Sciencey Stuff

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you’ve quite possibly come across the fact that when I first when to college I was a Music Education Major, and when that kind of fell apart after a fairly short time, I ended up going back to school and I have a B.A. in Psychology.

After starting out majoring in the arts, and then going into what is a softer science, even in college I tried to avoid the hard sciences like the plague.  And yet, I’m fascinated by all kinds of science.  One of the web comics that I read on a regular basis is XKCD, which is very science driven and very funny (if you check out the website, be sure to go to the What If? section, which is one of the high points of my week every Tuesday or Wednesday when he uploads a new question).

I came across a really interesting article recently talking about the Fermi Paradox, and if you’re interested in science, or even just Science Fiction writing, it’s well worth a read.  Here’s the link to the post.

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Turning bad into good.

I don’t know if I’ve said this on my blog anywhere before, but I know I’ve said it in life.  I believe that if you look at your past, and think about the worst things that ever happened to you, you can ultimately find that something good ended up happening as a result of the bad.  And while I fully believe it to be true, there’s a big problem with it, and it’s really a simple problem: time.

Unlike the books that I read so many of (albeit fewer these days than I’d like), we often can’t see how something bad will turn into something good within the 10 or so hours it might take to read an average book.  It often takes months and more likely years before something good can come from something bad.

As an example, early in college I had – what I thought was – a fairly serious relationship with a girl that I really cared for.  Things fell apart and it sent me into a fairly bad depression, probably the worst episode of depression that I’d had to that point in my life, and arguably still the worst that I’ve had to this point.  One of the things that suffered was my focus on my classes.  I was still a good student, but I had lost a lot of my drive towards being a music teacher.  But while that fell apart for me, I later ended up studying Psychology, which I really enjoyed, and I ended up ultimately getting my job where I work now, which leaves me more time than I’ve ever had in my life to bowl and spend time with my friends.  In some ways it might be a bit of a stretch, but I choose to look at it as a very bad moment of my life leading into something ultimately good.

That said, last weekend I had another fairly bad incident, a DUI.  For a lot of people, this would be a crippling incident, and I readily admit, it’s not going to be easy to get through.  Fortunately, I have a very understanding family willing to help me through the situation, a boss who is understanding and willing to stand by me through this time, a job where I’ll be able to work around my court times, and good friends who would run through a brick wall for me, much less do something as simple as pick me up from time to time so I can go to bowling.

So while this is easily a bad moment in my life, I’m choosing to focus on the good parts that will come from what happened, both in what I have in my life, and what I’m going to do from this time forward to try and improve my life.

You can’t always control what happens to you in your life, all that you can do is try to put yourself in a situation where something good can happen to you.  And when something bad happens, you have two options; you can either let it lead to despair, or you can rise with the occasion and let it lead you to something better.  For one of the first times in my life, I’m going to skip the gap that normally takes a couple of years and focus on the good things right away.

Here’s your dissenting opinion.

Here we go again talking about sports.  The past few days the sports world has been abuzz because of comments made by the LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling.  For those who don’t know what happened, here’s a very quick summary.  Several months ago Sterling was talking to a woman that he knows, and he said that he didn’t appreciate the fact that she posted pictures of herself with Magic Johnson.  Sterlings exact words from the recording were as follows: “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?”  (From the ESPN article found here.)  As a result of his comment getting out, Sterling was banned from all NBA related activities, find $2.5 million, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said that he plans to ask the other NBA team owners to vote to make Sterling sell the Clippers.

Now, from my understanding, this comment was made in Sterling’s home, and a recording was released several months later.  Per Wikipedia, Sterling was suing the woman who released the recording, and she said that she would “get even” with him.

Lets do something that not many other people seem to be doing, and take a look at exactly what he said. It bothers him that someone he knows is associating with black people.  Not a nice thing to say, but I’m sure you could find far more racially offensive articles from the past week, like this article talking about a fan throwing a banana at a soccer player in Spain.  That’s far more offensive to me, but apparently not to the public at large, in part because it’s from Europe, and in part because it’s soccer, a sport most American’s don’t care about.

Let’s take a look at Sterling while we’re at it, according to Wikipedia, Sterling is 80 years old.  This isn’t excusing what he said, but it does lend some context.  We’re a far more integrated society today than we were when Sterling was growing up.  When he was younger, interracial relationships were more rare, and it’s understandable that they might make him uncomfortable.

Secondly, he said he wasn’t comfortable with the girl associating with “black people.”  There are plenty of other more offensive racial terms that he could have used instead of “black people.”

Lastly, lets look at the punishment.  He’s being find $2.5 million, again we go to Wikipedia, which says that his net worth is something like $1.9 billion.  So yeah, it’s a big fine, but it’s not exactly going to send him to the poor house.  Next, he’s banned from anything to do with the NBA, including attending games or even attending a practice, I think this is going a bit too far.  He’s already a fairly quiet owner by comparison to others (Mark Cuban of Dallas comes to mind), and while he hasn’t done a great job of running a winning team over the years, I don’t think there were ever any stories about him not paying players, or refusing to sign black players, so as far as that’s concerned he’s done his job more than adequately.

And now we get to the most damning part, at least as far as I’m concerned.  Silver is going to try and get the rest of the NBA owners to vote in an attempt to force Sterling to sell the team.  He’s the longest tenured owner in the league, and over the time that he’s owned the team the NBA has grown astronomically larger and more popular.  I don’t know exactly how much, but he’s probably had something to do with that behind the scenes.  I think this sets a bad precedent for the other owners.  This is a very, very, small thing, and they’re trying to force him to sell the team.  What happens in a couple of years when the aforementioned Mark Cuban says something to offend someone, is he going to be forced by the other owners to sell the team?  What happens the next time a coach questions a league decision?  Will the commissioner put pressure on the team to fire the coach?  What about when it’s found that a player told a joke with the N word in it when he was a freshman in high school?  Is he going to be suspended?

This whole controversy boils down to two things.  One, we’ve somehow managed to sterilize our culture to the point where having an opinion that differs from the “politically correct views” in any way shape or form means that anyone who might possibly have been offended any time in the past 50 years has every right to crucify you for what you said.  And two, Adam Silver is brand new as a commissioner in the NBA, and he wanted to do everything he could to make sure that people realize that he is the commissioner and he has the power.

Is Sterling a perfect person, no, he isn’t.  But I doubt that he’s anywhere near as bad as he’s been made to seem.  We’ve all vented about things from time to time, and we’ve all said things that are politically incorrect.  If you took a soundbite of the worst things we’ve said in our private moments, nobody would have a job.  In the past week, I’ve heard plenty of things that are far worse than what Sterling said.  Quite frankly, I’ve said more offensive things than what Sterling said in the past week.  This is a stupid situation that got absurdly out of hand.  If I was Donald Sterling, I’d fight this every step of the way, sit court side at the next Clippers home game, and tell Adam Silver to take his lifetime ban and shove it up his ass.

But that wouldn’t be politically correct would it?

Sound tasty to you?

This may be one of the most tasteless things that I’ve posted on my blog, but it made me laugh for most of yesterday and a good deal of today, and it’s talking about current events, so it’s always fun.

Apparently Jeffrey Dahmer’s childhood home is for sale, and has been up for sale for a while now.  And while that’s entertaining enough, apparently PETA considered buying the house and turning his house into a vegan restaurant.

Immediately upon hearing that there were plans for turning it into a restaurant, my first thought was about asking people if they would want to eat there.  When I asked my co-workers if they would want to eat there, their reactions ranged from complete disgust to morbid curiosity.

Personally, I think the Dahmer House Bar and Grill has a nice ring to it, and I’d love to eat there.  Beyond the novelty of simply having a restaurant there, think of the marketing ideas.  Who wouldn’t want a t-shirt that says “I had dinner at Jeffrey Dahmer’s house.”

I think you could go a little further with it, turn it into a sort of theme restaurant as well.  Put liver and onions on the menu, sweetbreads (thymus gland or pancreas), chitterlings (intestines, usually pig), or haggis.

I know I wouldn’t be the only one interested in eating there, and I’m sure there are plenty of other people with a sense of humor as dark as mine who would have to make at least one trip there.  So how about you?  Would you eat there?  And while I’m on the subject, do you have anything you would add to the menu?

Amazon’s 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime

Obviously, I enjoy books, I read them as often as I’m able (I’ve been keeping a steady pace of about a book a week for the past month and a half, which I’m quite proud of) and I talk about them here.  Part of the reason I started my blog was to help me keep track of the books that I’ve read, and I’ve done a decent job of cataloguing everything since then.

One of the other things that I’ve most enjoyed about starting my blog, and I suppose that this is arguably the main point to blogging in general, is reading other blogs and finding out about other books that people have loved through their blogs.  I’ve also noticed in the past couple of years that I’ve found myself drawn to lists of books, as they often help me find new books to read.

I’ve talked before about some fairly specific lists of books, the first two that come to mind being the NPR lists for the top 100 Fantasy and Science Fiction novels of all time, and their list for the top 100 YA books of all time.  Well, a couple of weeks ago I came across another list that I thought was interesting, as you can probably tell by the title of this post, I’m talking about the Amazon.com list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime.

When I first saw title of the list, I had to check it out and see whether or not I agreed or disagreed with the books on the list.  And while there may be some books on this list that I don’t like, overall I think this is one of my favorite “Top 100” book lists that I’ve ever seen.  “Top 100” is in quotes both times in this paragraph because they creators of the list didn’t intend for it to be a be-all end-all list of books, they made it to create some discussion, and I’ll start that discussion here with why I loved the list.

The people who picked the list chose a variety of different styles of books, ranging from children’s books to non-fiction, poetry collections to epic fantasy, young adult to memoir.  There is such a wide variety of books on this list that I think everyone will be able to find at least 6 or 7 books on the list that they would enjoy, and probably quite a few more than that.  As it stands right now, I’ve read 14 1/2 of the books (I’ve read about half of Oliver Sacks book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat,” which is a collection of clinical stories.  I’ve also read a version of The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, but it was when I was younger and it was probably abridged.)

Along with the books that I’ve already read from the list, there are a couple of others that I already own that I plan on reading.  This is one of the more interesting lists of books that I’ve come across in some time, and I think that it stands out precisely for that reason.

So what do you think of the list.  Are there any of the books on the list that you think absolutely shouldn’t be on the list?  Are there any books or authors that you think are sadly missing?

I’d probably have to consider adding Flowers for Algernon and The Willow Tree – the last two books that I gave a 10/10 rating to on my blog – and I’d probably want to throw in a couple more Fiction and Fantasy novels, something like Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, The Wheel of Time, or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  I’d also want to throw in something like Lamb by Christopher Moore, which is one of the funniest books that I’ve ever read, or perhaps And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, because one of the best mysteries by one of the most famous mystery writers of all time deserves to be on the list.

Speaking of the Dead

To begin with, this is probably going to be one of the more offensive things that I’ve ever said, even though I’m going to be referring to a person that most people who read this will never have met.  I’m also at no point in this post give the person’s actual name, I’m simply going to ask a question and give my thoughts about the answer to said question in this post.

The question is a fairly simple one, but one that never gets asked in polite company.  Why is it that when a person dies, no one ever says anything bad about them?

Allow me to give the context for this question.  Recently, someone who had been a fairly close friend of my parents passed away.  I knew quite a few people who thought that the deceased person was an asshole (myself included), there were even quite a few times when my parents agreed that the deceased was an asshole on a regular basis.  The last time that I saw the deceased I had been out shopping and they were in the same store.  I told my mom when I got home and I remember the conversation going something like this:

Me: “I ran into (person) at the store today.”

Mom: “I’m sorry to hear that.”

However, upon hearing that the person died, my mother said that it was really hard, even though she hadn’t seen him in years, and the fact that she had called him an asshole on numerous occasions.

I find it a little, dishonest is probably the best word, to suddenly revere someone just because they’re no longer with us.  When I was at bowling last week, the owner of the bowling alley made an announcement that the person had passed away (the person had been a bowler in the area for years and many people at the bowling alley knew the deceased).  I was respectful an honored the moment of silence that the owner of the bowling alley asked for, but then my first comment to one of the guys that I bowl with was that I knew the person (my friend didn’t) and that I thought he was an asshole.

At this point I find it interesting that I chose to title this post “Speaking of the Dead” because of how much it relates to Orson Scott Card’s book “Speaker of the Dead,” which is the second book in the Ender series.  (And no, I didn’t think of the similarity before I started writing this post.)

The title of Speaker for the Dead comes from a profession that Card invented for the book.  When a person dies, their family or community could call upon a Speaker for the Dead to interview them and then talk about their life, but not in the way that we do at funerals where we only talk about the good things that people do.

A Speaker for the Dead would discuss not only the good things that a person did, but also the bad.  They would be able to discuss both a person’s greatest virtues as well as their worst vices.  In short, they would be able to describe them as a real person, and not simply a cardboard cutout.

No one is perfect, and we all have our shortcomings.  But I’m also of the opinion that nearly everyone in the world has something they can contribute to other people.  And that if you really sit down and talk to someone, one on one, you can find something about them that you relate to.  But I think also think that whitewashing their lives just because they’re dead is dishonest and in many ways disrespectful to the person that they were.  None of us want to be remembered solely because of our worst moments, and I think it’s equally disingenuous to only remember the best about a person.

I don’t claim to be perfect, I have flaws just like everyone else, and like most people I aspire to get better.  Even posthumously, I don’t think it’s good to remember people only because of their good qualities.  Take the bad with the good and round out the person, I think in the end we’re all better off when seen as a real person and not simply as a composite of our best qualities.

Why My Favorite Football Player is a Free Agent Punter

As I’m writing this, it’s about 2 or 3 minutes before the BCS National Championship Game with Florida State and Auburn.  We’re also in the middle of the NFL playoffs, with the Wild Card games taking place last weekend and the Divisional Round coming up next weekend.  I enjoy football, but I’m not nearly as big a fan as many other people I know.  The first time I ever been in a Fantasy Football league was this past year, and it will probably be the last time I’ll ever be in one.

So why is my favorite football player a punter?  And one who is currently unemployed?  Because he’s also an extremely intelligent person who is willing to speak his mind on some very important issues.  For those of you who don’t already know who I’m talking about, I’m referring to former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe.  I first heard of Kluwe a couple of years ago when he was in the news a little bit for being a general nerd who was (at the time) playing World of Warcraft.  However, recently he’s been in the news recently for talking about his political views concerning gay marriage.  Here are links to a couple of articles he’s written.

“They Won’t Magically Turn You Into A Lustful Cockmonster”: Chris Kluwe Explains Gay Marriage to the Politician who is Offented by an NFL Player Supporting it.

An End To DOMA

I Was An NFL Player Until I Was Fired By Two Cowards And A Bigot

I agree with everything Kluwe says, but beyond that, I appreciate the bluntness with which he writes.  So often when you hear politicians talking every sentence is layered with so much double talk and subversion that half the time you don’t even know what they’re talking about. (This is one of the things I’ve always liked about Jon Stewart as well, he’ll call politicians on their bullshit.)

Kluwe explains his points, he does it directly, and he doesn’t beat around the bush.  The first article I linked to is a perfect example of why his writing works.  You can see his anger at the blatant stupidity, but he also makes very valid points.  And while some people might not appreciate his profanity, lets face it, that’s how a lot of people – including many very intelligent people – talk today.  Along with that, I think it’s become obvious that trying to play nice doesn’t get anyone listening to you, so maybe it’s time to stop being nice.

His NFL career is basically over, but I certainly hope that he has a long future in whatever he decides to do.  We need more people with a public stage to call politicians on their crap and bluntly talk about issues the way that many people actually think about them.

The Guided Fate Paradox

So a couple of weeks ago I was browsing random websites online and I found a list of 100 forgotten games from the past year.  I don’t remember what the title of the list was, or the website, or for that matter what kind of random posts I had been clicking through to find it.  Anyway, while browsing through their list, I saw quite a few games that didn’t interest me at all, a couple that I took the time to read about, and one that had me very intrigued.GFP1

That game – which I’m sure you could have guessed from the title of this post – is called The Guided Fate Paradox.  And while it is the type of game that never had a chance to be a blockbuster mega-hit in todays video game culture, I think it’s the type of game that has an excellent chance of being a sleeper hit that a core group of fans will still be talking about and playing 10 years from now.

The premise of the game can be summed up very quickly, and this is what got me interested in the game in the first place.  A young man named Renya is given a lottery ticket at a local mall after buying food for dinner.  He spins the lottery machine at the mall and wins the grand prize – he gets to become God and guide the fates of the believers who pray to him every day.

Now that is a premise that is going to get me interested in a game, but while that’s an interesting start to a game, it’s going to take a quality game to be as interesting as the summary I gave promises, and this game delivers.

GFP2

Renya and Lilliel

Once Renya goes to heaven he meets a small cast of angels who are his companions for the rest of the game.  I love stories that turn your expectations on their heads and this game does that perfectly.  When you hear the word angel, you have a certain image that pops up in your head.  And while the angels that help you out fit the visual image, their personalities are very different from what you would expect.  In this world, angels and devils have been fighting a war that has been going on far longer than any of them could have ever imagined, and it shows in their personalities.  In many ways, this group of angels is tired of fighting the war, and very cynical about it.  Likewise, when you’re shown scenes involving the devils and their leader – named Satanael – you see that they’re in some ways just going through the motions.  Satanael especially is going through the motions, and in many of the scenes he appears in he is simply trying to find something to do to kill some time because he’s utterly bored with his existence.  While the game has you granting a series of wishes for people, there is a deep and interesting story going on that is constantly leading you in interesting new directions.  I can easily say that the overall story of this game is easily one of the best that I’ve seen in a video game in some years and one of the more interesting stories that I’ve seen in any medium for some time.

Several of the angels who assist you in the game.

Several of the angels who assist you in the game.

While the overall story is interesting, the smaller stories that unfold as you help the believers with their wishes are also some of the more interesting stories that I’ve seen in some time.  From the very first story where you meet a Cinderella who is tired of living out the same fairy tale all the time, you know you’re in for something different.  As the game continues you also meet and help a weakling zombie who wants to be able to eat brains, a mermaid who wants to stop her older sister from killing humans, and several other unique and interesting characters.  All of the characters have solid voice acting (although the voice of the weakling zombie did get annoying after a while) the character designs are all very well done.

The gameplay was really interesting to me, with your character going through a series of randomly generated dungeons with your angel assistant as you acquire new items and level up your character.  However, every time that you leave a dungeon, you reset to level one.  But the game keeps track of your total levels gained and uses this to increase your overall stats.  So you start out as a more powerful level one every time you go into the dungeon, and you also have more powerful equipment every time you go through.  The closest game I know of in terms of the actual gameplay is an old Playstation 1 game titled Azure Dreams.  If you’re a fan of that game I think you’ll love this game as much as I did.

One thing that helped this game greatly was the variety in the dungeons.  The first two just have you going from one room to the next along pathways in the dungeon.  The third one takes place underwater and you can roam anywhere on the map, but there are certain rooms that appear throughout each floor.  Other dungeons have 5×5 tiles that move around as you’re exploring each floor, meaning you can go from being 2 squares away from the item you wanted to pick up to it being halfway across the map.  The variety from one dungeon to the next helped the gameplay to feel fresh throughout the entire game, even though you’re essentially doing the same thing for the entirety of the game.

GFP3Graphically the game is decidedly old-school, with the characters being sprites rather than the fully rendered models that you see in so many games today.  While some people may not enjoy graphics like this, I think they’re in many ways better than other games.  Far too often I think game developers try to make a game look perfectly realistic as the expense of making it look good.  This game definitely has a unique visual style, and I thought it was fantastic throughout the course of the entire game.

This game is a perfect mixture of an interesting premise, an excellent story, solid gameplay, and incredible replayability.  If you’re a fan of old school Japanese RPG’s or good storytelling in general, I highly suggest this game.  As it is, I’m off to go through some of the bonus content and see if I can’t find more fun items to use.

The New Year

Another year has passed, and once again I sit at my computer trying to think of something creative to say for a New Years Day blog post.  Even saying that is slightly wrong, since it’s almost 9 at night, so it’s not really any kind of a “day” blog post.  But I suppose that’s just my bad sense of humor kicking in to the post, so we move on.

One of the first things that everyone talks about when it comes to New Years is the idea of a resolution.  If you’re really trying to better yourself, the changing of the calendar year is as good a reason as any to start doing it.  If you’re thinking of one, do it the right way and give it some thought for a week or two before you really plan to start it.  There are a couple of things you can do to help achieve your goal; break it down into steps, reward yourself for completing each step, don’t panic and give up if you backtrack a little, and tell other people so that you have support in your goal.  There are a couple of things that I want to do in the coming year, and perhaps in a week or two when I’ve outlined everything better I’ll do a post about it here.

All that said, I hope that you enjoyed the new year however you decided to spend it’s arrival, I hope that you and all of your loved ones were safe after whatever partying they did last night, and I hope that you have something to look forward to in the coming year.

So much as I did last year, in a post with the exact same title, I leave you with an old Irish blessing, or proverb, or whatever you want to call it.  (Although I did look it up online and I found it worded differently than I had it last year, I think I like this version better.)

May the saddest day of your future be no worse than the happiest day of your past.

2013 Year In Review

As we’re nearing the end of the year it’s time to go back and review some of my reading from the past year.  This was a bad year reading for me, especially compared to the past 2 or 3 years where I had been averaging well over 80-90 books a year.  But while the quantity of books that I read this year was down, I have to say that overall the quality of books that I read this year was very high.

So here we go with the disappointing numbers, as of writing this post I’ve finished 30 books this year.  To be fair, I’m about 3/4 of the way through The Ambassador’s Mission by Trudi Canavan, and it’s very likely that I’ll be able to finish both this book and the second book in the trilogy before the end of the year, but at this point I’ll just include those books for next years year in review.

The past couple of years that I’ve done this I’ve gone through and listed both my favorite books of the year as well as my favorite new author that I read in the past year.  But looking through my list of books that I read this past year, I actually only read 4 or 5 new authors this past year, and everything else was either a continuation of a series by an author I’d read before (i.e. The Wheel of Time) or a new series by an author I’d read before (Jim C. Hines Princess series for example).  So it’s kind of unfair to list a favorite new author, because of the very small pool of candidates, so we skip it for this year, and make a resolution to read more new authors in the coming year.

Favorite book however, that is an infinitely more difficult question.  There are three books this year that are up for consideration here.  Two of the books I gave a 10/10 rating (the only two books that got a 10/10 from me this year) and the third book was unrated because it was the final book of The Wheel of Time, and I didn’t give individual book ratings to any of the books in that series.  The three books that I’m talking about of course are A Memory of Light, Flowers for Algernon, and The Willow Tree.

Ultimately here’s the problem with trying to choose any of those books over the other two.  I love all three of the books, but I love them all for different reasons.  A Memory of Light was a perfect conclusion to a fantastic series that I’ve been reading for over 10 years now.  Flowers for Algernon was a book I loved because of the way that it analyzed several different aspects of our culture, and how it does an excellent job of showing what out culture thinks is important.  Lastly, The Willow Tree is a testament to the strength of the human spirit, and how easy it can be to change another persons life.  Often times all you have to do is be there for the other person.

Alas, I once again cheat and say that I won’t decide between the three books, and I’ll simply suggest all three of the books.

So having crapped out on the first two categories, time to go through some of the quick questions that I’ve asked the past two years.

  • Longest book – A Memory of Light – 909 pages
  • Shortest book – The shortest actual novel that I read was The Island of Dr. Moreau at 140 pages, but Legion (which is a novella) was shorter at only 86 pages
  • Best series – I finished The Wheel of Time this year, so that automatically wins here, for another pick I would probably say The Black Magician trilogy by Trudi Canavan

As always, I’ll take any other questions about books that I read this year, anything from characters, to the authors, to whatever else you can think of.  As always my one caveat is that I would prefer to avoid any negative questions, so no questions about the worst book of the year please.