Shut up, kid

2017-May-23, Tuesday 09:03
dorchadas: (Yui Studying)
Annoying male protagonists are the scourge of fiction.

So I'm reading the latest chapter of 世界の中心で、愛を叫ぶ for today's tutoring session and get to a Romeo and Juliet-esque part where Sakutarō and Aki talk about how they want to get married. Aki points out that she's only 16, and that people think that they might change their minds. Sakutarō talks about how marriage is about being able to support themselves in society and does that mean that sick people who can't support themselves shouldn't be allowed to get married (だったら病気なんかで自立できない人たちは結婚しちゃいいけないのかってことになる), referencing something that happened to his grandfather. Aki sighs at Sakutarō's tendency to jump to the extremes of any argument, and then the annoyance starts:

"What do you think it means to support yourself in society?
She thought for a little, "To work and earn money, I think."
"And what does 'to earn money' mean?"
Everyone knows the Socratic method is the best way to endear your girlfriend to you.

He then goes on to say that money is the reward for various skills, which, okay, and then goes off into left field:

"If that's the case, for humans who are blessed with the ability to love other people, why is it bad to earn money by making use of that ability?"
"If it's not useful to everyone, it's no good, right?"
"I don't think there's anything more useful than the ability to love."
"And I'm trying to make someone who calmly says such off-the-wall things my future husband."
Thus demonstrating that Aki has a reasonable grasp of economics, because the ability to love has a high supply and the demand for any particular person's ability to love is low. But that's not enough for Sakutarō, since this kicks off a page-long rant about what love means and how it's better for humanity to be wiped out by a meteor if it doesn't value the ability to love.

To Aki's credit, she doesn't feed his ranting. But I can see why the English title--and apparently, the proposed Japanese title before the publisher convinced him to change it--for this book was Socrates in Love. Sakutarō's response to anything is engage in grand works of adolescent philosophy, but unlike Socrates he's lucky if his musings have any connection to anything in the real world. And Aki tolerates it, maybe even finds it endearing, but that doesn't make it fun for me to read.

Can I read a version of 世界の中心で、愛を叫ぶ from Aki's perspective?
dorchadas: (Do Not Want)
Or, be careful when hiring businesspeople to manage a nonprofit.
So the new vice president of our unit read a book called From Good to Great and got fired up with missionary zeal. Having already inflicted it on the senior management, she decided that everyone in the unit should be subject to it as well, and thus I suffered. And this from a woman who said we needed fewer meetings.

The book is the standard sociopathic business trash. Great companies come from hiring great people, who are people who are fanatically devoted--the word "fanatic" is used repeatedly--to the mission of the company without thought of personal compensation. Companies should develop their hedgehog concept, the one thing at the world they're the best at, and if they can't be the best, don't even try. Bureaucracy is created to compensate for bad employees, so by only hiring great ones, bureaucracy isn't necessary. And don't run around like a fox who can't focus on any one thing at a time. And there's nothing about actually cultivating leadership or employee greatness. It's business Calvinism--some employees are great, so hire them. The rest are trash and should be thrown off the bus. How do you tell who's great beforehand? Who knows. Not the book.

The book also has the quote:
Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.
Which is a blatant lie. Ambition is needed to make the most of circumstances, but circumstances are the majority of what contributes to success in life. It's just another way to justify firing everyone who isn't "great."  photo emot-colbert.gif

Fortunately, the meeting was just banal and mediocre, not actively offensive. They didn't read through the fifty pages of notes on the books that we were supposed to read beforehand, instead having each table come up with its own lists of things that we should stop doing, what our hedgehog concept was, etc., and then present them to the group. I particularly noticed in the stop list, "Stop going to meetings to learn, go to do" and "Stop having trainings that don't pertain to what we do," which are my picks for the favorite. I left an unkind evaluation on the way out.

The worst part was definitely the line at the beginning about how this is going to become routine for the purposes of team building. We're well on our way to having fewer meetings!  photo cripes.001.gif
dorchadas: (Angst)
Studying isn't useless! Who would have thought!  photo doomguy.gif

One thing that paying for Japanese lessons has done is that it's encouraged me to pick up my studies in other parts of my life. Playing video games in Japanese, finally trying to read those manga we bought in Japan but that I've never really opened before, and writing more Japanese as well, like the notes we wrote back to our students in Japan after we visited last summer. But the lessons are also paying off in and of themselves, and I'm noticing that my ability to speak Japanese is getting better. I'm still heavily limited by my vocabulary, but that's because memorizing a giant list of words and their meanings is probably the most difficult task of language-learning, in term of effort that must be expended.

For example, at the last class I was at, we read an essay by Hideo Levy about the difficulty of translating the Japanese word 文学者 (bungakusha, the dictionary gives "scholar of literature"). Levy writes that there are connotations of bungakusha being the guardians of the essential Yamato spirit by means of literature, and mentions how as a younger man he was very annoyed about being an eminent writer but not being considered a bungakusha because he wasn't born in Japan, so people thought he lacked a certain...something.

So we started talking about the difficulty of translation, and I brought up playing Pokemon Fire Red and how I had posted a screenshot that was pretty difficult to translate into English in an elegant way. Here it is:

"Kono ore-sama ga! Sekai de ichiban!

Literally, it's just "I am the best in the world," but that doesn't really capture the way that someone saing kono ore-sama is elevating themselves above the person they're talking to, and translating that sense into English is nearly impossible without being really clumsy. The royal "we" kind of works, but that has its own connotations in English that this doesn't. Translating is hard, is what I'm saying. And I'm just a guy with a dictionary and some study, so I don't have to worry about my audience's knowledge, technical limitations (like in a game), meddling executives, and so on. But on the other hand, we were able to talk for forty in minutes, 85% of the time in Japanese, about difficult translating, pronoun selection in Japanese, and the time that [ profile] libby_may's husband and [ profile] melishus_b wandered around a park in Hiroshima offering people absinthe and two Japanese men chatted with us for about an hour.

All that money and time I'm putting in is working! Just need to keep 頑張るing. まだまだだけど、できるよな。
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
I read, or rather listened to, The Litany of Earth when it ran on The Drabblecast, and I thought it was a good story that I really didn't like. Turning the people of Innsmouth into a metaphor for cultural appropriation and oppression due to government policy, like Japanese internment, meant that it wasn't really deep ones in the story, just fish people, and it ran into the main problem with any attempt to equate an oppressed group with superheroes or mutants or wizards or anyone else with supernatural powers--supernatural powers themselves change the equation. As Charles Stross wrote in The Rhesus Chart:
"There's a fundamental difference between a vampire and a regular human minority, Pete: normal people don't have super-strength, mind control powers, and a thirst for blood."
Normal people don't live forever, transform into fish creatures, or having living gods they can call upon for aid. The story doesn't really address that, except in a kind of condescending, "They feared us because they didn't understand us," way.

And now I'm reading "The Same Deep Waters As You" by Brian Hodge from New Cthulhu 2, which I think covers the issue much better without turning the deep ones into fish people and Cthulhu into just another religion. It raises the question of whether the deep one are, if not people, at least close enough to people to be understood by humans and comes to an inconclusive answer, but it made me think about human rights and the mythos.

Cthulhutech handles this by saying that anything that's not human isn't entitled to human rights, but the game is set during a war when rights would be curtailed anyway. One of the most compelling reasons I've heard not to extend human rights is that the receiver is either unwilling or unable to grant them those to others, which is why we limit the rights of criminals (in the first case) and don't give them to animals (in the second case). Which is it in the case of deep ones? The first or the second?

Many deep ones were once human, which would imply the first. When they sacrifice humans to Cthulhu at Devil's Reef as is their custom, they're doing it with full knowledge of human moral codes and should be treated as murderers, but only when convicted in a court. They should thus posses full rights. But that assumes that the process of going into the water doesn't produce mental changes as well as physical ones, and the stories don't actually provide an answer to that. I mean, deep ones practice human sacrifice and sing praises to gods that modern humans would consider horrific, but so did a lot of real-world human cultures. That doesn't make them innately monstrous, it just means they have monstrous cultural practices. And maybe that's just the deep ones at Innsmouth, Massachusetts, and the deep ones in, say, Innsmouth, England, are much more convivial.

On the other hand, deep ones can live indefinitely until killed. We don't really have any precedent for that in human law or psychology. How much does someone like Pth’thya-l’yi, who's eighty thousand years old, care about human life? About the existence of any particular human city or nation? Is it something they are even capable of caring of? What kind of deterrent is even forty or fifty years' imprisonment to a being that has already lived 200 times that span? It'd be the equivalent of three months in jail for first degree murder for a human.

And that's discounting the Delta Green-style idea that the mythos is psychic cancer, and is innately damaging to human mental stability. If that's true, then the whole thing becomes tragic. Whether deep ones are capable of following human mores or not, we cannot afford to grant them human rights because interaction with deep ones results in humans who cannot follow human mores. That's a real horror game, at least for me. It's like a less over-the-top version of Warhammer 40K, where the universe simply does not allow mercy because the cost of granting it is too high.

Tentacles and chanting are all well and good, but this kind of thing is what I like to read about in my modern mythos fiction.

A learning exchange

2016-May-12, Thursday 12:53
dorchadas: (In America)
Something interesting that's come up in the course of reading 世界の中心で愛を叫ぶ is that both Aya-sensei and I each have our area of expertise to share. She obviously speaks Japanese natively, but she's nisei--she was raised in America, went to American schools, and so on. She has relatives in Japan and lived in Tokyo for several years, but has spent most of her life here. That means that, for example, she has no experience with the Japanese education system.

This came up with the sentence:
Which I would translate as:
"Ahh, I'm not feeling pressured at all," I said. "Even though it's summer vacation, I don't have any energy for studying."
So of course if you think of the American education system, that makes no sense. "Even though"? Shouldn't that be "because"?

Well, no, because the Japanese school year begins in April and summer vacation comes during the first semester. Students have to go to club activities and often get homework assignments they have to finish during their vacations. This gives context to the next line, where Aki tells Sakutarō that he'll be fine even if he doesn't try (literally that he's in the 安全圏, a word that means "buffer zone" but which Aya-sensei told me is slang for people who will pass their exams no matter what they do).

It's like when I told Aya-sensei what a 大和撫子 (Yamato nadeshiko) is, which gave her a word for this concept that crops up again and again in Japanese entertainment. It's minor, but it's nice that things aren't just one way.

That was a week

2016-May-11, Wednesday 10:41
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
Thursday we had [ profile] xoDrVenture over to watch Revolutionary Girl Utena, and then after she left I got a bit overwhelmed by my upcoming schedule and the fact that the pants I ordered arrived and didn't fit, and I ended up lying down in a dark room for fifteen minutes while [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd did some work in the kitchen.

The next day I sent back the pants and the replacements are in the mail, and then I got home from work, devoured dinner, and immediately turned around and headed out to Call of Cthulhu, which you can read about here. Then we came back home and went to bed.

Saturday was LARP and shopping day, taking up a large portion of the afternoon and all of the evening, but also the day where I received an email from my father with the subject "$" and then checked my bank and noticed a pending transaction for a substantial sum of money. Enough to pay for our upcoming trip to Japan multiple times over. When we called my mother for Mother's Day the next day and asked about it, their reasoning was basically that they're not getting any younger and who knows what might happen. So if you wonder why I'm all #doom all the time, well...

Sunday was the aforementioned phone call and the Beach Party of Hope, scheduled in February. Fortunately the weather cooperated, but those again took up a big chunk of the day. We also wrote a letter to Kaminaka-san, one of our old students from Chiyoda, since we're planning to visit Chiyoda on our upcoming trip to Japan and wanted to let him know! That took a bit of time mostly because I had to hand-write Japanese, which I'm not very good at and which always makes me nervous.

Monday was session six of Warlords of the Mushroom Kingdom, which i haven't written about yet because over half of it was Small-time Peddlers of the Mushroom Kingdom, so I'll do a combined six + seven post next week and edit in a link here when it's written.

Tuesday was Japanese class again, which actually went pretty well. 世界の中心で愛を叫ぶ is getting better now that they're getting into more characterization, and at least with the most recent chapter, I went into class thinking I had a lot of trouble with the reading and it turned out that I actually understood almost all of it. Aya-sensei mentioned that it's easy to get caught up in a couple small things you don't understand and assume it means that you don't understand the larger picture and that's simply not the case, and that's definitely true. I think at this point I'd keep reading the book even if I didn't have class anymore.

Tonight, I have nothing scheduled and I'm going to play Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and watch Aria with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, and the only thing I have scheduled that is of any importance is that we're going to write another card to one of our students in Japan. And this Friday we're going out to eat at Travelle and then I don't have anything scheduled for the rest of the weekend. Other than beating Symphony of the Night and finishing up my Ender-kun costume for ACEN. Just need to do the grass block!
dorchadas: (Office Space)
Our Seder went really well! Everyone had a good time, and even now, almost a week later, we're still eating leftovers from it. It's also the longest Seder we've ever had--it started around 5:30 with the traditional (for our household) watching of Prince of Egypt and people left just before midnight. I don't think we got to dinner until 10:00, what with all the discussion and stories being shared in between portions from the Haggadah, I loved it.

Anyway, this week I was listening to the Talking in Shul podcast and they had a section on the Shefokh hamatkha, part of the Haggadah that comes near the end. It reads:
Pour out Your wrath upon those who do not know You and upon the kingdoms which do not call upon Your Name. For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitations. Pour out Your fury upon them; let the fierceness of Your anger overtake them. Pursue them in indignation and eradicate them from under Your heavens.
The last part of the podcast was devoted to the question of what place does this have in the Seder?

Some people deal with it by taking it out--our Haggadah actually doesn't have Shefokh hamatkha in it at all--and some of them by replacing it with another section. There's a forgery that supposedly dates from 1521 that starts "pour out your love"--you can see the full quote here, though they pass it off as genuine--as one widely-cited replacement.

I'm kind of wondering if we should add it in, though. The Seder is a welcoming experience, or at least it's supposed to be. Part of the Seder is the announcement "All who are hungry, come and eat" (though Talking in Shul does point out that you say this after everyone has already sat down and the door is closed!) and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I have always invited a lot of gentile friends to our Seders. But it's also supposed to commemorate the experience of our ancestors in Egypt, what with the maror and the salt water that represent the bitterness and pain of slavery.

But there's really no symbol of anger. In my Philosophy of Politics class at Penn, I read bits of Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, and while I don't remember any specific quotes, I remember the point that anger is important to oppressed peoples and that it's not a character flaw; often it can be a source of strength in the face of hardship. Expecting the oppressed to remain perfectly calm is another way of exerting authority over them. The Haggadah encourages its participants to imagine that they themselves had been enslaved and now are free, and to my mind, part of that is the anger that slaves would feel but be forbidden to display.

And, while we're mostly isolated from it here in America, there is the rising tide of anti-semitism elsewhere in the world to consider too. From the end of Yemen's 2500-year-old Jewish community in the face of threats to convert to Islam or leave to the problems with Labour in Britain, I imagine there are plenty of people out there who wish for G-d to pour out a little more of his wrath than usual.

This year, in addition to the wine cup of Eliyahu and the water cup of Miriam, we added a coffee cup of Zipporah, who was infamously mocked by Aharon and Miriam for her skin color, as a tribute to those who do not feel comfortable in Jewish spaces because of their skin color, or family background, or childhood experiences. Maybe next year, we should add back in the Shefokh hamatkha.
dorchadas: (Do Not Want)
(Bullet = dodged)

Background: Aya-sensei and I are reading 世界の中心で愛を叫ぶ and got to a part where Sakutarō is being an idiot. He's angry at Aki because the other boys in his class are bullying him for spending time with her, so he writes in to a Christmas Eve radio show with a song request, talking about how they were going to play Romeo and Juliet in the Culture Festival (true) but she got sick with leukemia (false) and is probably listening from her hospital bed (false). Aki confronts him the next day, and says that she doesn't mind if he talks about her, but there are people out there who are really suffering and she hates it when people are mean to them.

This led to a discussion about how Aki is the ideal stereotype of Japanese womanhood (大和撫子 in Japanese): soft-spoken, self-effacing, beautiful, courteous, caring, with long black hair. Aya-sensei mentioned the pressure that Japanese women are under to conform to this ideal and how she--being raised in America--feels like a lumbering barbarian (not her exact words) when she's around other Japanese women.

Then she asked me if I liked that kind of personality.

I managed to deflect a bit by talking about [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, who has a lot of those traits. She's softer-spoken (except when advocating for students under her care), loves cooking for people, likes cute things, tends to think of others, dresses more feminine, and probably most importantly for the purposes of the question, Aya-sensei has met her. So we talked a bit about [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, and then the conversation moved on.

But I realize that that's actually kind of a reasonable accomplishment--I extracted myself from a conversational land mine in another language. I mean, it wasn't really a trap, but it was structured as one, and I avoided it. Points to me!
dorchadas: (Do you speak Elvish)
I didn't have tutoring today since I have book group (theoretically...there may be technical difficulties that prevent it from occurring), so I asked Aya-sensei to give me another chapter of 世界の中心で、愛を叫ぶ to read since I'd have two weeks to read it. Since I'm getting the whole thing as a scanned-in PDF from her hardcopy, I figured I'd post a page so people can see what I'm reading:

Normally I'd have the page festooned with notes of questions I have about particular sentences, vocabulary words and their pronunciations so I don't have to keep looking things up, but I'm still doing an initial read-through to see how much I understand before I do any of that. This page is about how the protagonist and Aki, the perfect Yamato nadeshiko love interest, have been chosen as Romeo and Juliet for their class's performance in the school Culture Festival, and some of the other (male) students are teasing the protagonist over his enthusiasm during the balcony scene. I think.

But yeah, I'm reading a Japanese novel!
dorchadas: (Kirby sweatdrop)
Like I mentioned, I've been reading 世界の中心で愛を叫ぶ and I'm pretty sure that it's helped me identify one of the problems I'm having in trying to learn Japanese--I compartmentalize too much. I have a tendency to want to look every word up I don't know, so I stop when I find something, make a note on the PDF I have of the book with the word and its reading and pronunciation, then go back to the text. But it means that sometimes I'm reading whole sentences, and sometimes I'm reading it one word at a time, which makes it pretty hard to draw meaning from it.

What I really need to do is to read everything through once first, not look anything up, and see how much I understand. Then read it through and note down all the words I don't know, then read it through again with the notes in case I can't remember something.

On the plus side, I've noticed that reading actual written Japanese is helping some vocab stick in my head because I have context for it. It's like how I'll always remember that アライグマ literally means "washing bear," which means "raccoon," because of Kazu trying to explain it with "洗濯ぐま" ("laundry bear").

As for the actual book, I'm enjoying it. I started off feeling like it was being crassly manipulative, but once it moved past the opening frame of sadness and taking someone's ashes far away and went back to the meet cute, it got better. Though it's pretty heavy-handed:

But in spite of [walking with a distance between them], from the girl's hair the sweet scent of shampoo and condition hung faintly in the air.
Later, then come around a turn in the path and find a field of hydrangeas, and Aki turns to Sakutarō with sparkles in her eyes and exclaims how much she loves hydrangeas and asks him if he wants to go to hanami together. I can almost see the sweatdrop on his face when he says yes. But it's definitely good practice!
dorchadas: (Office Space)
So if you're at all interested in Harry Potter, or know people who are interested in Harry Potter, you've probbaly seen the news about the other wizarding schools. The Japanese one is called Mahoutokoro (魔法所), which literally means "magic place."

(Disclaimer: I've read all the books, but I wouldn't describe myself as a Potter fan)

First point of annoyance. Let's leave aside that if there's going to be one wizarding school in East Asia (there are four others whose locations haven't been revealed, so one of those might be there), it should be in China, which has been the cultural capital of East Asia for millennia pretty much continuously until the 20th century, and accept that it's in Japan. Calling it "magic place" is the laziest name you could possibly imagine for it. The European wizarding schools don't have regal names, but they do have whimsical ones. Durmstrang, Beauxbatons, and Hogwarts are a little cutesy, but they say something interesting about the places they're located. Mahoutokoro doesn't say anything. It's the blandest, most generic possible name.

Since it's in Japan, maybe, I don't know, something to do with the sun? 夕焼け屋敷? That means "Sunset House" (yuuyake yashiki) and also puns on お化け屋敷 (obakeyashiki, "Haunted House"). There, I came up with a better name after literally thirty seconds of thought and actually knowing a little bit about Japanese.

Also, the pronunciation guide is fucking insulting. "Mah - hoot - o - koh - ro"? Mah-hoot?

Alright, moving beyond the name. Here's the article on Pottermore. I was talking with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd about this, and we noticed that the workings of Mahoutokoro have nothing to do with the way the Japanese education system works. Like, Hogwarts is a parody/loving homage to British education, with houses headed by prefects, exit exams, and so on. So for Mahoutokoro, how come students are just selected to get in? They should have to take entrance exams like every other Japanese student does. The color-changing robes are kind of neat, but they should get different robes for each year they're in, or have the robes change color to signify the year as well (though having them change based on educational achievement does match the Japanese practice of publically posting exam grades). Instead of being sorted into houses, they should be sorted into classes, each of which has a unified course of study that all members undergo. Japanese wizards would almost certainly be more well-educated in Muggle practices because their studies would include a wide variety of information that's not strictly magically useful. I mean, we know someone who wanted to be a firefighter and the exams for that job were the general government exams, so they included Japanese history, English, mathematics, formal Japanese, and a bunch of stuff that has nothing to do with putting out burning houses.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd specifically wonders if the Japanese Ministry of Magic--probably 魔法省 (mahoushou, literally "Ministry of Magic")--imports American, British, Australian, South Africa, and New Zealander wizards to teach Japanese wizards English.

And why is it on Iwo Jima? A friend pointed out that it's a deliberate World War II analogy, but Iwo Jima seems like an odd choice otherwise. Sure, I get that it's set there to be in an isolated place on top of a mountain...but the home islands are 80% uninhabitable mountains and there's a long tradition in Japan of 山伏 (yamabushi, [one who] bows to the mountain), mountain ascetics who are half sorcerers, half religious hermits. Putting Mahoutokoro on a mountain in the home islands could have easily tied into that tradition.

Basically, with a little more effort it could have been a distinctly Japanese school of magic the way Hogwarts is a British one, and instead it was just thrown out with minimal thought.
dorchadas: (Yui Studying)
We've mostly been discussing news articles, but last class my tutor had a different suggestion--reading a novel.

Not the 源氏物語 or anything like that. She said that when she was last in Japan, her roommate gave her a book called 世界の中心で愛を叫ぶ (my translation: "I Shouted Out Love at the Heart of the World"), which google tells me has the English title of Socrates in Love. Google also says that was supposed to be the original title, and it does sound better in English. Anyway, my tutor mentioned that she never read it because it sounded like a bunch of sappy mush, but that it might make a good discussion topic.

I'm a bit apprehensive. Partially because while readying the NHK Easy Japanese articles isn't very hard for me, I've never tried to read a novel before. That and going to the Amazon page for the book, the reviews are...mixed. The one that shows up at the top for me starts with, "この本が、日本で一番売れた書籍、になってしまったことが何だかな," which means "Somehow this book has become the top-selling book in Japan..." Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Especially when it goes on to say, "最後は読むのがつらくなってきてナナメ読み," which could mean either that the book became heartbreaking at the end or that it was painful to read because of the mood it was trying to evoke. Judging by the one-star review, I'm going to assume the latter.

Well, maybe I can practice complaining in Japanese!
dorchadas: (Broken Dream)
I just finished reading and reviewing Spock's World, which I've wanted to reread for a long while but which got pushed to the front of my queue by Leonard Nimoy's death. It made me remember the influence the book had on my as a child, and I figured I'd write about it. I'd love to make this a nice, pat causal relationship, but while it's that way in my memory, memory is so unreliable that I can't honestly say there's a direct connection. But in my mind, there is.

I first listened to Spock's World instead of reading it. I don't remember if I picked it out or if my father did, but it was the CD edition read by Leonard Nimoy and George Takei. I still remember the way some of the quotes sounded, and when I read the passages in the book I could hear, clear as day, George Takei saying:
"We give her remains to the night from which we arose," Sarek said, opening the porcelain container to the light wind that had sprung up. "Surely we know that this is not she; she and the Other know it well. And we wish her well in whatever may befall, til the Moon is no longer, and the Stars are no more."

The wind carried the dust away into the silence. T’Khut slipped upward in silence flooding the ocean of sand with light.

"Light with her always," he said, "and with us."
It was amazing.

I was not the most popular child. It probably comes as no surprise, and I was lucky in that by high school everything was fine and I had a great last four years of secondary education, but I had few friends before that. I also tended to feel things very strongly, such that I would occasionally overreact to attempts at camaraderie and treat them as insults (which I received a fair number of, to be fair). I sometimes think that strength of feeling is why I don't like watching movies at all anymore, and why even when I would go to the theatre I hated horror movies or any movies based on embarrassment comedy. But it meant that I spent a lot of time on the computer and most of middle school hating the time I spent there.

I never watched Star Trek, but I found the Vulcans fascinating, and especially their portrayal in Spock's World. A species that has incredibly strong emotions but developed a discipline in order to control their effects? That honestly sounded like something I needed, and so with all the unreasonably strong conviction a pre-teen can muster, I set out to burn all emotion out of my heart.

It didn't work. Of course it didn't work, because that's not how humanity works. But it worked well enough, and even my parents noticed the change and commented on how I was less moody and more pleasant to be around, which of course served as encouragement. I can't tell how much my parents themselves influenced me in this, as they're architypal reserved Midwesterners and I could have picked up plenty of my inspiration from them. But the end result is that I went from being sad almost all the time to not crying for close to a decade and generally being a lot calmer.

I later decided that this kind of iron control was unnecessary and it was preventing any kind of deeper connections forming with my friends--I used to take pride in being described as "mysterious"--but it's effected my emotions to this day. I generally don't feel very strongly about much, and one of the reasons [ profile] softlykarou likes to listen to me talk about RPGs or old DOS games is that they're two things that I obviously get excited about. Even though I know that logical decision making is actually impossible, I still hold to logic as probably the important motivator in my reasoning. I can't directly attribute that to Spock's World, but I am reasonably sure that it's the source.

So while I didn't grow up watching Star Trek, I can still trace a lot of my personality to its influence.

Mene sakkhet ur-seveh. \\//_

Edit: I found that audiobook! It's up on Youtube:
dorchadas: (Arrow to the Knee)
This post is inspired entirely by this video:

I've been looking for an extended version of "Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold" for months, and I finally found it. I haven't seen any of the Hobbit movies and I'm not like to unless they ever show up on Netflix or [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd buys them, so this is the first time I've seen any footage from it. I haven't even watched the trailers.

After I found this, I sat down to watch it with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and we ended up getting into a discussion about how dragons are portrayed. And while it's true that the lone knight fighting and beating a dragon has a very long pedigree--and indeed, occurs repeatedly in Middle Earth itself, with Eärendil defeating Ancalagon, Túrin defeating Glaurang, and Bard defeating Smaug--I really like dragons as nearly-unstoppable forces of nature. More like dragons in Shadowrun, I guess, where dragons mostly sit in the back and manipulate everyone and are powerful enough to demolish cities and survive orbital strikes even in a world of 2060s technology.

Dungeons & Dragons lives up to the latter part of its name by having a dragon for every occasion. First level characters can fight pseudodragons, second level characters can fight faerie dragons (or maybe switch those, depending on the party), third level characters can fight pavilion goes on and on. Go to the online Monstrous Manual and scroll down the D section and there's whole pages of dragons for every occasion. And that's a reasonable approach, especially in a game like D&D that's based on an endless variety of different kinds of monsters with extremely specific ecological niches (lock lurker, anyone?), but I like the idea that dragons are rare, fantastically powerful, and you probably need an army, an archwizard, or other supernatural aid to fight one.

I guess "other supernatural aid" applies to the heroes mentioned above. Eärendil had a magic ship hallowed by the Valar, Túrin was using Gurthang, and Bard had the thrush tell him where to aim.

I keep bringing up D&D, but there's a D&D setting called Birthright that does dragons this way. There's only one kind of dragon, and you can see from the picture there what kind of threat they're supposed to be. Birthright actually does a lot of generic fantasy stuff right--it has elves that are complete assholes, for example--but the dragons are one of the things I really like about it. Dragons as forces of nature, not as a ladder of different types that are color-coded for your convenience that you climb on the way up the XP ladder.

Basically, I think there's value in there being monster-based challenges where the players can't just roll initiative and go to town. I actually just got something on DrivethruRPG called Stealer of Children that involves a first level party and a creature that requires magical weapons to hurt, forcing the party to think of novel strategies to kill them. As long as there's enough warning about what they're facing, that is. No one likes having something invincible sprung on them out of nowhere, as "realistic" as it might be. I'm pretty sure the dwarves of the Lonely Mountain thought that Smaug just showing up was pretty cheap.
dorchadas: (Chicago)
I've always loved the way that the Field Museum smells.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went to the World's Fair Exhibit at the Field Museum today, since it was the last day, we've been meaning to go, and we're members so we get in for free. Especially after I read The Devil in the White City with my book group earlier this year, I really wanted to go, and it's only our natural procrastination and the fact that since moving back to Chicago we've apparently become super social that prevented us from going for so long.

Well, and me losing that disagreement with a doorframe.

It was smaller than I expected, but pretty neat. The Field Museum began as a museum of the World's Fair exhibit specifically, so they had a lot of old material from their archives that usually spent time just sitting down in the basement in crates. Some of it was actually still in the crates, like a stuffed sea lion that had a really oddly and inflated elongated neck. I was half convinced that we could have stuck a couple arms on the sides and made some kind of sealiontaur thing. Now that would have been a worthy World's Fair exhibit.

A lot of the exhibit was focused on the scientific treatment of the fair exhibits. Or oftentimes, the lack thereof. Most of the exhibits were both examples of scientific learning and also pieces for sale, and some of the ones in the Field Museum's collection even had the price stickers still on them. Also, there were a lot of people from all over the world who were invited to come live in their traditional manner (as defined by the fair owners) in recreated communities on the fairgrounds. One group of Inuit did so, figuring that travel and promised room and board was a pretty good deal, but when they were given substandard food and dirty water, they eventually left and set up their own exhibition outside the fair's gates.

There was a bunch of other neat stuff, like the gourd made from a double coconut or the Javanese gamelan. I'd say you should go, but 1) today was the last day and 2) the Field Museum was able to put it on because they already owned all of the items in it. But if it does end up traveling some how, it's worth a trip. And if it doesn't, The Devil in the White City is a great book.
dorchadas: (Green Sky)
I went to visit the doctor today due to my foot injury, and now I have considerably more peace of mind. After the preliminary check-in bits, he felt along the heel and the ball of my foot, poked about the toes, and when none of that drew any pain from me, he took out a tuning fork, asked me to close my eyes, smacked it on the table, and touched it at various places on my foot.

The idea is that if any of the small bones in the foot were broken, the tuning fork's vibrations would causes said bones to vibrate, naturally causing pain and providing an easy way to know if something was broken with pretty high certainty. Since there was no pain at all no matter where he touched the tuning fork, and the only pain anywhere was when he poked the very center of the swelling on my foot, and even that was minimal, his opinion was that there probably wasn't anything broken and it was probably badly bruised. Wrap it in an ace bandage, keep it elevated, apply heat as needed, and come back in a month if any problems remain. I can do that. (^_^)v

I was reading Robert Silverberg's Nightwings a couple days ago (shameless plug: review here) and I was surprised how much nostalgia I got just from the physical existence of the book. Most of the stuff I read nowadays is on kindle or relatively new books from the library, but Nightwings was an old paperback with yellowing pages and that old book smell that all readers love.

It took me back to the days of visiting my grandparents in their retirement community, where one of the first things we would do when my family arrived was go down to the town library and get a giant handfull of books for me to take back and read. I'd always pillage the sci fi and fantasy section, and my grandparents' house is the place where I first read Robert Heinlein, Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Gordon R. Dickson, Diane Duane, Katherine Kurtz, Robert Jordan, Arthur C. Clarke, Ursula K. LeGuin, Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander, and a bunch of other authors I can't remember.

The books were almost all yellowing paperbacks or those old hardcovers that didn't have plastic jackets, and the smell stuck with me. Smelling it again takes me back to days at the Real Beach (so-called because it was distinct from the beach along the river in their retirement community) building dikes and sandcastles with my grandfather's WWII army entrenching tools, going for picnics and paddleboats at a nearby lake, shopping in Coos Bay, picnics, seal-watching, and clambering over rocks at Cape Arago State Park...

Now I really want to go visit Oregon again.
dorchadas: (Awake in the Night)
A week or so ago, I was bored at work and checked in at The Night Land, and I saw a link there to the Night Land blog, which had been updated since in the months since the last time I visited. Curious, I clicked on it, and the first article I saw was this one.

I didn't know Andy Robertson at all. I never spoke with him nor interacted with him in any other fashion, but I found that website in while I was in Japan and I absolutely devoured all the stories on there. Red Giant's Race, The Guild of the Last Migration, The Wreck of the Aetherwing, and An Exhalation of Butterflies caught my imagination and set it on fire with images of the Last Redoubt at the end of history, after the sun has gone out and the powers of Night hold dominion over almost all the earth.

After finding these homages, I read the original story and found it to be incredibly evocative but nearly unreadable with its purposefully archaic language and eschewing of common literary tropes like dialogue (I suggest the rewritten version, which I reviewed here). It's a story about love that survives the ages and endures even in a hostile world, and how love fundamentally has power even against the night, which is an attractive theme even to someone as pessimistic and cynical as me. I can see what Hodgson was trying to do even if I can also recognize that it was a clumsy attempt marred with a bunch of cringe-worthy problems.

But damn, when I scroll down to the bottom of the Night Lands Timeline and see, after the end of history, "All lovers are reunited"...that pulls at my heartstrings. There, love as a force is strong enough to outlast the universe, even with all the perils laid in its way.

The Night Land website is what brought this all to my attention, and it was all started by Andy Robertson, who also wrote two compilations--Eternal Love and Nightmares of the Fall--based on story submissions he received. Some of them are also on the website in full, but others are only in part. I keep being tempted to buy them, but I've been waiting for digital versions to come out. The blog seems to indicate that there's new stuff coming out in the future, and I'd love to actually give some money to the people who contributed so much to my imagination.

Rest in peace, Andy Robertson. Hopefully, your work on Hodgson's legacy will continue for many years to come.

Edit: I almost forgot: I originally heard of this from the Delta Green mailing list, where he was a contributor for many years, early on before I joined. So there's another debt of inspiration I owe to him.
dorchadas: (Green Sky)
When I was a boy, every summer and sometimes during the winter, my family would pack up our things into our car and drive west to visit my grandparents in Oregon. One of the first things I would do every time we arrived was borrow my grandmother's library card and head down to the local public library and check out a double handful of books. That's where I read a ton of classic sci-fi and fantasy--the Foundation and Robot books, the Rama books, a bunch of Heinlein's stuff, the Chronicles of Amber, the Riftwar books, nearly all the Valdemar books, and, relevant to this post, Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover books. She was personally a terrible human being, but I really took to the stories about politicking and personal relations in a feudal society with a psychic nobility. Maybe because the psychics were redheads.

Anyway, half a decade ago, I read Stephen King's The Mist and absolutely loved it. And based on the title of this post you can probably see where this is going. I had it that the Towers had figured out a way to extend the force fields they use to prevent experiments from blowing up to keeping the Mist out at long range, set the game during the Ages of Chaos so all kinds of crazy psychic insanity is on the table, and wrote the whole thing up in Unisystem.

I found it a few days ago and looked back on it, and there are some major flaws. For one, in a game that's supposed to have political intrigue and the players playing nobility who are members of the ruling families of various kingdoms, the utter lack of any real social systems beyond "roll some dice and make stuff us" is a major flaw. I also exhaustively detailed the way psychic powers work because I've always been one for systematizing my games, even though the way the powers work in the books is basically "i dunno lol" and constantly changes depending on the plot and when the book was written. It's ~50 pages long and I wouldn't run it at all nowadays.

I'm thinking of converting it over to post-GMC nWoD, though. A lot of work is already done, since GMC has a better social system and updated psychic powers in it that I can steal. I can finally adapt the Company rules from Reign to nWoD like I've been planning to do for months. I just need to add the Darkover-specific bits around the edges and convert the stats over.

I do like the idea of getting to use it. Darkover is a great setting to run an intrigue game in, with the competing demands of familial loyalty vs. personal ambition, the lure of the Towers as a source of power and a neutral ground to settle disputes, and the addition of the Mist adds a tragic aspect to the society where they might be able to solve the looming end of the world once and for all if they weren't too busy stabbing each other in the brain with mind-daggers all the time. Humanity in a nutshell.


2008-Jul-10, Thursday 17:40
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
So, I started reading the Dresden Files books. This entry isn't about that.

It's about the cover art. On two separate books (Dead Beat and White Night) the staff has the word "マトリックス" on it. It's obviously meant to look like mystic runes of some sort, but it spells out "Matrix" (or possible "Matt Ricks") in katakana. My first thought was that Matt Ricks was the artist, but that's wrong--the guy who did both covers is named Christian McGrath (you can see one of the covers with it at that link there). His art isn't "Matrix Productions" or anything like that, so I'm stumped.

Anyone have any insight?

Edit: Now with fewer screwed-up tags.

Mmm...juicy tidbits

2007-Sep-19, Wednesday 20:09
dorchadas: (Iocaine Powder)
So, I just read an article in Science News about how, in some cases, obesity may be contagious. Apparently, there's a certain virus which can convert stem cells into fat cells. In the experiment they did, 30 percent of obese test subjects showed antibodies related to the virus. Apparently, though, the virus is only contagious for a few weeks.

This is partially my axe to grind, since I think America would have a lot fewer problems if people wouldn't use "Well, they should show some personality responsibility!" as code for "They're disgusting, subhuman and aren't worthy of our help."

Why I hate Terry Goodkind:
Now with textual support!

The series started out okay, but rapidly descended into thinly disguised BDSM and torture porn, ultra-capitalism wanking / Ayn Rand fandom, and "any ends justify the means when the Ubermenschen do it!" pseudo-justifications for the heroes brutal and capricious mass murdering of their "enemies," which include peaceniks, 8-year old girls, rape victims, and communist Muslimsthe Imperial Order. Also, Richard overthrows an evil socialist empire by carving a statue imbued with the power of CAPITALISM!!111!1!!

The link there has a bullet point list of a lot of the "OMGWTF" moments in the series, complete with direct quotes from the books.

This weekend's Within Temptation concert was amazing. Sharon den Adel is a lot shorter and cuter in person than she looks in the band's music videos. She also sings just as well, which is really impressive considering the stuff you can do in a recording studio. My only complaint is that they didn't play It's the Fear, which is probably my favorite WT song.

I've gotten into Neverwinter Nights and Xenogears more lately. The first because I can play it with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I never beat it originally, and the second because I've owned it for close to two years and still haven't beaten it. Hopefully that'll change soon, and then I can finally beat FFVII. Just in time for the new PSP to come out and me to play Tactics.

Woo gaming.

Rant on...

2007-Jul-23, Monday 17:14
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
A rant, and an amusing quote )

Well, we managed to get an apartment in a no-pet building, but I’m wondering if we should have gotten one in a no-children building as well. The apartments we’re in are new (about five years old, I think they said), and seem to be fairly evenly split between young couples with children, young couples without them, and two dudes rooming together (I have seen neither old couples nor any women rooming together so far). Yesterday, though, I guess they decided to break out the pogo sticks or something, because there was an intermittent pounding on the floor for about six hours. I’m thinking the people who rang my doorbell were the children from upstairs coming to apologize or something, but (in classic me fashion) I ignored them until they went away, so I guess I’ll never know.

Vodka pasta sauce is delicious. I’m glad I bought more.

Finally, for those of you who are interested in having your own home library at some point in the future, I bring you Books By the Foot! No longer do you have to do any of that tedious crap like actually reading the books, or organizing them, or picking topics. You can custom order books to make even the most ignorant philistine look like a towering cultural genius!


2007-Apr-15, Sunday 01:36
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
I was not a very culturally aware child. I rarely watched movies, and didn't start really listening to the radio until my sophomore year of high school (and then stopped again once I got to college). I rarely watched television--I'm lucky my sister did, or I probably would have missed out on things like Scooby Doo and Fraggle Rock. Tonight, I watched Goonies, which I somehow managed to miss earlier on. So much I missed in the past.

I'm currently reading an extremely depressing book called When the Rivers Run Dry which is about, essentially, how a lot of developing nations are doomed to starvation and chaos due to depleting their water tables faster than they can be renewed. It also goes into interesting detail about how the rotting plants at the bottom of dams account for a large amount of methane, how a lot of rivers that people used to talk about being huge are now getting sucked dry (in, for example, the American Southwest), and about the amount of water needed to produce a lot of things being a hidden cost. It's interesting, but hard to read in a Malthusian sort of way. Yay.

Brunch tomorrow!


2006-Dec-22, Friday 01:35
dorchadas: (Angst)
I saw my grandfather today. He seemed mostly okay--he was always quiet--at least until he opened his mouth. Then it was obvious that he was forgetting things we had just said, or wasn't able to follow the conversation or understand it when it was explained to him.

At least he remembered who we were. My grandmother didn't.

I just finished reading Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson, which I thought was going to be a book about an alternate ecology (in the vein of War Against the Chtorr), but instead turned into some weird sci-fi battle all taking place inside a computer with little to no exploration of the new ecology that replaced Europe. Quite a let down. I've since started reading Kazuo Ishiguro's An Artist of the Floating World, though I haven't gotten very far with that yet. It's primarily the reminiscences of an artist about his life after his retirement. It's a nice counterpoint to the fantasy stuff I usually read.

I was really looking for Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, but the library didn't have it.
dorchadas: (Terminator)
While Donald Rumsfeld crewing a ship that would possibly be in charge of a first contact situation is, in my opinion, pretty much asking for the beginning of a genocidal war, there's a reason I chose to include it as the title of my post. After a theoretical physics paper presented at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics annual conference won first place, the U.S. government has expressed interest at using the theories presented within to develop an honest-to-gods warp drive. Even the way it works is fantastic--generating a huge magnetic field to provide thrust, or, at high enough power levels, drop the spaceship into another dimension where the speed of light is faster. A literal hyperspace.

Of course, I'm leery about it actually working, and more worried about how much of an effect that strong of a magnetic field would have on the crew, not to mention shipboard equipment, but still. My government believes in this enough to fund research into hyperdrive. How awesome is that?

I've been reading Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead recently. I've always hated Ayn Rand's philosopher (as a sort of disclaimer), and this book hasn't changed my opinion. I think the main character is supposed to be likeable, since he's a shining paragon of self-sufficiency, but really, he's just a self-absorbed asshole. I put the book down after the rape scene where the woman, after Roark (the main character) leaves, goes to the bathroom to wash herself, but stops because that means she would remove his scent from her skin and she's obsessed with him...not cool.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd came to visit this weekend, and most of what we did...was play WoW. Well, okay. We did a bunch of other stuff (like watch Cowboy Bebop), but I got her hooked on WoW as well. According to [ profile] kraada, I am now the moral equivalent of a crack dealer. Really, I'm not sure that's so wrong :-p


dorchadas: (Default)

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