tried equipping a polearm that I could swing in a full circle, hoping to be able counter an enemy that came over to nick me– but this strategy didn’t work, as some of the enemies were using projectiles, and the numerous trees were blocking the free movement of my weapon.

In the end, my strategy was to to move with my back to cliffs, trees or walls, and to hold a tower shield in front of me– and wait.  I aligned the screen so that I could see the shilouttes of trees, upon which my near-invisible enemies would faintly appear as shadows when they moved.  I tried to stand among bushes, so I could hear the footsteps of my enemies. If I heard the sound of a bow or crossbow “twang,” I’d dive to the side.  If I heard a “ping” and recoiled a step backwards, it meant that my attacker was hitting me on the shield directly in front of me.  If I bled and staggered slightly, I’d know it was an attack from one of my two sides.  I’d roll away to dodge the second strike, turn, and lunge forward with a short but heavy compact swing of a mace. Once I had worked out my strategy, I felt a grin on my face, as did Zakari Kenpacchi from Bleach when he was trapped in a shadow sphere that blocked all his senses– despite being blind, I had mastered the fear of damage to me by knowing that, although they might get the first hit in, I would get the last hit in.

The attitudal profile life lesson that comes from this? You have to be willing.  In some instances, the proper approach is to say “You may take my arm, but I will take your life.”

And this is the satisfaction of a game like this– taking it back to gameplay that provides a system with the tools to get the job done, but leaving the application of those tools back to the gamer’s brain and personality. I don’t mean that this is always fun way of playing a game– I wouldn’t want to play an entire game completely blind like this– but it has it’s place in the greater narrative.  While there is no development of your character’s character, there is development of you, as a gamer.  

Specifics aside, my getting through that stage wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t mentally disciplined myself for the otherwise absurd tactic of going into a swordfight without my eyes.  But if a game had not engineered this scenario for me– then how many situations in real life would I ever be faced with where I could get practice at disciplining myself for such a strategy?

 

I worry sometimes that the oversimplification of videogames means that the usefulness of a videogame as a parable for real life lessons gets dulled.

73

Its not quite my fighting weight of under  72 kg, but its better than the 75+ I was during my month off.

Licensing

Friday afternoon is my licensing ceremony.  Finally did it! I’m going to be a licensed officer of the Supreme Court of New South Wales by Friday.