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Tag: perspectives

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.

 

 

 

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Outside Eyes

Yesterday, while at judo training, I had one of the guys film me while I was doing a round of sparring with somebody.

I was sparring with [Bronze], so named because he’s quite tanned (the french word for tanned being bronze with an accent on the “e,” but I don’t have that kind of keyboard capability, so…).  Bronze is one of the nicest guys you’ll meet at judo.  He’s a green belt of about 80kg (roughly 10kg heavier than me) with significantly longer legs and arms.  His technique isn’t as varied and his combos not as creative as some people at his level, but he has a particular physiology (the long arms and legs) that he’s really learned to work to his advantage.  

I really enjoy sparring with him because, to me, he represents a “miniboss,” sort of like a Megaman villain who has a particular theme to his abilities.  In the spirit of good game design, these types of bosses are typically to encourage you to learn a specific technique to trump their strength.

I had someone take a video of the round with my cellphone.  Taking videos is something I used to do occasionally with kickboxing and badminton, but it’s something I had– up until now– done with judo.  It’s always good, I think, to see yourself from the outside– it gives you additional perspective.  It’s easy enough to critisize others’ technique and tactics, but when you see yourself from the outside, everything is quite different.

The video was really revealing of what I need to work on.  The basic list is:

  • Too much leaning forward.  While in the match, I feel like I’m putting pressure on the opponent pull his stiff arms down– but looking from the outside, it’s not very effective, and puts me more off balance than it does the opponent.
  • I allow my opponent to secure a collar grip too easily.  This gives them good control of my head, and, coupled with my habit of leaning forward, allows them to disbalance me quite easily.
  • My grips are not effective for much except hip throws, and those aren’t happening because I’m not getting close enough.
  • I probably should try o ucchi gari (sweeps) more often, and I should probably do them much deeper.
  • I think I do better when I move around a lot.  The problems start when I try to have a muscle contest with my opponent, and then their technique and power prevails over mine.  If I move around more, my percentage of successful sweeps increases, while the opponent becomes more hesitant to use throws.

What I need to do:

  • Start getting in the habit of grip-fighting– preventing my opponent from getting dominant grips on me.  I don’t know why it took me so long to figure this out, but it just seems so obvious now that [Zanshin]’s brother, [Sub60] told me.  Sub60 is a black belt in judo with multiple high profile wins.
  • Reconfigure my legs.  [SenseiR] points out that cycling is good for a lot of things, but not for judo– it makes you weak for the low, high speed squats you need to get in and bump your opponent with, and it makes your feet slow.  I’m going to reduce cycling and see if I can’t at least reduce cycling muscle mass, and then maybe see what I can do about developping more power in my knees. For now I’ll stick to less cycling and more “invisible chair” physiotherapy drills.
  • Posture up.

We’ll see what I can get done with this in mind.

Kantians, Newtonian Physics, and Calling Bullshit

Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Forget that there are a lot of non-Newtonian physics that have since been developed.

I’ve been writing a lot about people lately because lately, I’ve been spending more time hearing about people and being around people.  There are a lot of good things about people, but they’re always good things because they’re held on a backdrop of some glaringly bad things about people as well.

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Some people think that it’s fun to be an asshole, or they actual have sociopathic or psychopathic tendencies to some degree.  Some people are just selfish, although to what degree selfishness is just on the same string as actual mental disorders is a case by case thing. You don’t need people like these in your circle of friends.

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What I should point out though is that life is really short, and there are a lot of interesting people out there.  There are some people who we should probably stick to because of what we owe them. That means sometimes putting up with a lot of bullshit and a lot of abuse.

But there are limits.

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As a general rule, I think communication is important.  We need to make sure everyone knows what everyone is thinking.  Passive aggressiveness? That’s a bullshit approach for people who want to be stuck in bullshit relationships.

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If someone does something wrong by you, and they do it over and over, you have only two viable options: help them correct their behaviour, or cut them out of your relations.  It’s really that simple.

 

Correcting their behaviour involves, first of all, being strong enough to call the person on their bullshit.  It means treating people as responsible people who are capable of rationalising their choices– you are essentially asking them to find a way to make the right choices for your relationship to continue.

 

Cutting them out? Well, that option is pretty simple in theory.  But we’re weak– we often go back to people who have wronged us because we like particular “redeeming features” and don’t have enough self-esteem to think that we can find new relationships who are overal better packages.  We settle for table scraps with a bit of good seasoning on it.

Don’t.

 

 

 

When someone does wrong by you– give them the chance to save face.  Let them know that what they did was not cool.  Give them the chance to be in a good relationship with you, whether it as your lover, friend of colleague.  If you can’t get all the bonus niceties? Then you’ll have to downgrade to progressively more and more utilitarian relationships.

Do not baby people.  Do not make excuses for the bad behaviour of others because they live in this or that context, or were raised this or that way, or had this or that bad break– you’re not doing them any favours by being one more person who wasn’t a true enough friend to point out that they’re being a dick.

 

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I have decided that I’m not longer going to put any efforts into hanging out with [TheCaptain].  Yes, TheCaptain was one of my main studygroup mates, the other being [DilligentB].  But he’s been super unreliable about every situation where we’ve ever tried to arrange social things with him.

He’s a serial “flaker,” someone who gives you little or no warning of when they’re not going to show up.  He’s the sort of person who says “Yeah, sure! I’ll be there!” but then leaves you hanging.  And after that, there is no attempt to reschedule on his part.

His epidemic lateness to events that he does show up at was to the point where when he proposed a lunch once, I flat out refused because I knew he’d never make it on time and I’d just miss my lunch break waiting for him.  Turns out that the other people who did meet him for lunch ran into just that problem.

The latest episode was a dinner party I was going to organise so that we could all catch up with him after his semester in Asia.  Essentially, the even was organised for his benefit. Surprise surprise– he flaked on the event that was organised for him.

I will admit that a large part of the reason why I even hang out with him is because it’s more or less mutually beneficial for school work.  But I’d like to think that, in addition to being one of the major forces for him ever even making it through law school to begin with, we could also be friends.  Turns out that he’s not really friend material.

He’s the kind of person who is so bad at keeping his word that the next time I see him at some social event and he volunteers a “I’d love to!” I’ll call his bullshit in public.

 

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Fundamentally, the person who flakes or who shows up late is being disrespectful of the importance of your time.  Everyone has priorities in life– and it’s not necessarily a full tilt race, but if I am going to carve out time in my schedule to enjoy doing nothing with you, then you better show up, and you better show up on time.  Is that too much to ask?

 

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Do society a favour. The next time someone flakes on you or is late?  Make sure they know the error of their ways.

Chess Versus IRL

Two things about judo people.  For some reason, they really like chess.  And second thing: some of them are really opinionated and like to get into arguments.  I wonder if it’s related to how judo, as a competitive sport, requires a certain amount of aggression in order to progress to the higher belts or not?

Anyway, just some observations on chess and arguing with people.

 

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I’m not that great a chess player nowadays– I used to play a lot in High School, but like all those things that people claim they were good at in high school, it doesn’t translate to much in a world of adults most of the time.  But put it this way– I’m stronger than the average player, because I know more than what the pieces can do.  I’m stronger than the average player because I think of playing opposing *player*, not the game itself.

I recently started playing chess again because of all the pub night events I’ve been attending– people tend to play chess there for some reason.  Well, that and Baduk, but Chess is way more common.  Despite the fact that these people have been playing chess on a weekly basis, I’ve still been winning the vast majority of the games I’ve been playing so far.

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When I say that you want to beat someone without them knowing that they’ve been beat, I say this because it’s the way you to de-escalate situations in your favour.  It means engaging problems when you’re good and ready, and forcing the opponent to argue their thesis using your vocabulary.  It is not heavyweight boxing that should rely on wishful thinking and willpower– you aren’t supposed to go after Sunday punches in Chess unless you can do it without going out of your way and your opponent is stupid enough to eat it.

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The basic problem with the casual chess player is they’re concerned with moving pieces and killing pieces.  They figure that if they kill enough, they will eventually be in a position of material advantage that will allow them to pursue the checkmate.  While not exactly wrong, my main suggestion to casual players is that pieces and fighting are only a means to an end.  The desired end– the checkmate of the opposing king– is done with two or more of your peices at the right time in the right place.  You don’t need a whole board of pieces to win– which suggests that the obsession shouldn’t be on killing, or threatning to kill non-king pieces– but instead, it should be on threatening to develop a board that is placed and timed to kill the king.

There are a few basic principles that I keep in mind when I play Chess, and they tend to help me beat the casual player  who only thinks about two moves ahead on average:

  • If they bring out their queen early, attack it while developing my peices
  • sacrifice only if it gains position
  • sacrifice to double their pawns
  • position pawns to prevent the landings of their developed knights and bishops

It’s all very simple stuff really, nothing too impressive. 

But it applies analgously to how I deal with people as well, when I’m dealing with adverse situations as simple as conversation.

 

The first principle is deflection, or smoke and mirrors.  By strongly attacking an adversary’s strongest weapon (the queen),you can get them stuck in a sequence of deffending themselves zealously but in a disbalanced way while you develop your own strength gradually.  In  a conversation with someone who you think you disagree with, this is basically asking them about their strongest points without actually offering up your strongest.    You ask questions here and there that force a strong and big reaction– all the while, your own minute maneuvers gain you control over the board because they aren’t actually developing their point.  You’re making small gains by getting a feel for the board and setting things in place.

If you do it right, the opponent gets stuck wagging only their strongest point, leaving all the weak points developed.  In a conversation, the analogy is a bit different– what you’re actually doing by inviting them to discus their strongest arguments is looking for weaknesses in their presentation without actually revealing any of your own.

The second principle is to basically chose where you want to fight.  A war of attrition is only useful if you’re ahead on material.  But otherwise, mindlessly exchanging doesn’t get anywhere– it doesn’t demonstrate that you’ve got the better idea, just that you’re obsessed with being the centre of attention.

The third principle and fourth principle are the same one, essentially– they involve setting up the adversary for situations that they’ll regret later.  This means slowly chipping away at their ability to move. In a conversation, this means getting them to commit to the development of anecdotes that you have a plan for derailing.  Yes, invite them develop ideas– but use “magician’s choice” to make them develop their ideas in a way that you are ready for.  Better yeat– get them to develop their ideas in a way that contradict what they said earlier.

 

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I think the importance of playing chess well is how it teaches you to be methodical in your approach to problem solving.  You shouldn’t hope to resolve a chess situation by hoping your opponent makes a mistake or takes the bait– you should hope to resolve your situation because you have controlled the board and have given them the illusion of choices.

 

SImilarly, in an argument, there is seldom any point to a surprise checkmate– if you find a hole in someone’s argument, if they believe in their idea enough, they’ll just dismiss it as an exception.

 

If you really want to beat someone in chess, and if you really want to argue with someone, you have to dismantle them– one piece at a time.

My “style” of chess involves a lot of aggressive blocking, which forces inefficient moves from my opponent while I make small gains.  You might see games sometimes where one guy beats another and then the next game it’s a complete turnaround– my games aren’t that wild.  If I am going to win, it will be consistent and it will feel like poison.

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Arguing with people needs a “poison” style of delivery as well.  If you just club someone over the head, they’ll just wake up an hour later and bitch about it.  Maybe curse you and swear revenge?

 

If you poison someone though, you give them the time to feel their weakness and impotence surface.

 

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Oftentimes, we *can* win arguments.  It’s just that we don’t really want to.

 

I’m talking about the arguments that matter.  Arguments with our parents, our coworkers, our lovers and our friends– we go for the “quick checkmates” where we say something like “fuck you” and then laugh it off a few minutes later.

We don’t follow up on it enough.  We don’t drag out their weakness so that the failing of the bad behaviour that we want to highlight is super obvious.  We are often critical, but we assume that all the logic that we’ve worked out in our head is obvious and common sense and that it doesn’t need to be rubbed into the person we’re trying to correct/beat.

Why are we like this? Because we are a social animal, and part of the social conditioning is that we’re adverse to conflict.  We don’t want the responsibility of correcting people.

 

Winning a game of chess is a lot like correcting people with bad behaviours.  The problem is that we compartmentalise our desire to win to games– we don’t often game the way our actual lives work.

 

The fact of the matter is. most of us don’t even like playing chess against other people– because we don’t like situations where someone would have to win at the expense of someone else losing (even if you’re the winner, it’s awkward!)

 

Want to get better at chess?

Want to get better at life?

 

Then be willing to squeeze the life out of your opponent’s ideas.  Poison them (metaphorically) so they can see how weak they are.

The Dodgeball Theory

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Lance Armstrong: Could I get a bottle of water. – – Hey, aren’t you Peter La Fleur?

Peter La Fleur: Lance Armstrong!

Lance Armstrong: Yeah, that’s me. But I’m a big fan of yours.

Peter La Fleur: Really?

Lance Armstrong: Yeah, I’ve been watching the dodgeball tournament on the Ocho. ESPN 8. I just can’t get enough of it. But, good luck in the tournament. I’m really pulling for you against those jerks from Globo Gym. I think you better hurry up or you’re gonna be late.

Peter La Fleur: Uh, actually I decided to quit… Lance.

Lance Armstrong: Quit? You know, once I was thinking about quitting when I was diagnosed with brain, lung and testicular cancer, all at the same time. But with the love and support of my friends and family, I got back on the bike and I won the Tour de France five times in a row. But I’m sure you have a good reason to quit. So what are you dying from that’s keeping you from the finals?

Peter La Fleur: Right now it feels a little bit like… shame.

Lance Armstrong: Well, I guess if a person never quit when the going got tough, they wouldn’t have anything to regret for the rest of their life. But good luck to you Peter. I’m sure this decision won’t haunt you forever.

(quote of Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is from IMDB http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0364725/quotes )
In the movie, Peter LaFleur (played by Vince Vaughn) is the owner of Average Joe’s Gym.  We don’t know much about his life leading up to that point, except that he seems to be genuinely emphatic person with a lot of sympathy for the marginalised fringes of society.  When his gym is about to be shut down due to defaulting on tax payments, the members of his gym who decide to raise money to save it are telling, through their personalities, of just what is and isn’t what we expect in a gym, because of the modern gym culture’s unsaid rules.

The gymgoers at Average Joe’s are those who either perceive themselves as, or actually are, the rejects of society.  They have self-esteem issues, mental disorders, and financial problems.

They are not the poster boys of the typical gym advertissement– square jaws for the guys, sports bras for the girls, spartan haircuts or a more granola looking pony tail, and perfect teeth, and sports apparel.  Note that none of these things are things that you actually need to go to a gym to buy– nor are you actually likely to develop a broader chin by going to the gym.

The movie, being a comedy, largely revolves around making fun of the neuroses that are actually very real mental health issues in  contemporary society.

It’s easy to forget that in the pursuit of building ourselves up to who we want to be, there is a lot of mental foundational insecurity that neoliberal society encourages us to cover up, rather than address directly.
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The reality is that for all the “hobbies” we want to get good at, it is seldom that we run into something that we’re really wiling to pay the price to study.  I mean, really, really get good at.  I make a distinction between loss and sacrifice.  Loss is where things are taken from you and you don’t even know where it went… sacrifice is a situation where you willingly give something up.

A person who studies all their life but knows nothing of the outside world suffers loss– but a person who knows of the outside world and does the same by choice suffers even more, because his sacrifice gives up the alternative world of possibilities in exchange for the path chosen.

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I don’t have a gym (weight training) membership– I don’t think I’ve really stepped on the grounds of a gym except for a small hotel fitness room the last time [CM] and I were in Gold Coast a couple of years back, and before that, I went to the gym a couple of times upon my return from Korea.

It’s not my cup of tea– for many of the themes that come up in Dodgeball.  It’s not so much the fitness that I take issue with– it’s the image of fitness.  I’m sure a lot of people go to the gym for great reasons, but lets just say it’s not my cup of tea.  The example I always use is that I cannot say that learning martial arts is better than ballet– both are highly evoloved disciplines that have history, standards, benefits and disadvantages.  But despite that I probably wouldn’t be caught dead doing ballet, I cannot say simply that martial arts are better than ballet.  I’ve just come to recognise that it’s apples and oranges: it’s a question of tastes.

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That being said, there’s a famous Bruce Lee quote that says something along the lines of “nobody really develops a taste for diluted wine.”

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The reason why I mention Dodgeball is that there is a quote from Peter LaFleur which explains everything about his philosophy in life. It has to do with how, if you never develop expectations, you never feel disappointed.

On that note– I have expectations.  High expectations of myself and those around me.

A great deal of my ability to get through life has been to quantify these great expectations into little pieces so that I can feel progress– but it doesn’t change the fact that there are broader goals that I am aiming for, and I pursue them feverently.

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Lately, I’ve been increasing my training in judo.  I’ve at least doubled the amount that I did per week compared to 2013, which comes out to about 8 hours of training per week.  The training there is pretty good– compared to other dojos, dojangs and fighting gyms that I’ve trained at in the past, University of Sydney Judo consistently taxes physical endurance (stamina), power (force output over time) and flexibility.  How much it challenges your technical and mental capacity is up to you, it depends on how much of a challenge you try to make for yourself.  But the fitness training alone is already a very solid common denominator.

Like any other training hall, it doesn’t necessarily correct a lazy attitude (which is more likely to be left unaddressed than a bad attitude), but the nature of combat sports that put you against an opponent is that you will inevitably be punished for not adhering to the expectations of the club.  If you don’t do your homework, you will take more of a beating.  If you don’t have the right attitude, people will be less inclined to share and learn with you.

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For the last half year, I’ve been having mixed feelings about my relationship with martial arts, due to number of related circumstances.

One of the major reasons is that my outlook in life has changed dramatically from the time when I first started doing martial arts.  There was a period in my early twenties where I had rebellion issues– I was lashing out against my upbringing and martial arts were one of the few activities that I could turn to that gave me a sense of control over my life.

When I say that my outlook was different back then, it isn’t that I never expected to live to see the age of 30– but I certainly didn’t think very far ahead.  I was quite fearless. And fearlessness got me quite far.  You read all the time in Japanese and Chinese literature of this concept of an “indominable spirit”–  The main thing that allowed me to progress quickly was that I had little regard for injuries.  It wasn’t that I wasn’t afraid of getting hurt; more accurately, even if I was afraid of getting hurt, I was able to tap into a rage at my social condition that told me “this is worth it” and fight in spite of (as opposed to in opposition to) those limitations.  Essentially: I had the mentality of a shonen manga hero, which probably explains my ongoing critique of the more celebrated shonen protagonists.

The issue that has been developing over the past half year is that my body can no longer keep up with my willpower, and I can feel it.  I know for a fact that there are a lot of really old practitioners of martial arts out there who are in their 60s and still kicking ass.  Indeed, Randy Couture was a hero of mine for a really long time for the simple reason that he was beating the clock.

But for me… the situation is a bit different.  Most of these old masters are, well, really good at what they do.  By the time they slow down, they have already achieved a level of technical proficiency sufficient to bridge a large amount of physical limitation– they’ll still be able to kick around all but the most talented of a new generation with technique alone.

I am relatively new to judo, with an orange belt and zero competition points so far.  I’m on average about 10 years older than everyone of the same belt grade as I am in this gym.

I think that I’m learning at the same rate as everyone else who started at the same time as me– indeed, for people who started at the same time as me, I think I can say that despite knowing very little about grappling prior that I am one of the better players out of the group that started at the same time as me.

But I’m not satisfied.  Martial Arts to me has never been just a sport of forms or kata– it has been one of technique applied under pressure.  Yes, we do randori (sparring)– but what is missing from my training right now is the “killing intent” that you only get from competing with rival schools.

And therein lies the contradiction– I no longer have the je ne sais quoi to work in spite of the fear of injury now.

When I was younger, I trained like there was no tomorrow.  Indeed, there was a level of trust among my training partners and I that we would do anything to further our proficiency in this or that technique even by just minute quantities. ALthough I never spelt it out, whenever I fought with someone from a rival school, my life was on the line– and all I would have to rely on was the training that I had undergone with my nakama.

Indeed, although tournaments were rough, I’ve only ever seriously injured my eye, elbow, shin and ankle in tournaments.  In training, the list was much longer.

However, I think that’s the correct way for things to go though– ideally, competition should be easier than your training, if you’re doing your training right.

I am training hard in judo.  I’m not as capable of as high of an objective physical output as I was at my peak around 2008, but I am arguably working my body a lot harder overal than I’ve ever worked it in my life.  (What I mean is that objectively overal, I may not be as fast or powerful as I was in the past, but I am able to soak up more training than I used to)

But for what?  What am I training towards?  What is my goal?

And that’s what’s difficult about this situation now.

I am at a point in my life where I have the mental fortitude to train harder than I’ve ever trained in my life.  I am more creative and analytical than I have ever been.  But my body is slowing down as a result of old injuries and mental brakes accumulated, and as a result I am no longer willing to put my life on the line.  Indeed, if I went into a competition with my current state of mind, I’d be easy prey due to my lack of commitment.

That means, essentially, that I’m extremely reluctant to take on competitions, even though [Sensei] last week was telling me that the club could have taken a gold instead of a bronze at the most recent New South Wales tournament if only I had signed up for it.

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

I have two conflicting wants out of martial arts right now.

I want to practice martial arts for many, many years to come. I want to be able to teach martial arts to our (CM and my) children, if we one day decide to have children.  I want to see generations of youths come to change their lives and their perspective on the world, and citizenship in community, through martial arts.  The possibility and conceptualisation of this goal that has come to develop slowly over the past couple of years.

On the other hand, I want to continue to grow.  It’s simply an extension of what I’ve done until now, almost like a Peter Pan-like syndrome– I want to continue to fight.  I want to feel bones straining against bones, the grind of teeth into mouthguards.  The heaviness of gravity when attempting to stand up.  Dizziness in the head?  Vision going dim?  That might be happening to me– but you can be sure that I’m not taking this without making the other guy work hard for it.  I long, not for the war stories, but the war.

But these two wants are incompatible.  I became acutely aware of this when I briefly took up boxing (as opposed to kickboxing) in about 2012 for about half a year– I realised that I was at a point of my life where I didn’t want to eat any head injuries, because what’s in my brain is of paramount importance to me nowadays.  It’s who I am.

I quit boxing because it was a ruleset where winning the game very acutely accentuated the fact that this is what martial arts is about– it’s about risks and rewards.  And I was no longer willing to take certain risks in that context.  Since then, it has been a bit of a slippery slope.

Judo is a bit different– there’s relatively little risk of me getting brain damage in judo, for instance.   But the risk of more injuries to my joints is significant, especially at the competition level.

I guess the basic problem is that I’m not sure if I’m willing to risk injuries anymore.  I’m not sure what participating (win or lose) in competition exactly does for me– I don’t know how to put it into words.

I just know that there’s a part of me that wants to just go in there and do it.  However, the fact that my body is as bad as it is is a testament to what previous years allowing this kind of fighting spirit to go unchecked can actually do for me.  I just know that it’s something I want– although I don’t know if it’s something I need.

Perhaps what I need is to figure out how to age properly.

Short term or long term…?

It frustrates me.

The reason why I refer it to Dodgeball is because I wonder if I’m just giving up before starting because it’s easier that way.  Was LaFleur right or wrong?

Unlike LaFleur– I want to be strong.  I’m not there yet.

Am I to admit that some people just never get there?

Education by Entertainment

I’m not sure why I still watch a lot of anime and read a lot of manga that I do.  I got into this stuff when I was in my teens– and back then, it was all revolutionary, because on average, there were a lot more adult themes to anime/manga that you couldn’t find in American comics of the same era.  French comics were way ahead of American comics in this respect: they often dealt with taboo content such as sex, violence, and real depravity of the human psyche that American comics dealt with superficially, but I hadn’t yet discovered these at the time so I’ll make the comparison to manga/anime exclusively for now.

Maybe I’m outgrowing it.  There are few animes now that I think are trying to do anything intellectual.  The last interesting ones that bothered my brain a bit were Psycho-Pass, a story about the struggles of law enforcers in a Minority Report-esque legal system that crosses a bit with Gattica themes of social determinism; and Guilty Crown, to a lesser extent, a story about a young teenager’s rise to power in an Animal Farm setting because he arbitrarily come upon a power superior to those around him (hence, the “guilty crown”).  I found those interesting because of the general themes to the animes– in executation however, looking too closely at any bits of it in isolation from the theme revealed how disintegrated animes and managas really are.

-=-=-=-=-=-

I think there’s a big difference between the way that an anime is executed and the way a live action series is executed. I think it has something to do with the serialised nature of the typical television anime– it’s episodal, and there are usually shitloads of characters.  However, at the end of the day, anime characters are all scripted by the same person, and art direction is done by usually one person whose job is to keep things in sync.  The big difference between anime and live-action is that with live action, the director inevitably creates the screen production by linking together a handful of actors’ interpretations of script– and if you have good actors, you have a lot more space for some really interesting stuff with all of their acting– their acting is a mess of vector quantities trying to push different interpretations of the whole theme in different directions simulatensouly.  In animes, the tug is limited to voice.

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

I’ll give you an example.  One of my favourite characters of all time is Louis Litt from Suits.  Sure, he gets some great dialouge– but I’m certain that a lot of my image of this character whenever I close my eyes is due to everything the individual actor (Rick Hoffman) put on top of the written idea. The character has a particular posture, a particular smile, a particular rhythm of speaking  and body language that I do not think could be planned on paper.

Despite the writers’ of Suits final draft of a script, ultimately it is only a foundation– I think that the tugs of the individual characters are what add the dynamism that keep any series going.

I am not saying that a live action series cannot get boring– what I am saying is that if I were looking at the two mediums, characterisation is something that is, in my opinion, almost always done better in live action than in animes.  There are, of course, exceptions, but I’m speaking generally.

 

-=-=-=-=-

In contrast, I feel that the process of creating an anime is a much more “controlled” environment, and that’s exactly the problem.  Plot lines and character interactions tend to be streamlined in such a way that if you actually acted out anime scenes with live action actors, it would feel surreally unnatural.  A lot of the way that an anime is arranged is all about timing– fitting a few objectives into a 22-minute episode.  Sometimes, stalling to fill out 22 minutes.

Anime isn’t the only medium that suffers like this– if you watch any American cartoons of the Nickelodeon variety, it’s the same thing.

WIthout actors to interpret the individual characters and add a certain je ne sais quoi to them, what happens is that the direction maintains such streamlined control over all the characters that, if you’re looking out for it, you see how very formulaic animations really are– especially the ones that reuse frames.

A side effect of the strict control on characters is the need to artifically add characterisation to the characters — and that’s how you end up with anime characters who are exaggerated trophes.

 

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

 

I grew up reading things like Ranma 1/2, Sailor Moon, and City Hunter.  Later, in the golden age of my anime watching, I got to grow up watching the early seasons of things like Bleach, Naruto, and Hajime no Ippo.  I’ve literally read and watched hundreds of more obscure titles, but I’m just using these as examples because they’re more likely to be common ground with a lot of people.

 

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

 

Nowadays, when I watch Bleach, Naruto, and Hajime no Ippo, I do so out of an attempt at nostalgia more than anything else.  I grew up with them in a way that used to make me feel like I was their friends– when I was younger, I had a much more simplistic view of the world.

 

Nowadays? If I met people like Ichigo, Naruto, or Ippo, or any of their friends for that matter, I would not want to know them– because they’re infuriatingly stupid people.  They used to grow– but somewhere, the writers for those characters ran out of ways to make them feel any more real and sympathisable as characters.  Indeed, if they became any more real, they might lose the exaggerated qualities that made the trope formulas work in the first place– so the characters remain emotional intelligence idiots.  They learn new techniques, they get more powerful, but their ability to interact with other people in meaningful ways? None of that ever changes.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-

 

I guess what I’m getting at is that when we’re young, we’re looking for heroes.  Heroes are something that we get to look forward to.  We want to become them.  I wanted to be a Jedi when I was a kid, for example.  It wasn’t just because of what they could do– it was because of who they were on the inside that heroes were heroes to us.

But as we grow older, the downfall of stories that continue with us is that if they don’t grow to stay ahead, we feel an emptiness when we surpass them.  That is not to say that I am a more powerful ninja, soul reaper or boxer than a fictional character– but as human beings, I feel that I’ve grown in intelligence and emotional capcity.  In comparison, these characters are so broken that I sometimes feel betrayed to have ever believed in them– they are so narrowly focused on excellence in a particular thing that they completely ignore growth of any spiritual or emotional sort.

 

What is the lesson that a typical shonen hero teaches us?

Fight, fight, FIGHT. In real life, that kind of obstinancy makes you a grown adult who is embarassing to be around because you’d essentially be trying out-preach people with tantrums rather than reason.  Fighting is a child’s method of argument.  When does a character who we aspire to put away childish things? Or at least, learn to use it as a tool as part of some greater thing?  Nobody trusts someone with perfect resolve– because that sort of lack of fear or contextual sensitivity is the stuff of sociopaths and psychopaths.  Their beliefs are arbitrary, and their orientation towards their personal goals draws a line: you’re either on their side or you’re not.

What kinds of examples do these characters set?

Don’t you feel that oftentimes, the villains have actually thought about social interaction a bit more than the main characters?

 

 

Am I the only one who sympathises with Ozymandius and Madara? Why should characters who have actually suffered real loss be marginalised to trophic heroes who are nothing more than indocrtinated partisans who have never really thought about how people in society interact?

 

 

 

Fortress of the Will

I don’t remember if I mentioned, but a couple of weeks ago at judo, I took a bad fall in judo.  My opponent was a good 40 pounds lighter than me (a bit under 20kg lighter) and at least a foot shorter than me.  He attempted a one-arm shoulder throw, ippon seoi nage.  This is one of the classic basic throws of judo– my opponent spins around in front of me with control of my right sleeve or lapel using his left arm, hooks his right arm under my right armpit, and does a forward twisting motion that should theoretically cast me over his right shoulder in a high arc, with me flipping forward and landing on my back.

 

There’s a few components to a throw– the first is the off-balancing of the opponent; the second is the entry to get your body into position for the throw (usually placing yourself in a good fulcrum position); and finally, the execution of the throw.

 

My pretty good for the first two elements– but execution of the throw is where it went all wrong.  Instead of him sending me over his back and flipping over him, he lost his balance halfway through execution.  The result was that I half side-dodged to avoid his throw, but at the same time, was half sprawled over him as we fell, because he didn’t let go of my arm.  Normally in a competition situation, this would be a failed throw because I didn’t land on my back or on my side.  But regardless, the way we fell with him still hanging on to my arm, I wasn’t able to break my fall.

Imagine doing a one armed right handed pushup– now imagine both of your legs are pointing about 30 degrees upwards, instead of towards the floor.  And then imagine that the vector of your force is forward, as if you are about to plow the ground with your face.  Now imagine that your left hand can’t help you (it’s blocked by his body) and that you can’t really chose how to absorb your impact with your right arm (because he’s got it locked in with both of his) and there’s no angle for you to tuck your head and roll.  WHat happens in this situation?

 

Well, in my whole case, my whole body weight landed on my right arm, and the weakest link was somewhere in my shoulder.

 

From what I have manged to gather from my visit to the physio last week, and reading up on the subject, and having [CM] do various physical tests on me, my condition is more than likely known as a shoulder impingement due to some complaints of the supraspinatus tendon.  To give you an idea of what this entails practically, it’s difficult for me to find the strength to raise my right arm to scratch my left shoulder if my right elbow is shoulder height.  Anything where my right forearm is parallel to the ground and left to right in front of me is kind of difficult.

The interesting thing is that a lot of the motion is covered by other larger muscles– so if I move my arm quickly in one fluid motion, I can put my right arm in those positions I just mentioned.  However, if I do the motion slowly, I might find that I have a lot of difficulty doing it.  This is because the large muscles don’t engage for slow movements unless the brain feels they’re needed– and the brain usually only feels they’re needed for larger more quick motions.

 

 

Being the former hospital employee that I am with limited medical training, I’ve been doing what most people of my experience do when they think something is wrong– be a cyberchondriac about it, and spend a day self-diagnosing myself.  I’m really grateful for Youtube, actually– there’s a lot of information that’s so quickly available, and of a pretty high calibre quality, that is helping me understand my problem in ways that my physiotherapist just wasn’t all that good at explaining.  Getting the same information from several different perspectives makes it easier than just reading the one or two paragraphs of my flatmates’ highly technical medical textbooks.

 

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

 

I’m not sure how I feel about knowing what’s wrong with my shoulder though.  It will heal, no problem. It’ll take time.

 

But every time I get sick or injured, it’s just my habit: I feel mentally worn out.  I can say with a lot of confidence that I am a lot better at dealing with physical injuries and sickness than most people I know– I’m quite “tough” really.  But the fact of the matter is, I also go through a lot more injuries than the average person.  Which means that despite my higher level of physical activities, depending on how you evalutate “health” I may not be better off than the average person.

 

If we think of health in terms of biochemistry, body fat ratios and and cardiovascular endurance, then I suppose, yeah, I’m in great shape.

But if you were to think of health in terms of having a well-rounded body that is suited for all rounder use, I might actually score as unhealthy.  Acute injuries are one thing.  But I’ve got a pretty long list of in-between and downright chronic conditions, especially when it comes to joints.  This most recent supraspinatus injury is the most recent installment in a history of tears and strains to my right rotator cuff from all that badminton, especially when I was trying to improve my smash power.

 

I know that bumps and bruises are all part of growing up.  And it is true that a lot of my fellow orange belts in judo are mostly ten years younger than me.  But I have almost two decades of fighting experience at this point– and when this all started, I never would have suspected that it would all take so much of a toll on my body.

The experiences have been invaluable.  Both in terms of badminton and martial arts.  But having been able to train myself so hard in the past, I suppose it’s ridiculous that I’m only 31 years old and I feel like I’m reaching certain peaks in terms of physical condition.  Yes, I can improve on my mental game, on techniques and strategies– and I think, largely, this is what differentiates my style of judo from the other orange belts.  But I do not feel that my body is getting any stronger.  I mean, I’m certain I am getting stronger overal– but the weakest links in my physical strength are gradually getting worse.  I take an injury that shaves off 10 hit points from some part of me. I heal up and recover, but it only ever restores 9.9999 points.  Rinse and repeat.

 

I suppose my big gripe is that I have always believed in an interrelatedness between mind, body and spirit– but if the body starts to grow weak, where will I house my mind and spirit?

 

I’m probably getting ahead of myself though. I’ve still got a few more decades of ability left before I’m reduced to the  “average” person’s standards of physical wellness.  I don’t have to figure out how to deal with aging in just a day.

Sans Frontières‎

I remember that when I was in CEGEP (“college,” which is your schooling in Quebec for what would be equivalent to year 12 to 13, 14, depending on what your degree was, pre-university) there was a friend I had made.  Lets call him [Spike], after the character from Cowboy Beebop.

Back in those days, I spent equal thirds of my time in the anime/manga club; the arcades; and the martial arts club.  Spike was someone who was a diehard for the anime/mange club and the martial arts.  We credit him as one of the three founding members of the original Martial Arts Club (MAC), the other two being [StrangerInBlack] and myself.

Spike loved japanese manga, anime and videogame culture.  I think that’s why we got on so well, because he always had this modern day samurai spirit to him.  In fact, we bought him a white pine shinai as a birthday gift one year.   That’s a rather rare gift, since I think most shinai have a dark brown colour to them.

He always admired the same types of characters in video games– Spike Speigel from Cowboy Bebop; Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid (the first PSX one, since that was all that was around at the time); Heero Yuuy from Gundam.


It’s natural that when you hang around people with the same interests, your passions resonate. I don’t know whatever happened to Spike, to be honest.  He dissapeared from College suddenly.  I  heard that he had gone to a different CEGEP for some reason or another. I crossed paths with him briefly when I was doing my undergrad at Concordia… he’d taken to wearing cardigans all the time, and he’d put on a lot of weight around the waist.  I remember that meeting him was shocking.

I remember that we, his friends in CEGEP, always had this sense that Spike was somewhat disconnected from reality.  Maybe that he was in denial.  I always got this sense that hew as unhappy with life– and that’s why many of us turned to fantasy worlds and martial arts.  Here were worlds that were glamorous, cool, exciting, and awesome– the real world demanded so much!  But with enough friends? With enough friends it was possible to maintain a constant illusion that we’d never be responsible for anyone or anything.  We could go on living as if all would continue forever.

There are a few ways that this scenario could have played out for us.  For all of us who floated between the anime/manga club, the arcades, and MAC I mean.  [Zanshin] is one of the few of us who “got out” quick and on time, but the vast majority of us had a lot of growing pains when it came to becoming responsible people out of that and didn’t graduate on time.

-=-=-=-=-=-

When I ran into Spike again some years after CEGEP, it was a random encounter during my undergrad degree.  It was strange– he always had a certain energy to him, but suddenly, it was gone.  He had put on a lot of weight, and seemed really out of shape.  Instead of his bombastic big smile, it was a tired, almost guilty one.

I couldn’t believe it.  MAC was one of the prides of my youth– although that original MAC had probably by that time closed, I was still always doing some martial arts in some form or another. But he had gotten… fat.  And more severely, the fire in his eyes had died.

It wasn’t something I had noticed because we were specifically talking about martial arts– it was just that he seemed tired.

Now, I realise that there are a lot of things in his life that I likely didn’t know about.  But that’s one of those things that I never thought would have died out from anyone’s eyes– that struggle, that fire, that want of being the protagonists.

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

It goes without saying that life s a very difficult thing, for a number of reasons.  It’s difficult, first of all, to figure out what we want.  But once we know it?  Then it becomes apparent that it’s difficult to get what we want.  To make matters worse, if getting what we want is difficult, then we start reevaluating what we want– we start wondering if it’s not something we really wanted anyways.  So we make compromises

If we’re lucky enough to figure out what we need, then we can go after that whole heartedly– but it takes a lot of courage to do that.

My life has been a contradiction of two opposing forces– at one hand, this philosophy of being the hero of my own story.  Forward, towards the goal!  Take no prisoners, make no comrpomises.

But at the same time, experience has been showing me that I actually need very little in life.  Pursing things without any respect whatsoever for reality can be very self-destructive.  In fact, it is one of the components of psychopathy.

-=-=-=-=-

Despite everything, I wonder– have I really figured out what it means to be happy?  Is happiness a state, or a process?  Is it counting your blessings and being able to say “wow, that was a good run,” or is it to say “I know, finally, where I want to be”?

I do know that without things that we’re passionate about, life is pretty boring.  But with passions, at the same time is the possibility that in wanting something, or deciding that we need something, we’re doomed to not be able to get it.  So do we content ourselves with the struggle?  Is it just to go down gloriously?

Who decides by what criteria a high score is determined? And if it is us– how would we score it?

Maybe this empericism is my problem.  Maybe I should just ask intuitively how I feel, and if it’s good, then things are good, and that’s that.

 

Maybe it’s not just about what we want or need, nor if we’re there yet– maybe it’s whether it’s enough to be facing the right way, even if we don’t have it.  I don’t always know.  So many questions.

On Blogging

I just discovered a strange bug with the iPad version of WordPress– it’s happened to me a couple of times now, so it caught my attention. Oftentimes while I’m in class, I’ll start writing a blog about something during the break, which I might not have time to complete. I’ll write directly into the wordpress interface. I don’t know if I always hit “save draft” because I think WordPress periodically saves a revision, and I’m usually idle on my laptop long enough for that revision time to cycle and save a new version.

However, sometimes when I use the mobile WordPress app, and go to edit drafts, the draft of the post is just empty. The title is still there, the tags are still there, but the content is just a blank. I’ve been fooled a couple of times now into just trashing the empty post, although I just discovered that if I go back online through a normal web browser (not the iPad app) I can revert to a past revision with the whole of the post there. I just did that now, so the following post was saved from the scrap heap.

But for some reason, whereas auto-saved drafts appear fine when I load them up in a browser, they appear as empties when I load them up in the app. I’m not sure if the same thing happens in the Android app, as I don’t do that much blogging from my phone.

Strange.

-=-=-=-=-=-

If any of you are following the Xanga news, you’ll know that things are going pretty sour over there. As someone who had those badges of “Xanga Life Premium” and “Xanga True” (or something like that), I have a pretty long history with them, almost from when they first started up.

I’m on the side of the fence that is somewhat angry at Xanga, because I’m one of the people who dished out money for Premium for life– and, to put it simply, I’m not dead yet. But my ability to post on Xanga has been revoked, unless I shell out more monies. The new model is “pay us money and give us your writing.” Errr. Fuck you?

-=-=-=-=-=-=-
Internet culture is something I just grew up with. My first experience with anything remotely internet related was back in high school at Royal West Academy, when I joined a school club for the RWA BBS (Royal West Academy Bulletin Board System). I think I’m a borderline Gen X / Gen Y person, but I mostly doubt that most Gen Y people have any recollection of dialing up to a BBS. The BBS was one among about 50 or so publicly accessible BBSes in the Greater Montreal area code (only 514 at the time). Every month or so, one of the biggest BBSes, “Juxtaposition” BBS, would publish an updated list of BBSes.

Because of those roots in text based online experiences, a lot of my way of looking at the world is very textually based. I tend to convert experiences into information that is very often textual in nature. Back then, internet interaction was far from as streamlined as it was today– MMORPGs didn’t exist. There were networked games, one of the most famous in my time being DukeNukem 3D. But I’m talking about an age where games were not floating all their information in cyberspace– things were still live and in person LAN parties that required hard cables.

Almost all of the games that did have larger multiuser bases that could allow you to play with remote users were hosted on the BBSes– they were turn based, and often, almost always completely text based.

Those beginnings in forums, email and gaming meant that a lot of my foundational experiences were heavily text based. It also made me develop a strong tendency to compartmentalise my information– to this day, I like having my internet experience separated into text, images, or video. If I want information, I want something as dry and efficient as a wikipedia page. If I want a video, I want something like a youtube app, but without the ads. If I want images, I want to be able to browse galleries, and just galleries.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Facebook recently revealed that it has some plans to introduce short, high quiality video ad spaces for advertising revenue. I do use facebook, almost exclusively as a part of the work I have to do. But on the whole? Facebook mostly annoys the shit out of me– because probably less than 5% of the actual bandwidth used is for information that I actually want. The rest is for interface mechanics and “features” that are trying to sell me oranges because they notice I’m looking for apples.

Granted, I’m probably not the typical internet user. In general, I guess you might say that most “free” services lose money on me, because I never click ads, and I’m almost never swayed by advertising. I buy what I need when I need it.

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

The big failing of Xanga is a lot like what I hate about Facebook. It’s adding on extra functions that I don’t use, and it’s cluttering things up. When they could have been working to improve features such as the reader, RSS/Atom feeds, and more customizability for controlling how your blog looked and behaved, instead what the Xanga team spent their effort on was kitchy shit to try and make quick money, or to copy features from other sites. Among it’s efforts,iit was trying to pretend that it could be a twitter like service, or something like a photo gallery.

Facebook did pull these sorts of things off– but it did so by pushing revision after revision until things were so conenient that people just jumped on, because they wanted a single interface under which to unite all aspects of their internet personas.

Xanga’s problem was that it was though it was something that it wasn’t. It’s a blogging site. It’s about the writing. WHen people think writing, they look to blogs– they don’t go to Facebook or to Twitter.  Actual content is the writing itself– furthermore, good content is stuff that you can’t necessarily summarise in a few lines.  It actually says someting– it actually makes you think.

 

Facebook status updates don’t normally count.

 

So Xanga’s problem was very much an identity crisis– living in fear of integrated content aggregation paradigms.   But it didn’t respond well.  The two solutions were to specialize, or to “If you can’t beat em, join em.”  IN the current scenario, Xanga didn’t do very much to further improve the blogging experience.  But they did try and adopt some features of expanded content, like video hosting and such.

 

The problem was that while it all seemed good in theory, the primordial genetic defect of Xanga was always lack of communication.

It didn’t do market studies or actually ask the community of bloggers what it wanted.  It’s as easy as taking a few surveys, right?  Instead, it went with the ideas of some of Xanga’s loudest voices– but volume doesn’t substitute for relevence.   So it made business decisions that, frankly, the majority of people wouldn’t agree with.

 

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

I think that the people who are sticking to Xanga are probably of a certain personality type– they really want to cling to this idea of a the community they’ve come to build.  It’s like an addiction.  What people need to understand is that a community isn’t about the medium– it’s about the people, and their thoughts.  Xanga doesn’t own the people or their thoughts, and never will, even with their attempts to charge money now.  The people are still going to be there, they will still think, they will still write, long after Xanga is gone.

So those who stick to Xanga are probably, in my guess, people who need a bit more confidence in the validity of their ideas and voices.  If you have something relevant to say, people will want to hear it.  While it is true that networking is a chore and if you want to build a large readership, it does take substantial work, what Xanga basically is is just a giant address book.  It just makes the connections in an easy way.  But you could do it yourself.  Many of already have, by jumping to wordpress.

 

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

Xanga’s fundraising goal thing to launch “Xanga 2.0” was kind of sketchy, if you ask me.  Suppose Xanga said that it needed 100% of dollars, but it only managed to get 80%.  They milk the campaign for all it’s worth, but that’s all they get.  THen suddenly, it looks like everything will fall apart– so someone, actually on the Xanga team, swoops in and pays off that last 20%.

 

Now, how much does it cost to actually do this server migration and upgrade?  Does it actually take 100%?  We’ll never actually know– because Xanga doesn’t communicate these things.

There were calls for information throughout the fundraising process, and even now, with Xanga 2.0’s full rollout being late and apparently buggy, the communication is extremely poor.

 

So imagine this– what if Xanga was really just asking for handouts?

Suppose you have a kickstarter where everyone only gets charged if the full 100% is collected.  Now you can kind of see why one of the actual Xanga peoples’ contribution is a bit of a conflict of interests here…

Suppose that person contributes 20% to trigger the kickstarter.  It’s easy to see why they would finish it– the choice is to generate 80% capital raising, or to generate 0%.  Why the hell not?  Because the money goes back to xanga anyway, the generous 20% donation isn’t so much a donation as it is a settlement for slightly less.

I call it a handout, because at the end of the day, Xanga isn’t really offering anything different to what it used to be offering, but they expected not only to raise free money, but also to charge ongoing subscriptions for the ability to write– which you could already do, and which you could still do on other sites (like WordPress) for free.

What if the campaign only raised 50%?  And then the Xanga team dumped the last 50%?  Well, again– raising 50% is still better than 0.  WHy the hell not– there’s nothing to lose, because all they’ve promised in return is some vague stuff about “Xanga 2.0” and “WordPress Integration.”  But there has never been any communicated detail about what that actually means, so it’s a pretty easy standard to set.  As far as Xanga goes in legal terms, it’s probably able to run with the fundraised cash tomorrow if it wanted to.

 

On the whole though, it does give them a good means of getting a bailout of virtually any amount, limited only by the suckerness of the community who lives in fear of losing their place in the community.

All those old xanga products that people paid for? All you life premiums like me who paid them money for premium services for life?  I’m not dead yet and you have the nerve to tell me that you want more money to do something which you already promised to do.  If you didn’t think it would work back then, you shouldn’t have promised it.

 

People think I might be being harsh here– but I value words very highly.  I hold people to them because I hold myself to them.  When you make an agreement, there is an element of trust that I’d like to think comes into play that separates us from the animals– we’re talking about agreements not just of convenience, but because of a sense of pride in what we do and who we are.  If your words and your actions don’t align, then you have nothing.

 

Yes, I used Xanga.  I used it a lot.  But I have no illusions about thinking that the people I met, read, and swapped words with were “Xanga.”  They are themselves.  Xanga was, at best, selling me convenience.

 

ANd using Xanga just became hella lot inconvenient.

Random Price Tags

Nowadays, when I go to a grocery store looking for a box of eggs, I have a lot of choices.  Not just different brands, but also types within brands.  You’ll see terms like cage eggs, organic, free-range… whatever.  There’s a whole bunch of things on those labels that have been researched and calculated to catch your attention and make you pick up that particular box of eggs.

But what does it mean when you pick up a box of “organic” eggs?  Is this just a label that anyone can use, and try to fool the “casual conscientious”?

The truth is, the usage of terms in advertising varies from country to country, and even state/province to province.  The legal meaning of what you’re reading on a label doesn’t necessarily mean what you would take it to mean when you’re talking to a friend.

There’s a concept in economics called “demand-side substitutability” which is used to define product markets and services.  I’m not an economics major or anything, but basically, it’s a method of determining what products and services are out there.  The less demand-side substitutability there is for a product, the more ‘unique’ it is.

And uniqueness is important.  From my experience, part of the reason why we buy things, and not just a certain thing, but a particular customisation of things, is because customisation gives us a sense of identity.  I wear a certain style of shoes and not others, because despite the fact that both types might help me walk or run, the extras make me feel psychologically comfortable with the representation I’m making to the world.

Corporations spend a shitload of money researching what makes us comfortable.  More specifically, they spend a shitload of money doing research on how they can sell us things, and part of what makes an item sell better is how unique it is– because identity is an expensive commodity, above and beyond the functional of the item itself.

And what if we put informed choice into the equation– then, demand-side substitutability becomes us demanding particular products for particular functional reasons, rather than just cosmetic ones.

For example– when we buy a box of “organic” eggs, we are demanding organic eggs– but because of the way labelling laws work, it might be possible that the concepts of organic that we subscribe to have nothing to do with the company’s ability to tag that word on the box, and charge an extra 30% premium on the price.

Basically, should we be paying 30% extra, if it turns out that the product is actually the same as a cheaper substitute?
 
SO, this brings us to the concept of “supply-side substitutability.”  One of the ways that you can basically use to determine if a product is the same as another is to see, on the supply side, if it’s substitutable.
With the example of eggs,

does the farmer at company ABC have to use different equipment, different expertise, different methods, etc to produce a box of organic eggs, versus regular eggs?  If he does, then that’s an indicator that the product itself is likely different ,and warrants being considered a different thing by consumer.

That said, there are insane amounts of products out there that are NOT different, and which we are paying for uniqueness of substance, and they’re NOT providing unique functions.  

The reason we get caught up in them is because of the carefully chosen wording of labelling.

For example– I have pretty bad eczema at times.  For those of you who have ever had a skin condition, you know that it’s pretty tricky to find some sort of moisturizer that works for you.  I’ve been through almost every on the shelf product in Canada, and almost half of the products in Australia.

Everytime I pick up a bottle, the labels says: dermatologically tested.  Recommended by dermatologists.

Now, really, what does that mean?  Is that supposed to convince you to buy the item?

All it means is that a dermatologist might have tried that lotion.  Whether or not he aprooved it?  That’s a different story.

And as to recommended by dermatologists?  Just what exactly was recommended– the lotion in the bottle in your hands, or some general class or concept of lotion and skin hydration in general?  Because any dermatologist would recommend that you use some sort of lotion on dry skin.

Despite all the recommendations, and even labels that directly state that this bottle is specifically engineered for eczema, what that label tells you is full of cheap words that don’t matter.  I could say that I built you a dining room table– but that claim could legally mean that I just put a piece of sheet metal on a pile of bricks.

Similarly, most over the counter eczema moisturising creams and lotions for some retarded reason contain some form or another of alcohol as a preservative.  When you’ve got dry, irritated skin, let me tell you what you’ve already guessed: alcohol doesn’t make your skin any happier.
Every day, people sit in rooms and discuss clever ways to sell us things without having to do much extra work.  They sell us things because, despite everything, we’re too trusting–  we associate nice packaging with quality and dependability, when really, packaging is really just packaging.
 
So who sets the standards?
Well, while it is difficult to get the government to do anything, especially since everyone’s so pro-capitalism, you have to keep in mind that you can’t shirk the responsibility of understanding the substance of things yourself.  The amount of connection you have with the world around you has to do with you going deeper than the superficial, and finding a place to set in roots.  That means maybe you should take a moment to check the ingredients in a food or drug.  Maybe you want to understand what a product can do before you buy it.

And maybe you want to start differentiating between how a product looks and what it can do for you.

In a capitalist market, the power is supposed to be in the consumer.  Competition is supposed to give us the better products.  I don’t believe this is true by default– I think the better product is the one that’s suited to the job.  If that’s the case, what does it mean if we’re buying things we don’t need or understand?  How is that an improvement?

Every dollar you spend is like a ballot– you are meant to vote for what you believe in with every purchase.

 
What about people who say that it’s all too complicated– with all this talk of genetically modified everything, how am I supposed to know what I want to eat?
 
Well okay– let’s make it simpler then.  If you line up for 10 hours to get that new iPhone, are you going to experience the life altering “change of everything” (again, nonetheless)?  Are your friends really going to think you’re that much cooler now that you’ve got an old iPhone as a paperweight?  Does this matter?
 
I chose an iPhone because its an easy target, but it easily demonstrates a point– we have more productivity tools than we actually have need for productivity.  We’re substituting a bit of elbowgrease for convenience on levels where you’re paying a hefty premium, and really, that premium is for technological capacity that you don’t even use.
 
Potential is great, but it’s like dreams– you can stock it up all you want.  It’s all irrelevant if you don’t take the time, develop the discipline, and learn to work with substance, rather than images.