Monthly Archives: January 2014

Nostalgia Ho!

I was doing some maintenance on my laptop today when I decided I needed something to fill the time. But what to do? I could read, but I had been doing that all morning. I could play a video game, but the one I’m playing right now is on my laptop, and I didn’t really feel like starting a new one. I could put something on Netflix, but I didn’t want to get too engrossed into anything. So I sat there for a few minutes, on the floor in the basement (that’s where the easiest network cable was), waiting for my computer to finish adjusting partitions and installing Linux Mint. Then it hit me.

For some random reason, I had been thinking about Super Mario 64 earlier this week. As I sat in front of my computer, my eyes traveled over my game collection. “Hey,” I thought, “I still have my Nintendo 64. I could totally play something on there while I wait! I’ve already played the game, so it’s not like I’m going to get too attached or engrossed.”

So I reached over, pulled out the requisite cables, and inserted the Super Mario 64 cartridge (no blowing required!). Nostalgia ho!

The first thing that struck me was how odd using a wired controller felt. Most of my console gaming recently has been done on my Xbox 360, for which I have wireless controllers. But with the N64, I had to pay attention to whether or not things would reach to the chair. Plus, the cable exerts an ever-so-slight pull to the back of the controller. The funny thing is, I remember missing that tug of the cable when I first switched to wireless controllers, but now going back seems weird.

And that wasn’t the only thing that felt odd. Super Mario 64, while still a 3D game, is a very early 3D platformer. A lot of the things are the same, but much like the differences between Shakespearean English and modern English, some things are just off. And no, I don’t think that’s solely because of the weird three-lobed N64 controller.

I found myself missing the second analog stick that has become so standard on modern games. It felt almost like my right thumb had nothing to do. Sure, it had to operate the face buttons, but when it came time to change the camera angle it got confused. The relatively low usage of the shoulder buttons was also a little odd, but since I don’t play many shooters on consoles, it’s not as bad as it could have been.

But it wasn’t all weirdness and differences. I was quite surprised how much I remembered of the game, and it’s one I never even really played that much! Ocarina of Time, for instance, is a game I’ve basically memorized. But I found myself slipping just as easily into old, comfortable habits with Super Mario 64. I knew exactly where to go in the first level. I even found myself trying to get to hidden places that I hadn’t unlocked yet. It was definitely fun.

In the end, I didn’t play for very long. My computer finished doing its thing, and I moved back upstairs to surf the Internet and play some System Shock 2. But the N64 is still hooked up downstairs, and I imagine I will be returning to it soon.

Even if my nice HTDV isn’t kind to the poor thing.

Speling Errurz Anoi Mee

As you may be able to divine from the title of my post, spelling errors are one of my pet peeves. In fact, it was almost physically painful for me to write that headline. *shudders*

In a way, the written word is less forgiving than spoken interaction. The presence of homophones (words that sound the same but are completely different) allows for a certain level of imprecision. After all, the “three 2’s” (two, too, to) all sound exactly alike. But writing is less ambiguous, almost by necessity. When speaking face-to-face with someone, we can pick up subtle cues from body language and intonation in addition to phrasing. But when writing, all those cues get lost. We are left with a threadbare facsimile of the finely detailed tapestry that is human communication.

So accuracy and precision become more important with the written word almost immediately. In fact, written language is itself structured to follow certain rules of grammar and spelling. Writing things down also gives them more permanence, as a written record has the potential to outlast any individual involved in its creation.

Maybe that’s why I despise spelling errors so much: I strive to be able to communicate in a succinct and accurate manner. It’s probably the scientist in me that dislikes this sort of ambiguity so much. I just wish other people would take the time (or do the research) to keep their communications as clear as I try to. That’s not to say that I don’t make mistakes; I’m not perfect. But I do take a certain pride in being able to communicate effectively that seems rarer than I’d like these days.

Now get your lolcats off my lawn you kids! Don’t make me sic McKean’s Law on you! *shakes dictionary*

Dealing With Interviews

Job interviews are funny things. I haven’t had many of them, and fewer still have panned out. But I did have one recently, and it got me thinking about the recurring patterns I go through each time the opportunity comes up. It’s no surprise that I get stressed. In fact, if I didn’t stress out at least a little bit, I’d probably be worried. But what’s interesting is what I stress out about.

The first big thing I stress out about is “being prepared.” This generally takes the form of a last-minute cramming session, where I try to learn as much about the company and the job as possible, desperately looking up buzzwords in an attempt to brush up on my relevant skills. But mostly this boils down to me trying to guess at things I have no realistic chance of finding out. Are they going to ask me about X? Or will they want to know about Y? The possibility exists that they could ask me to demonstrate Z, but will it be z, Z, or even zed? This tends to edge me into a downward spiral of neurosis and speculation.

Another big issue I stress about is myself. Or, at least how I present myself. Of all the silly things to worry about, this is probably one of the biggest. After all, I can’t exactly just change who I am to fit some arbitrary presentation that I think would be appreciated by a recruiter. But being who I am, I can’t help but worry. Will I appear confident enough? Will I come across as too apologetic? Will my desire to be precise and truthful with my statements be construed as vagueness and incompetence?

I make no claims at any rationality regarding either of these worries. That being said, I have figured out some ways to deal with them, or at least mitigate the loss of sanity.

For the first set of worries, I generally handle getting prepared like I do for any big presentation: I don’t prepare! Okay, that’s not 100% true. My preparations tend to be fairly vague, maybe a series of bullet points I’d like to talk about or questions I’d like to ask. Once the big day comes, I am generally banking on the fact that the amount of brainpower it will take to say on top of things will keep me busy enough that I won’t be able to panic. Like my writing habits, I tend to work best on the fly. Or at least, I think I do.

The second issue is a bit thornier, and I haven’t really sure how to deal with it. But I did have something of an epiphany around the time of my most recent interview. I realized that, in all honesty, I would likely be better served by just being myself, as any artificial masks I attempted to wear would most likely come back to haunt me later. After all, I am myself, and that’s not likely to change any time soon. So why worry about constants? That’s like refusing to leave your house because you’re worried gravity will pull you down and you’ll fall and hurt yourself. Or something.

I guess you could make the argument that I’m fixing these problems by ignoring them, but I don’t think about it like that. To me, I’ve found the most efficient way to deal with the issues at hand, given my finite resources of time and energy.

We’ll see how that works out for me.


I’ll be honest: I feel a tiny bit better after writing that last post. I’ve probably gotten overly concerned on what Other People Think™. Looking at site stats is only going to end in heartache. I should probably deactivate the plugin, but it does occasionally provide me with interesting info. And after all, if this blog helps me even if no one reads it, then isn’t that still a net win?

Anyway, that’s not quite what I wanted to talk about today. I’d instead like to talk about what I think one of my triggers for this current Funk may have been. No, not lack of sleep. Not even growing discontent with my retail grunt employment. Both of those may be contributing factors, but I feel the big one is, paradoxically, hope.

But isn’t hope a good thing?” I hear the imagined voice of Constant Reader ask in my head. “Doesn’t it drive you to great things? Doesn’t it get you through hard times?” Yes and yes, it can do both. But one must not forget that hope is a feeling, and if one is having issues with those (like say, hypothetically, depression has left you feeling nothing at all like some sort of superpower), it can be quite a shock to your system.

You know how when you sit in one position for too long you get all sore when you stand up? Well, the same thing seems to happen to my mind with emotions. I’ve gotten used to just “getting by,” keeping my head down and trudging through my job as a retail grunt. It may not be getting me anywhere, but at least I’m paying the bills. Hope is like when Doc Brown shows up with his flying DeLorean at the end of Back to the Future and whisks Marty McFly away into a future that, while amazing, is also more than a little overwhelming.

You have seen Back to the Future, right? Otherwise that analogy won’t make much sense. Anyway, I’m just going to assume you have so we can move on.

Where was I? Ah yes, hope. Lately, I’ve been given more cause to hope than usual. I’ve had a few friends approach me about job opportunities, and it’s reminded me that my time in retail hell doesn’t need to be endless. But I’d kinda gotten used to the drudgery, and the aforementioned reminder has been a little shocking to my system. It’s also thrown into sharp relief how unfulfilling my job is at the moment.

And I’m not sure what to do with that.

As unintuitive as it sounds, hope and other strong emotions can be a curse. True, they can drive you forward, striving for change and accomplishment, but not without growing pains. And while it sounds really bad, I feel like I don’t have much experience dealing with things like hope. When I’m in the dark clutches of a Funk, it seems like there are far too many big decisions (grad school, dual majors in college, working retail, etc.) that haven’t panned out. This is definitely not the life I expected for myself as a 17-year-old high school graduate and overachiever. The real world has not been kind to my dreams.

That’s not to say my life completely sucks, of course. I’m lucky enough to have a loving girlfriend, time to indulge my hobbies and passions, an awesome circle of friends and family, and a job that pays most of the bills. But it’s been hard to hold on to hope against the crushing weight of reality.

I’m over-qualifying my arguments. That’s probably a sign it’s time to stop.

Morose Navel-gazing

I’ll be honest with you: I haven’t been very motivated to write lately. Since the new year, mostly. And I’m not sure why. Have I ran out of things to say? Am I in a Funk and just not realizing it? Is anyone even reading these words? If not, is it even worth it to continue?

These are some of the questions that have been drifting through my mind.

I’m starting to wonder if I might be in a sort of Funk. If that’s the case, though, it’s different and more insidious than some of my others. I’m not feeling depressed, although that may be part of the problem. For you see, I’m not feeling much of anything at all.

My outlook right now could be described as “neutral;” not bad, but not especially good, either. Things are just kind of going along, without much effect one way or another. This state of mind can seem good, since you don’t have the black core of despair dragging you into oblivion. But at the same time, there’s nothing to replace that, either. You approach things with a resounding “meh.”

While it is remarkably easy to maintain the status quo in this state, it’s really hard to get ahead or accomplish anything. When I get home from work (having been up since before the sun), I don’t want to do anything except crash in front of my computer or curl up with my book. When I finally get around to writing, it’s generally while my girlfriend is on her way home from her job, as that provides me a regular reminder that “hey, there’s going to be another person around here in a bit. If you have something to do on your own, you should probably do it.”

I’ve thought about putting this blog on hiatus, but I don’t think that’s the right answer. Mostly, I’m afraid that if I stop writing, even if it’s mindless drivel, I’ll never get started again. Then this blog would be just one more skeletal reminder of failed ambition.

And the writing I do here, even if few people read it, isn’t completely useless. It helps me put my thoughts in order, in a way that I too often forget between sessions. Case in point: I didn’t realize I might be in a Funk until I started organizing my thoughts for this entry.

But at the same time, I worry. Couldn’t the same results be achieved by keeping a private journal? By putting my stuff out there, I make it available for other people to read. And because of that, I feel some pressure (likely internalized) to keep my writing “interesting” or “relevant” or “productive.” After all, there are so many ways to spend one’s time on the Internet; if someone is going to spend time reading my writing, I might as well make it interesting.

It doesn’t help that I have a plugin for my blog that tells me how many visitors I get. And for better or worse, those readership numbers have been going down. Because there’s no other context, it’s hard to keep my brain from fabricating worst-case scenarios where I’m screaming in the darkness because anyone who knows about this blog as written me off as some boring, emo whiner.

I’ve drifted wildly off-course from where I started with this entry: I started out wanting to investigate my emotional (or lack thereof) state, and ended up who knows where. But the more I think about it, the more I feel like my hunch about being in a Funk was right.

I think I’ll end this post before I wander even further into morose navel-gazing. Thanks for listening.

Gaming Night

For the past few years, my friends and I have been getting together on Friday nights to hang out. What we’ve done those nights has changed over time, but it seems to always be referred to as “gaming.”

When I started hanging out on Fridays, it actually was a gaming group. We played a variety of tabletop RPGs, like Dungeons & Dragons, Rifts, and Deadlands. I even ran a game or two myself (I wasn’t great at it). We usually had two games running at a time, on alternate weeks, so that everyone could play at least a little bit (and no one got stuck running things all the time).

But over time, things inevitably changed. I started grad school, so ended the game I was running due to time concerns. Other games ended, but we continued hanging out. Eventually, there wasn’t any gaming going on at “gaming nights” at all. Funny YouTube videos, in what had started out as a way to pass the time until everyone showed up and/or dinner was ready, eventually took over the entire evening. This was occasionally punctuated with “bad movies from Netflix,” which were suitably mocked.

The end result of this, however, was less group cohesion: it wasn’t uncommon for some members to bury their nose in a book or laptop, and while a lot of the things we watched were amusing, nights tended to drag.

But lately, we’ve actually started gaming at “gaming night” again! While a part of me still misses the RPG days of old, our group (with ever-shifting membership, of course) has re-discovered the joys of board and card games. Cards Against Humanity has made an appearance to remind us just how horrible and diseased in the head we all are. Games like Munchkin scratch some of the fantasy RPG itch, while Fluxx always provides a unique experience. We’ve even started getting into some of the complicated, “roleplaying-lite” board games like Eldritch Horror. These games do a good job of feeling long and involved, but are still relatively self-contained.

So while “gaming” has changed over time, it’s always been a fun way to pass the time with friends. I am glad that we’ve started actually gaming again, though. It was getting a bit awkward calling “strange YouTube and bad Netflix night” “gaming,” but it did roll off the tongue better.

P.S.: You should totally check out Tabletop.

Mostly Skippable Stream of Consciousness

So I should write about something. But I’m not sure what. There’s not a lot going through my mind at this point. I’m tired, a little bit hungry, and just feel like reading my book or playing video games. In fact, yesterday I didn’t even write at all; I burned through backlog just as quickly as I generated it.

So here I sit, at my computer, just typing a bunch of words as they come to me. Maybe I’ll come across some larger theme as time goes on (I often do), but probably not. In other words, this post is mostly skippable.

“Mostly skippable” makes me think of Mostly Harmless, the fifth book in the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy. Yes, the fifth book of three. Don’t think about it too hard. The title refers to the entirety of Earth’s entry in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe. Poor Arthur Dent is a little upset by this, but he should be happy: the entry is twice as long as it needs to be!

Has anyone realized that the Hitchhiker’s Guide basically exists at this point in time? All one needs to do is combine access to Wikipedia with a tablet or smartphone. Bam: instant knowledge on anything under the sun! Sure, it’s mostly limited to Earth and our sector of the galaxy of the moment, but I’m sure that’ll change once the Wikimedia Foundation is acquired by Megadodo Publicaitons.

“DON’T PANIC:” the best two words of advice I’ve ever heard. They’re even engraved on my phone!

There’s a kerbalnaut staring at me from my second monitor. He looks happy, but I’m afraid he might eat my soul. Better launch a few of his comrades (Komrades? Kerbrades?) into the sun just in case.

I think we might be drifting wildly off topic. That is, we would be if we ever had one.

This is most sports to me.

Q: “How many kids with ADD does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

…and with that, I’m going to leave before I hurt or embarrass myself*.


Peux-tu le Traduire? Avec Difficulté…

As I mentioned yesterday, in addition to speaking English, I also speak French. Why, you ask? Well, when I was a kid my mom was a big advocate of learning a foreign language, to the point of starting a foreign language program at my elementary school. I was lucky enough to keep up with my studies all through middle and high school, and French even ended up being my “major by default” for undergrad (but that’s a story for another time). I even managed to study abroad twice: for a semester in high school, and a full year in college.

Why French? To be honest, the choice was fairly arbitrary. My parents had decided they wanted me to learn a foreign language, but they left the choice up to me. At the time, I was given the options of Spanish and French. Now, while Spanish may have seemed like the more useful option, I wasn’t exactly thinking like that at age six or seven. No, to me, I just liked the sound of French better. I tried a few weeks of Spanish, but it didn’t take. The rest, as they say, c’est l’histoire.

I think it’s safe to say that at my peak level of practice, probably just after coming home from a year in Paris, I was fluent in French. I haven’t kept up with it, unfortunately, but I’d like to think that my skills, while rusty, wouldn’t take that much polishing to get me back up to snuff.

What does “fluent” mean to me? Well, I don’t consider it the same as “bilingual.” For me, someone who is bilingual has been raised in two (or more) language since birth (or a very early age), and is easily comfortable in either. They effectively have two (or more) primary languages. Fluency, on the other hand, implies a favoring of one language above another; a primary and a secondary (or secondaries), if you will. If I lived in France, for instance, I’d likely make it to “bilingual” without too much trouble. But since I don’t, I remain merely (heh) fluent.

But being fluent in another language is an interesting experience, especially from inside one’s own head. If you speak multiple languages at an advanced level, you likely know what I’m talking about. There comes a point, I find, where you start thinking in the foreign language. You no longer have to translate things in your head: you can go directly from concept to object. Maybe I can illustrate the difference.

Translation-based knowledge: “’Chat‘ is ‘cat,’ which is the animal that goes ‘meow’ and the Internet seems unhealthily fascinated with.”

Fluent knowledge:Chat est l’animal qui dit ‘miaou’ et par qui l’Internet est obsédé.”

Does that make sense? It’s like having two different discrete modes of thinking. To put it into nerd terms, it’s the difference between running a virtual machine (like Parallels) and dual booting (a la Boot Camp).

This has some interesting consequences. For instance, it can be hard for me to translate things from French to English, a skill that most people think would be fairly simple. But in order for me to translate something, I have to use a completely different process than I used to understand the phrase in the first place. A process I’ve spent years training myself out of.

So what does this mean, in the long run? Probably not much. If you don’t speak a foreign language (you should), this may not make much sense. If you do, then hopefully you understand my pain. I’d like to explore knowing a foreign language in the future, but that’s all I’ve got right now. I’d be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on the matter.

Remember Me

I recently played a video game in a foreign language.

Now, I realize that may make me sound like an incorrigible hipster, but I promise I’ll explain.

I just finished playing Remember Me, a game by a French developer that takes place in a post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk Neo-Paris. In a world where all human memory has become completely digital, you play as Nillin, a memory hunter who possesses the ability to “remix” the memories of individuals to effectively change their past. Doesn’t that sound like an awesome setup?

The gameplay itself was only fair-to-middling, consisting of combo-based combat (a la the recent Batman Arkham series) and climbing around beautifully designed levels (a la Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, another underrated gem of a game). The exploration was a bit too linear for my tastes, and I often felt like I was fighting the combat system as much as my antagonists. But for me the real draw was the setting.

Like I said with the mouthful above, the setting can be best described as a “post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk Neo-Paris.” Old Haussmannian apartment buildings cower under soaring chrome-and-glass arcologies that reach into the clouds. Believe it or not, this is a post-apocalypse filled with color: green and stone in the older parts, white and neon for the new. Some of the outdoor bits even take place during the daytime, which seems unheard of for cyberpunk.

I wish I could have explored this vision of Paris more. But while I enjoyed seeing famous landmarks and familiar designs, it felt odd to be experiencing them in English. When I was in college, I spent a year studying abroad in the city, and a lot of my memories from the time are tied up with the French language. Luckily, the game had an option to change the dialog language used during play.

But I hesitated. After all, it’s been nearly eight years since I used my French regularly. And while I’d like to think I managed to become fluent, how would my skills have fared with years of neglect? It’s true that if you don’t “use it” you “lose it;” how much had I lost?

Well, I can now say that I was able to enjoy the game plenty while in French. I did keep English subtitles on just in case, but ended up hardly using them at all. I think I even enjoyed the French voice acting better than the English (what I heard of it, that is).

So yeah. If you’re looking for a good (if not quite great) gaming experience in a unique setting, I can heartily recommend Remember Me. I had fun with it, and it scratched an interesting nostalgia itch for me at the same time.

Rock Bottom Expectations

There’s not much going on at this end, and even less for me to say about it. And even though I’ve had the day off, I somehow manage to keep on finding something to do besides write. What have I done? Well, I’d like to think the day hasn’t been a total loss.

  • I managed to sleep in.
  • I cleaned the bathroom a bit.
  • I tossed my resume towards a temp agency a friend suggested.
  • I kicked the last of my sickness, aside from the occasional cough.
  • I read one of the books I got from my Holiday Amazon Bonanza.
  • I played a video game my brother got me for Christmas.
  • I even managed to update the website I run for the local SCA group.
  • Oh yeah, even though this was yesterday, I also beat Rogue Legacy!

I suppose it’s all in managing your expectations. Sure, I would have liked to work on the next Great American Novel, or even Mediocre American Job Application. But I think I had fun today, and that should count for something.

That’s all I’ve got for you today. Try tuning in again tomorrow; maybe there will be something that requires a bit more thought. But not today.