Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I just like that image.

Microteaching.

That's the name of this thing we had to go to today, wherein we'd teach a class for five minutes about a topic that we've prepared beforehand, with a camcorder trained on us all the while. Then they'd play the video back for us, while we get the dubious pleasure of watching ourselves stutter and stumble over explaining basic chemistry concepts. Afterward, our peers would critique our performances. What fun!

Anyway, I'm well aware of the phenomenon of people hating how they look on video. Mine was the last video to be played, and it was slightly amusing watching my fellow classmates cringe over their actually pretty decent lectures. Of course, I knew (beyond a doubt, really) that when my presentation was played, I would be able to watch it with complete objectivity and relaxed self-satisfaction.




Ah, hubris.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cities always teem with evil and decay!

So I was on my way to the library today to get myself a card, when I noticed that the back tire on my bike was gone. Just flat-out gone. Now, I'm pretty conscientious about locking up my bike whenever I'm planning to go more than a few feet from it, and so my bike-minus-the-back-wheel is still attached to the bicycle rack via my U-lock. Like it's trying to say "don't blame me-- I did my job."

So, I embarked upon a quest to get myself a wheel. Unfortunately, the bike shop nearest to me (I was informed) does not carry a specialized part that was missing when I found my bicycle this morning. So, it's time to go on a hunt for such a shop!

On the plus side, I've found an underground parking garage which has a fenced-off area specifically for bikes. I suspect it will end up being much more secure than my current spot.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

First week of Orientation: COMPLETE

Hey! So after completing this first week of orientation, I think I'm gonna have fun at the UW. Grad school seems to be divided into three parts: Regular classwork, tutoring students (also known as TAing), and actual research. The research I haven't started yet, and won't for a couple months, but I've got both the classwork and tutoring worked out.

I'll be giving quizzes and tutoring four sets of 25 Organic Chemistry students each Thursday, and will be having office hours at various times during the week so that students can come talk to me and get help with their assignments. I figure this'll be a fun break from actual studying; I've always enjoyed helping folks understand complex concepts, and I'd enjoy having a chance to review my OChem materials (most of which I've forgotten by now. Sad face.)

Most of our orientation was just on TAing, which is a lot more complex than I figured it'd be. Since we have so many TAs for a given class, a lot of what we do is just focused on not giving the students any sort of advantage based on what TA they have-- that's why we're not allowed to talk about upcoming exams, or give arbitrary extensions on papers. Also: no canoodling with your students. Okay, that one's obvious, but even chumming around with them outside of class is bad news, since it's a lot harder to tell a student "No, I won't take your late paper" if you've got a game of Starcraft with him that weekend and really want him to be in a good mood. Best to keep things impersonal. But on the other hand, you want to develop a rapport with your students so that they're comfortable with asking questions. You have to strike a balance.

It also sounds like there's a certain personality type professors/TAs hate, and that's the type that, after every exam/problem set, tries to badger tiny points of partial credit out of the TA. ("I got a 3/10, but I really think my work warrants a 4/10.") Our prof's making very explicit partial-credit rubrics so that we don't have to have moronic arguments to that effect. Also, we are advised to not hold office hours on the day before exam time, since that's when you get swamped by desperate procrastinators who need you to teach them three chapters in one hour.

Oh yeah! And this professor is one that I'm really thinking about working with come next quarter, so this'll be a good opportunity to get to know him and his group. I met with him before, and he seems really cool-- at this point I just need to 1) verify that his group seems happy and productive via going to group meetings, and 2) make sure that his group doesn't work more than sixty hours per week. Both are very important.

Monday, September 20, 2010

First Day of Orientation: COMPLETE

So, I've just had my first day of TA orientation. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit-- the instructor not only talked about what policies they had in place, but also the reasons for them, and how the University got to doing them in the first place. In particular, I learned how much the student-teacher dynamics change when you start having fifty people in a class-- the kids start looking less like special snowflakes each deserving of your time, and more like a pack of hungry wolverines each wanting just a little bit of your flesh.

Like, she advised us not to give out personal email addresses, or else the students will be emailing us all the time, and if you don't respond to any given email the kid involved will feel like you're responsible for his bad grade ("But you said we could contact you through e-mail!") Actually, a lot of TAing appears to be the art of helping out the students without taking responsibility for their grades.

Fun snippet gleaned from the lecture, not necessarily related: Contractors are terrified of doing any kind of work in chemistry labs ("But... there are molecules in there!"). So are firemen, with probably more reason. Different fun snippet: Honors chemistry students tend to be a bit more reckless than average in the labs, particularly since sometimes you get precocious 13-year-old chemists who are (in some ways) very smart, but who you need to keep an especially close eye on when they're working with dangerous chemicals.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Productive use of leisure time

I was reading The Screwtape Letters, and ran across the following passage:

"Nothing is very strong. Strong enough to steal away a man's best years... in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off."

This struck a chord with me-- sometimes, when I've got a bunch of time to kill and don't want to do work, I default to doing things which suck up time and attention, but that I don't really enjoy all that much. EXAMPLES!

1) Browsing news aggregators.
2) 4chan.
3) Several other miscellaneous websites that I will file under the heading of "undirected intarwebs activities." (Man, it surprises me how much the internet is a culprit here.)

As opposed to the things I actually enjoy, and feel good about after I've done them:

1) Reading good books
2) Social gaming (like, Left 4 Dead or board games, or Starcraft.)
3) Writing
4) Bicycle-riding.
5) DDR!
6) Fine mexican cuisine.

I suspect that the big lure of Undirected Intarwebs Activities is that it takes absolutely no energy to click on a link; with bike riding, or book-reading, or writing, you have to spend about 10-15 minutes getting into it before it starts to become fun. And in fact, I decided to make my blog daily because I realized that the Muse doesn't just come and go as she pleases, despite what it feels like when I'm writing; rather, the more effort you put into summoning her, the more easily and often she'll come bearing gifts. And if you cease calling on her, then she'll get all huffy and stop coming around at all.

I think that's the reason that schedule slip tends to cascade on itself-- whenever an artist or author decides to only write when the Muse is there, rather than on a fixed schedule, this is implicitly a decision to stop making an effort to conjure her. It's not unlike figuring that since successful fishing requires the fish to come to your boat, you may as well doze off and wait for them to flop into your bucket of their own free will.

But yeah! Back on topic, I'm going to make a resolution: Whenever I'm not doing work, I'm going to do an activity that I actually enjoy. Hopefully this will compensate somewhat for the lack of leisure time I'm going to have during grad school.

HEY GUISE

So I got back to my University of Washington apartment, and it looks like everybody's moved in! Good times, particularly since I was feeling a bit uncomfortable with the idea of slacking off while my housemate (who started class a couple of weeks ago) was busting his ass at labs. Make no mistake-- he's still working nose-to-the-grindstone, but I do feel somewhat less guilty now that not-working is the current norm.

Not that I'll have much time to enjoy it, since orientation starts on Monday and appears to run from 9 to 5. It'll be a good transition into grad school, since I had a meeting with one of the professors I wanted to work with a few days ago-- his advice was (and I'm coming near as I can to quoting):

"Okay, so most students who drop out do it their first year, and that's because you probably learn more in your first year of grad school than you do in your entire stay at college. It gets a bit more relaxed your second year. So yeah, be prepared to work balls-to-the-wall for a while, but if you feel like you're going to burn out, say something and arrange for some vacation time. Important thing is, wait until your second year to drop out, if you think you're going to."

So I'll let you know how that goes. Although on the other hand, the UW gave me a 2,000 scholarship on top of their normal stipend to attend, so I guess that signals some amount of confidence in my abilities.


In other news, I arrived at the apartment this morning to see that one of my housemates has bought a bottle of Crown Royale (a moderately-priced hard alcohol.) A harbinger of things to come? WE'LL SEE. Although I have to say-- I'm not overly sanguine about the prospect of heavy drinking with a group I don't know well. I'll go for it once so that I don't get a reputation as a loner, but I figure I'll probably sit out of most drinking sessions after that. More time for crafting stars, y'know.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Taking Advice: Big hassle, or biggest hassle?

Apologies for the lack of bloggery-- my internet was acting weird last night for some reason. (The night before that was just, uh, laziness.) At any rate!

A couple nights ago, I had a 1v1 game going against Rome, wherein Blake stood to the side and did a running commentary on how we were doing. And I began to notice that I have a weird contrarian streak when it comes to accepting advice (even when I explicitly ask for it), which causes this kind of exchange to occur more or less constantly:

Blake: Hey Aaron, hey Aaron! You should do X!
Me: LIIIIIES
Blake: Nyo~ron.

This, despite the fact that some of his advice was rather good, and even inspired me to create this flowchart for the advanced management of your Starcraft 2 economy:
This chart is also applicable to void rays.

IN OTHER NEWS: After attempting to make a Let's-Play of Europa Universalis 3-- a couple of times, actually-- I concluded that making a decent LP of that game would be incredibly difficult due to the intense, oppressive boringness of the title. Particularly in a peacetime game, because basically any peacetime game of EU3 devolves into a five-step process:

1) Set your nation's budget and sliders into something sustainable and economy-improving. Set game speed to "high".
2) Get a book. I recommend a Jim Butcher title.
3) Read said book.
4) ???
5) PROFIT!

Even warmongering games are pretty bad, since it's damn near impossible to inflict significant casualties on an opposing army (they fight for like a minute and then one person retreats with 10% casualties), and thus it takes about a half-hour to finish a war that you will inevitably win anyhow. The reason it takes so long? Because not only can you not kill the enemy troops, but when you vastly outnumber the nation you're making war on, they'll just ignore your minions and base-race you, forcing you to backtrack from whatever sieges you're laying in order to resecure your homeland. And the enemy armies will keep running, except instead of retreating back to their nation, they'll just retreat further into yours.

Okay, I know that this probably sounds all strategic and "clever" and stuff, but I guarantee you it contains roughly the same strategic content as a Yakety-Sax-style chase scene. It's not a good deal, folks!

IN OTHER NEWS: I have re-installed oblivion with like twelve mods. EXCELLENT.

Monday, September 13, 2010

In Defense of that Hated Game

By which I, of course, mean Defense of the Ancients! And all similar games. I defend it because I suspect that DOTA-haters don't actually dislike the game itself, so much as the people who play it.

Yes, I'll grant you that many of them are dicks, with a fair few crossing the line into douchebaggery. Many's the time that I've been accused of "feeding" the enemy, merely due to my eight consecutive deaths in half as many minutes-- when I've been yelled at for snatching a teammate's carelessly dropped items-- even for causing massive "friendly fire" with a careless nuclear strike. But this is no reason to drop the game! Friends and compatriots, we must turn the other cheek, and make an enemy into a friend; failing that, find better allies; or if all else fails

TROLL THE CRAP OUT OF 'EM.

Now join me, friends-- and let's take back our servers! For Justice! For the ancients! FOR NER'ZHUL!

I mean Aiur.

A man after my own heart

From http://forums.penny-arcade.com/showthread.php?p=16532190

I seem to lose the most around the 30-50 food mark. Like, when I'm first getting my natural up, I haven't quite saturated yet. Or I'm saturating it, but at the cost of having no army.

Right around there I lose the most. It's just... It's vulnerable to me, and there are established, strong formulaic builds Toss and Terran have designed to walk in with the most shit at that moment.

4-gate, or a 3-5 rax MM stimpack push.

Zerg BOs read like they were designed for fucking hippies.



"Well, y'know man. Kinda drone up and see what he's up to, bro. Feel it out, drop 1-7 spine crawlers and get roaches, speedlings or hydras depending on your feelings."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Burden of Manliness

So I was working at Remlinger Farms today on the rock-climbing wall. About 20-30 feet high (I'm very bad at estimating distances), and my job there was to help the customers into their harnesses, and hook the harnesses up to the little pulley-rope that extends from the top of the wall. This rope's job is to limit the customers' falling speed, and so it exerts a constant upwards force-- for this reason, the rope's hook spends all of its time either attached to a harness, or an anchor on the climbing wall. (Jesse, I lack proper terminology here. Help me.)

Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it mostly is. The design of the hook is a bit tricky, though, since you have to twist it such and so if you want it to unhook it from whatever it's attached to. Tricky at first, but easy once you've done it a few times.

This has hilarious results when you're dealing with teenage boys, because they hate hate hate letting you help them with any part of the process. The reason's pretty obvious; they're just getting out of childhood and want to Prove Their Manliness, and letting me help them out would be like admitting they couldn't do set up the harness and pulley themselves.* (Which they can't, but I know from my experience as a teenage male that it wouldn't have helped to say it.)

One guy in particular comes to mind. He was in his harness, and was fumbling with the pulley-hook, trying to get it detached from its anchor. "Here, let me get that for you," I said.

"Ha ha! No thanks, I got this," he replied.

About thirty seconds later, after helping another kid out of his harness, I looked back. The guy was hunched over the hook, eyebrows furrowed, as he tried to wrap his mind around the arcane mechanism governing its function.

"Uh, are you sure..." I started.

"No! No!" His face was almost red at this point, as he pulled frantically at some likely-looking part of the hook. "I've almost! Got it!"

A long, long thirty seconds later, I could almost feel his relief as he finally got the hook open and onto his harness. I would have clapped, but that would be trollish, even for me.

The moral of the story: damn but I'm glad I'm not still a teenager.

*Not that I was any better at that age. Thankfully the burden of pride lessened for me somewhat during late high school.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A List Of Social Things

Next time I get completely knocked out in a Starcraft team game, I think I'm just going to grab our other zerg players' queens and start propagating creep alllllllll over the map. Also vomiting on hatcheries, 'cuz who doesn't love that?

Okay, so you guys should do your weekend homework early-- I'm going to be on a fast internet connection Sunday for the first time in a really, really long while, and I so want to get my zambie on first chance I get. (I'm guessing I'll be pretty much moved in at 8:00 PM.)

The rest of the week will be an attempt to break into the gaming community in Seattle/make a few more friends that I can see on a regular basis; this is something that I've been traditionally slow to do, and I've decided to take a more assertive tack this time around.

I have a four-pronged strategy for this, which I will have pursued by the end of the week with Branden's assistance:

1) Attempt to find ongoing board games at hobby shops.
2) Inquire at those hobby shops about local tabletop/vidja groups.
3) Figure out such groups that have gotten official recognition from the University.
4) Also, booster drafts. Damn, but it's been a long time since I've had a good booster draft. Who doesn't love 'em?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

STORYTIEM 2: Revenge of Storytiem: The Dramatization: Part 1

So there we were, in our dingy cabins, the sixth day of our seventh-grade band camp. Hive of scum, villainy, and things not bearing mention in polite company. Also musicians.

I can't tell you much about the music we played there. A snippet of song here, a line of lyrics there. My memory for those days is like a sieve -- a sieve riddled with bullets, then set on fire -- but there's one selection of notes I'll keep in memory forever: those of my cabin counselor's voice that gray summer evening. His words fell one right after the other, each one the sound of a nail being driven into our collective coffins.

"Who... has stolen my Mentos?"

Imagine twelve pairs of eyes, gazing in silent incomprehension at the dread carpenter. A second later, sheer chaos. Questions sprang forth from the students, like grease out of the pan of a sloppy chef.

"Surely not!"
"What do you mean, 'stole'?"
"Are you sure you counted them right?"
"SILENCE!"

Counselor Roger's gaze fell on us like anvils from a cartoon sky.

"I counted my Mentos before I walked into the restroom. There were twelve. And now? Now I count eleven. So unless one just shot itself into the aether, I find myself... how to put this... at a loss."

Silence filled the room, no man of us daring to draw breath.

"Now, then. I am going to leave this room, and when I return, I want to see either my Mento sitting on my bunk... or its devourer. You have five minutes."

The door shut quietly behind him.

I was unobservant, and had no idea who had grabbed the errant Mento; it was a rookie mistake, and I knew I'd pay for it before the day was out. For as the Good Book says: in a crowded elevator, every man shares the smell of guilt. But as I locked eyes with the heavyset student across from me, the both of us like two fists locking into a scorched-earth Thumb War, I knew that my investigation would soon become a bit more.... personal.

------TO BE CONTINUED?!?!?!?!??!----------

*Due to the.... questionable veracity of many stories on this blog, I should mention that our cabin actually did get accused of stealing a single Mento out of a pack.
LAMEST. CRIME. EVER.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Addendum to Stormshrug's Starcraft Beef

Stormshrug's beef with the Starcraft 2 campaign's moral dilemma feels a bit analogous to those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books I read as a kid, where I'd always end up getting shoehorned into a choice like:

You've come to a fork in the road on your way to Grandma's place!
1) Choose the shady path to your left: Turn to page 56.
2) Choose the weed-ridden path to your right: Turn to page 89.


(turning to page 89....)

Page 89:
You get lost and are eaten by a rage-bear. THE END.




(Were you one of those kids who'd keep a finger in the book before turning to page 56? I was.)

Anyway. This model is irritating because the consequences of your choices-- moral and otherwise-- shouldn't be surprising. Other things in the story can be, but not the results of choices the game explicitly gives you. That's because unless the designer is really good, "surprised by the consequences" means "did not have enough information to predict the consequences," which isn't much different from not having a choice in the first place.

"Heads, or tails?"


Hmm. Maybe that's too-strong a position. I know it doesn't hold for games like Baldur's Gate, where unexpected consequences were half the fun. Maybe it's more a rule for the RTS genre? After all, Strategy is a genre that's all about giving you that feeling of control.

Or maybe I'm all washed up. WHO KNOOOOWS

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Bad end! BAD END!

Professor Woolsey clapped loudly at the front of the room, signaling the start of class. After several more seconds of finishing conversations, silence filled the hall, and a grinning Woolsey held up a large black tome.

"Today, class, we're going to be doing something a bit different. Our friends in the Archaeology Department--" here he nodded to two students in the back row-- "have recently found for us an old book called… what was it, again?"

One of the archeology students piped up. "The Necronomicon, sir."

"Right, the Necronomicon. Well, the Thaumaturgy Department was wanting to do some research on it-- exploring what the rituals do and whatnot-- but the Safety Committee was a bit leery about doing rituals out of some book that we'd never heard of. So, they've made a literal translation of the relevant parts, and they want us, the English department, to do a literary analysis on the text to determine what this book will do when it's read aloud in its own tongue! So, I figured I'd take this… Necronomicon here to see what you all can make of it. Rachel, do you want to read the translation aloud?"

A small, nervous-looking girl walked up to the front of the room. She took a deep breath, and read:

"Cthulhu, Lord of Carcosa, Traitor to Ythill,
In your name do we live
And in your name do we die.

The ruins of Ythill do homage to your might
The walls unbearable, the towers hideous
The architecture, impossible yet existing.

Oh Cthulhu, take your throne
And let the world perish at your coming.
For the cause, let us grant you this offering
Of our bodies and souls.

The professor clapped. "Well done, Rachel. So, what do you all think this text is saying?"

One student raised his hand. "It seems to me that there's a lot of "castle" imagery in that second stanza. Now, I may be out on a limb here, but I think that the castle actually represents sexual repression. It is, if you will, unbearable, hideous, and impossible to sustain. So, we can infer that in this sense, "Cthulhu" symbolizes some kind of sexually liberating force. Do you think there's anything to that?"

Professor Woolsey beamed. "You know, you may be on to something there, Jake. Anybody else want to add on to that? Yes, Kelly."

"I disagree. I think that it more symbolizes the broader constraints of culture. The culture (or "world," in the next stanza) will "perish" when he arrives, but the living/dying dichotomy in the first stanza surely suggests that this "perishing" will have a life-giving component as well. It's like Cthulhu is, in a sense, renewing the old and stagnant culture."

A shorter girl-- Sally, I think-- raised her hand. "Actually, I read the text a bit more… uh, literally? Like, with Cthulhu coming and actually destroying the world?" She paused nervously. "That would be bad, I think."

Woolsey hesitated. "You know, that's a fair point, and I'm sure we'll get back to it shortly, but for now I think the literal translation is not the most interesting we could use. Anybody else?"

A tall guy in back started talking. "You know, I think that Kelly had a good idea about Cthulhu renewing the culture. That last line talks about making "offerings" to Cthulhu-- I think that really suggests a sort of friendly, reciprocal relationship. Like, how you would "offer" gifts to a neighbor or friend. And really, aren't we all, in a sense, the friends of change and rebirth?

"Yeah, so really it's like he's offering prosperity and wealth to the whole of humanity. And "bodies and souls" is used to represent our dedication to the cause."

Rachel spoke again. "Yeah, I could see that."

The professor stood up. "Well, I think we've all pretty much reached a consensus. Sorry, Sally, looks like you've been outvoted-- we'll be telling the Thaumaturgy Department that only great things will come of the Necronomicon. I've got a good feeling about this one, you guys!"

Monday, September 6, 2010

Why I Didn't Major In Biology, Part 1

"You left it behind?!" my lab partner exploded.

"Oh, come on," I said. "It's not that big of a deal."

"Aaron, that's our lab notebook. It's like, all of our grade in this course. Why didn't you say something earlier?"

"I just forgot, okay? We'll just have to go back to the bio lab and get it. I really don't see what the problem is."

"Dammit, man," John said, pinching the bridge of his nose. "It's been three days. You know the lab's almost certainly reinfested by now."

The man had a point-- the biology building was one of the more unruly parts of Pomona College. Centuries of accumulated spills and errors made by inattentive students had made it a hotbed of sentient cell cultures and biological abominations, the likes of which should never be seen by man.

Sadly, the school lacked the funding to replace our building completely, so they had done the next best thing: hired students from Claremont McKenna to "clean out" whatever labs were needed for a given day, thereby ensuring a minimum of unnecessary casualties. It was a pretty successful system; the student who thought up the idea was given a bunch of extra credit, which unfortunately didn't do him much good after he fell into a wormhole in an unrelated class.

Of course, the system doesn't help much when you leave your lab notebook behind like a chump, and then wait three days to retrieve it. At that point, the lab would be like a beaker-filled jungle. Just lovely.

"You've got a point. I guess we could just tell Professor Heron?"

"Are you kidding? He'd dock us massive points for sure. And I'm not sure I can afford that, after how badly I did on the last test. Not sure if you can, either."

"That's fair," I acknowledged. "You know I'm not asking you to go in with me. It's my mistake, and I'm willing to take responsibility for it. I'll retrieve the notebook alone."

"Yeah, yeah, you're a saint, I get it. Getting that notebook back is a two-man job, and you know it."

I shrugged. "Well, nothing for it, then. Got your lab emergency shotgun?"

"Obviously."

"Well then. Time's a-wasting."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Seattle!

So I'll be moving into Seattle next Sunday, and I'm pretty excited. Particularly because it'll mean I'm out of the vast nowhere of Carnation, but also because there are bound to be tabletop/vidja-gaming groups there, and I'm all about that.

I've never really spent much significant time in Seattle, though, except for this one time on a high school class trip, where I also happened to visit a used bookstore. Wherein I had a conversation with the middle-aged store owner. A conversation that I have committed to memory.

"Ah, excuse me. Can I use your restroom?" I asked.
"You're not going to shoot up in there, are you?"
"Wha?"
"The lilies of the valley oftentimes enjoy using my store to indulge in their narcotics habits," she explained.
I goggled.
"You know, the lilies of the valley? Sweetest of the flowers a-blooming/In the fragrant vernal days/Is the Lily of the Valley/With its soft, retiring ways. Point being, you have to be careful who you trust."
"Ha ha," I agreed.
"Especially if they claim to come from God. You read the Bible? In Matthew it even says "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew ye." So the Bible itself says you have to think for yourself, not blindly follow authority."
"Ah. Right."
"Still, you seem honest-- you are here to buy books, right?"
"Yes, yes I am."
"Awesome, restroom's in the back."
"SCORE!"

So after I got finished shooting up in the restroom, the day's events also yielded a Random Encounter with a creepy singing drunkard, who made eye contact for like ten seconds while stumbling towards me and singing unintelligibly. Good times!

Thus I find that if we extrapolate from here, I should have about 700 bizarre interactions in a year's time just from living in that craaaazy city. Lookin' forward to it.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

My high school english teacher was right!

Remember those chunk-paragraph exercises you did back in high school? You know, where a given essay was supposed to break down into this pattern:

Introduction

Body Paragraphs 1-3:
  • Concrete detail
  • Commentary
  • Commentary
  • Concrete detail
  • Commentary
  • Commentary
Conclusion

I learned the wisdom of this approach at PAX, where they had quite a few (generally awesome) moderated panels discussing a myriad of topics, ranging from the use of stories in RPGs to a panel entitled "Gamer Girls: Demographics Reality or Anthropological Hoo-hah?"

The one on stories in RPGs wasn't so great, because I noticed that the panelists seemed to stay away from talking about their own personal experiences, and instead just spoke in generalities. Which was all very well up to a point, but I noticed that as the night wore on the ideas they had started becoming more and more blindingly self-evident ("Well, I think you have to strike a balance between story and mechanics.")

In other words, there was just commentary-- no concrete details to supplement it, to lend it strength and vigor, to turn it into something interesting and unique. It seems to me that their points would have carried immeasurably more meaning if they talked about how they had been applied-- instead of just talking about how it's necessary to "strike a balance", they could talk specifically about how that they struck this balance in their own work. (Read: supply concrete details.)

Conversely, I later went to a panel featuring the winners of the PAX 10 Indie Game Competition. Here the moderators asked the indie game designers about their specific experiences-- their methods, how they funded themselves, the mistakes they made-- and the panel was more memorable for it. Here's a few of the more interesting anecdotes:

  • There's this gun that Astrocock (the space-rooster protagonist of Fowl Space, which its creator described at one point as "a long series of dick jokes") can get called the Spunk Gun. In its original incarnation, it could only fire a few times in rapid succession before it went limp and had to be recharged. Hilarious, but testers got annoyed when impotence struck during the middle of tense firefights, so this "feature" ended up removed from the final version. ;_;
  • One of the developers of another game hired a fancy artist from Denmark for 100 dollars a background, only to realize that he couldn't really draw. Lesson: expensive foreigners are not necessarily more talented.
  • The developer of that same game found that testers thought her robot-tutorials were incredibly boring... until she tripled the speed of the robots.
Anyway, lesson: concrete details are awesome.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

PAX tomorrow!

SO! Tomorrow I am going to the Penny Arcade Expo, wherein I shall immerse myself in geek culture not seen since the likes of Sakuracon two years ago. AWESOME. I have extremely fond memories of Sakuracon, not least because con girls in my experience are all about the Captain Hammer costume.

How you doin'.

I suspect that this isn't quite so true at PAX (not least because I don't think they do costumes there), but there are other attractions. Most notably that I may be able to find a tabletop/vidja-wagoes group in Seattle for when I move there in a week-and-a-half, so there's definite long term benefit there.

Damn, but grad school's getting close. I've already chatted with a couple of the chemistry professors, and may have even pinpointed the one I want to work with for my doctorate! He's doing work on ultrasound-sensitive macropolymers; in other words, he's building secure drug capsules that you can cause to explode with a localized ultrasound frequency. FOR SCIENCE!

STORYTIEM

Apologies for the late bloggery, friends and compatriots. I could find nothing games-related to discuss, so we will now have a Personal Tale from mine compendium of Personal Tales.

Tale the First:
"In Which Aaron Makes an Unexpected Appearance",
or
"A Case for Thought before Action",
or
"Why I'm Glad that I Now Have a Single."

This drama takes place on the night of Smiley 80's, freshman year. Having returned to my hall from the dance partying outside, I discovered that I'd left my keys inside my room. Hoping against hope that my roommate was still inside, I knocked on the door, but I didn't hear anything. "Dammit, Chris," I swore loudly, giving the door one last whack. Not that I was particularly angry at my roommate-- just frustrated, since I'd been hoping to get to sleep at a reasonable hour. It was then that I looked up, and about six inches from my face was a freshly-scribbled sign in Chris's handwriting:

Do Not Enter

And then, listening a bit more closely, I heard the hushed whispers of Chris and his then-girlfriend Julia coming from inside. "Uh... one sec."

*facepalm*


Now, I didn't particularly want to interrupt Chris in his shenanigans with his girlfriend-- kind of a dick move, even for me. Only thing was, it would be altogether more awkward if I simply told him nevermind, and to get back to his canoodling, especially since I should've seen the sign on the door before knocking. So I had to come up with some pretext for entering the room that did not in any way involve me having to stay there. Eventually I came up with

Me: Uh, uh, just going to, uh, study. Need my, ah, chemistry book.
Chris: ...okay. (subtext: GODDAMMIT AARON CAN YOU NOT SEE THAT I AM CANOODLING HERE)
Me: ....yep. Hey, Julia.
Julia: ...hey. (subtext: OH GOD MY SHIRT IS INSIDE OUT)
Me: ...bye. (subtext: RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN)


I'm pretty sure I left my keys in there afterward, too.