Well, I'm back from Hawai'i. We got in around 11:00 last night, and we took today to run post-vacation errands. Here's a video to whet your appetite for tropical things (the music is mine):

Here's a photo of some of the other family members admiring the scenery:

First Ink

My first real attempt at ink (sumi brush, with a few details in fine brush):

... I kinda missed the point of rendering in ink, which is to say I was way too focused on the details (actually, the sketch before I started was actually pretty cool--I probably should have kept it in graphite).


"Paul Leyhausen proposed that cats adopt humans into their social group, and share excess kill with others in the group according to the local pecking order, in which humans are placed at or near the top.[34] Another possibility is that presenting the kill might be a relic of a kitten's behavior of demonstrating for its mother's approval that it has developed the necessary skill for hunting; watching the behavior of cats presenting their catches, it is also possible to come to the conclusion that the animal has simply decided its owner is too stupid to hunt for him- or herself."


Linguistics ≠ Language

I was a linguistics major in college.

As I'm positive I have said to each of you reading this at one time or another, linguistics is not the study of languages, it's the study of the nature of languages. It's metalanguage, kinda.

The distinction is somewhat subtle, but it's something I'm painfully aware of. I am strong in linguistics, weak in languages. This came from a series of mistakes about my self-identity that I made as a child. One of those mistakes was to say "I hate memorization". As a result of that belief, I ended up passing on many things that I now realize I would have thoroughly enjoyed... including languages.

Where I grew up, languages were not an option until High School, where they were essentially required. ...And I kicked and screamed into it. I chose German, 'cause I thought it was the coolest of the (meager) offerings (French, Spanish, and Latin were the alternatives). No other reason.

I went into class with heavy disdain: I wasn't there to memorize. I "suck at spelling". I don't care about history, and learning about cultures wasn't pragmatic. It's surprising I managed to get the Cs that I did!

Of course, I've recently discovered how easy memorization is, and so I've finally taken up the Languages torch. But today it really dawned on me just how much damage I had done in the past. ...I have a very, very late start, and a long way to go to catch up. I've spent the last six months working on it, and I feel good about my progress. This week, I chose to put the Hindi book down for a while and really focus on becoming fluent in German. In the past week alone, I've gone from scratching my head on 80% of the material I read/hear, to understanding 70% of it. Of course, this is mostly the effect of "it's like riding a bike": after all, I had four years of HS and 2 years of college in the damn language... so it's mostly just "coming back to me". But still, it feels good. On the other hand, I'm still a long, long way from fluency. A year or two, if I push it. But anyway...

...What beliefs did you form in your youth that have hindered your goals as an adult?

Something that May Sound Weirder Than Usual

(...and that's saying a lot.)

Two weeks ago, I started Oblivion over again. You see, my son also likes to play it now and then, but he inverts the Y-axis on the controller (so it behaves like a plane rather than a mouse), and even thought it only takes 30 seconds to change, it annoys me that I have to do it. ...So I decided to create a new "user account" on my PS3, and start Oblivion over on that system.

Last night I was enjoying my game of Oblivion, not because my character kicks ass (she doesn't), but precisely because I found it slightly challenging... and because I was using some new skills that I had never tried before (Alteration, Alchemy). She's level 17 or some-such, and routinely gets her ass handed to her, unless she can pull off a Conjuration (still by far my favourite skill in the game), because she's a typical Breton: Magicka out the wazoo but less Health than most rats. It doesn't help that her blade and block skills are both around 40. She dies about once an hour (and only that often because her alchemy skill sure does come in handy in a pinch).

I don't like dying in games. Not normally, anyway. But this time, I'm appreciating the challenge. Not sure why.

This is when it dawned on me that I really enjoy playing Oblivion. And then it dawned on me that I wanted some diet orange soda. ...Because, you know, I really enjoy diet orange soda. A lot. Actually, it's a little disturbing: I get a touch of euphoria when I'm drinking it.

And it's not just orange soda. It's also Fresca. And Stash Raspberry Tea.

Nor is it limited to drinks. Sushi does the trick. Pizza, too. Yeah, definitely pizza. Slightly-cooled (definitely not re-heated) mushroom pizza. And any adequately-spicy pasta. Especially one with a side salad and a kick-ass dressing. (I recommend Brianna's Assaggio Caesar.)

Food clearly isn't the only thing in the world that brings about euphoria. Playing a good hand of Blank White Cards, finding incredible art, hugging a dog, writing a cool block of code, learning one of biology's dirty little secrets, and listening to music that unabashedly abuses electronic gear... these are all things that physically affect my neurobiology.

Point being, there are fairly simple things in the world that I can immediately appreciate and put me back into a "happy place".

I recommend identifying and enumerating these things.

Gak! Where'd My Dollar Go?

Most of you probably know this, but Google does conversions. I whimsically just tried the search "euros in dollars", and almost fell off my chair:

1 Euro = 1.5368 U.S. dollars

...Back in the day when I was lusting after soft-synths, prices were commonly only 20% higher in dollars.

Magical Beliefs

So, I lazily skimmed an article mentioned on the Skepchicks blog... and I tried really hard to apply the points about magical thinking to my own life, but I just couldn't swallow the pill.

70% of what the article talks about are simple associations: I wouldn't name my kid "Adolf" because of the negative associations... not because I think the name is cursed!

10% of what the article talks about is social pressure, and another 10% is simply the biological (chemical) effect of the mind on the body. Watch (or read) Derren Brown. What people will do because of other people may appear magical, but doesn't make it so.

The last 10% of what the article talks about is just misunderstanding or anthropomorphism of statistics. The most common one I see (being a role-player) is with dice: the idea that some dice "don't like me", or that if we leave the dice on the table with their highest value facing upward, we're more likely to roll well.

As a result: sorry, no. I still can't buy the premise that all people believe in magic.

Acrimonious Exchanges on the Internet

acrimonious exchanges on the internet? no way!

A friend of mine just mentioned this in an email, and it reminded me of something I wanted to say on my weblog: this is the forté of the internet.

...Not that this is a startling revelation: I suspect we are all keenly aware of it. But I felt like explicitly stating it. The internet really lends itself to conflict. I believe that after enough time passes on the internet, you will inevitably see the formation of thousands and thousands of micro-societies, as people schism further and further by "realizing" they "don't have to deal with" alternate attitudes.

On one hand, this is empowering. People of like mind, separated by insurmountable geography, are coming together. This is fantastic.

On the other hand, our tolerance for our neighbors slips away. This is depressing.

Raiders of the Lost Ark in 5 Seconds


(Almost all of the "in 5 seconds" films are amusing. Take 20 minutes and browse 'em!)

Signature Strengths

I re-took the Authentic Happiness test (link in the previous post) this morning. Here are my results:
  1. Appreciation of beauty
  2. Forgiveness and mercy
  3. Love of learning
  4. Curiosity
  5. Fairness and equality
  6. Creativity
  7. Caution
...the rest I don't think of as "signature", so I'll omit. But it's interesting to see my lowest scoring traits:
  1. Industry
  2. Kindness
  3. Social Ability
  4. Ability to love and be loved
  5. Modesty
  6. Honesty
...I take some exception to "Kindness" being one of my worst, and I blame the test, which (I think) used such questions as "I always call people when they are sick", to which I had to answer "No". (I never do.) ...For the record, I think I'm a very nice person! ...I just don't go out of my way for friends the way I (perhaps) should. : D

The other weaknesses are pretty much true. "Honesty" is on there mostly because, as I have stated elsewhere, I think people have the right to lie in certain circumstances...

While I was there, I noticed that they keep all your old scores. I checked back to the first time I took the test, in 2004. "Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness" used to be my #5. Now it's my #10.

Interesting, that! I definitely agree with the test, there: open-mindedness used to be a guiding principle for me. ... now I'm fairly quick to judge (even if I never oppose anything; just filter it out). I'm still a skeptic, but I tend to think of it more as a hobby or a secondary character trait, not as a "signature" trait.

Homework 3: Low-Key (Charcoal)

For this assignment, we were asked to draw a fruit or veggie in charcoal, doing it low-key. I didn't have any paper on-hand, so I ran out an bought a Strathmore "300 series Charcoal" pad. Compared to the paper we use in class, it sucks. It's thin--I tore two pieces before getting a clean piece--and the texture is a bit too pronounced. I won't be buying this flavor of paper again. (I also bought some tricolor Conté crayons.) This photo didn't come out well (level adjustment on the camera or something)... it's actually a bit darker than this, and I couldn't quite tweak it in Photoshop to match it. Anyway, this was the result:

My main focus on this one was consistency: I wanted nice solid blocks of color without too much "modulation" (my teacher uses this word all the time) where I couldn't see it in the pepper. I'm pleased with the result, even though this isn't something I'd hang. As I'm looking at it now, though, I see a few flaws, like the dark, straight shadow on the left (which is too dark and too straight) and the shadow parallel to the right edge of the pepper (which is way too dark and doesn't show the structure properly). Cé la vie.

It was fun.

A Few In-Class Charcoal Pieces

About two hours each, done in-class using charcoal:

The Biggest Science News Story This Year

If you're reading this and haven't subscribed to TED yet, then you probably haven't seen Craig Venter talk about creating new bacteria. Absolutely the most important thing happening in science right now. No contest. (Okay, the Encyclopedia of Life comes in second. Heh.)

I'm really excited about this.

Strengths Finder (Rant)

I hate Gallop.

They perform this annual survey at our company, measuring whether or not our employees are engaged. I know we are (for the most part)... but they claim their stupid little 12-question survey will prove it.

One of the questions on the survey is "I have a best friend at work".

What kind of a fucktastic question is that?!?

We just had to take a "Strengths Finder" survey today. It was much, much worse.

I like the idea of strengths-finding, and happily took Martin Seligman's version of the same kind of test. I think Seligman's has merit. His test itself was a little tedious, sure, but it's not nearly as exhausting and LAME as the Gallop survey. Once again, they've ruined a good idea. The Gallop test is copyrighted, so I'm not supposed to copy anything from it... but in the spirit of "it is your duty to break unjust laws", I will copy one of the questions:

I am passionate about education.

I am passionate about eliminating violence.

I'm supposed to pick one of those two, or the awful "Neutral" that's in the middle. How am I supposed to do that? ...I mean, I'm forced to choose "Neutral" here, since I'm passionate about both of them. Extremely so.

It just feels wrong.

And lame.

Among the results they yielded for me was the following. Read this and tell me exactly how much it applies to me!


Things happen for a reason. You are sure of it. You are sure of it because in your soul you know that we are all connected. Yes, we are individuals, responsible for our own judgments and in possession of our own free will, but nonetheless we are part of something larger. Some may call it the collective unconscious. Others may label it spirit or life force. But whatever your word of choice, you gain confidence from knowing that we are not isolated from one another or from the earth and the life on it. This feeling of Connectedness implies certain responsibilities. If we are all part of a larger picture, then we must not harm others because we will be harming ourselves. We must not exploit because we will be exploiting ourselves. Your awareness of these responsibilities creates your value system. You are considerate, caring, and accepting. Certain of the unity of humankind, you are a bridge builder for people of different cultures. Sensitive to the invisible hand, you can give others comfort that there is a purpose beyond our humdrum lives. The exact articles of your faith will depend on your upbringing and your culture, but your faith is strong. It sustains you and your close friends in the face of life's mysteries.

I want to hit someone from Gallop.

About a year ago, Gallop sent a rep out to our company to tout their 12-question survey. I read them the riot act. I ripped 'em a new one. It was ugly. ...I think I made our CIO blush. I focused mainly on the "best friend" question, but they wouldn't have any of it. "Years of data!", they proclaim, "Thousands of variants were tested, and these questions most closely corresponded to the top-achieving companies in America!"

Mmmmn-hmmmn. That sums it up, I think. ...If you want to measure top performance in America, here's seven questions for you to rank between "strongly disagree" and "strongly agree":
  1. I am white.
  2. I am male.
  3. I am wealthy.
  4. I am Christian.
  5. I spend time schmoozing with those of equal or greater status than me.
  6. I have no trouble stepping on those weaker or of lower status than I.
  7. My father was rich and powerful.
I'll bet those correspond real well.


(And for the record, my total strength-finder results were Learner, Input, Connectedness, Intellection (?!?), Ideation. Most of these are true enough, if stupid jargon-ized words, but my five-year old could have told you that the ideas behind them were my strengths. Seligman's test revealed to me that one of my "signature" strengths is forgiveness. Not immediately apparent, but ultimately true.)

God Be With You

I just read about this neat trivial detail of greetings and other "phatic" elements (via) of conversation:

English “Good-bye” is a distortion of “God bye” of the early nineteenth century, and “God bye” come out of “God be with you” of the Middle Ages. So “Good-bye” is a religion-loaded farewell. In the late 1960s, young Californians, who were too hip to believe in God and too now-oriented to even consider tomorrow, came up with the vapid “Have a nice day.” Soon it became endemic and popular all over the U.S. But, to Chinese, this farewell may sound strange and confusing.

But That's What My Character Would Do! (Rant)

What single element that ruins role-playing games for me is that battle-cry among role-players: "That's what my character would do."

[sigh] I can't say I have ever heard that uttered, not once, and had something good happen to the game as a result of it. Period.

What's more, I don't think I've ever heard it uttered and be true.

Characters don't betray their friends, they don't attack someone just for insulting them (by far the most common mistake), they don't go wandering off alone (leave that to the NPCs), they don't ruin the party's endgame: they make sacrifices for the good of the outcome, whatever that may be. Yes, they might do it kicking and screaming, and that's all good. But, no, that's not what your character would do. He would suck it up and trudge on. ...Assuming your character is a hero, that is. Many good stories use such devices for antiheroes. If that's what you see your character as, so be it. Let's change the dynamic of the game and make it about your fall from grace. ...But I don't think that's what these players have come to the table to see.

I will briefly pause to interject: I have seen one player pull of an anti-hero successfully. But he established early on that he was doing it, and he never, ever uttered that phrase. We knew what his character would do, and we had fun with it as a result. He was the complication.

My mantra?

For a good game, your hero's priorities should be secondary to the storyline.

Role-Playing Lifecyles: Enjoyability versus Predictability

My experience has been that a typical RPG runs a fairly predictable social curve. (Of course I mean a game that isn't doomed from the start, which may in fact be more typical than not.)

The first session is always about potential: players are shy, characters are ill-defined, the system begins its exposition. Some players have already decided whether or not they are going to enjoy the game... but I think for the most part, people leave their opinions open after the first session, in a wait-and-see attitude.

The next few sessions--three, perhaps--build up to a climax of enjoyability, as characters start to develop, players learn one another's quirks, and the plot of the game gets underway. I've often seen characters trying out vastly different kinds of things in the first few sessions: usually starting out on the timid end of the spectrum, and gradually growing more bold. The fun of these sessions is still largely about potential, since the possibilities are still endless.

...But those multitudinous futures must, of course, be culled to a single destiny for the characters. (Image is (C) Sci-fi channel, used without permission.) Soon, the outcome becomes imperative, and the players become more tense... often (always?) because the players are unclear about the "correct" path to success. Sometimes they have differing ideas on how to achieve the goal, and are unwilling to compromise. And by this time (we're six-or-so sessions in, I guess), personalities also begin to clash, as each player gets perturbed by the others' predictability.

The honeymoon is over. What happens here has always disappointed me: the players become stuck in their roles; forward momentum is stifled. Idle chatter increases, as the players no longer anticipate what is going to happen next in the game. Players are more likely to miss sessions. Players have their characters do obnoxious things (and I will go into one of these in my next post).

What happens from there is highly variable. Some games make it, some fizzle and suffer awkward deaths. Some become campaigns. And those, I find, are often helped--not hindered--by the addition of new players. They help begin the curve again,. in my experience.

So the next time someone asks to join your game, tell them they can come in around the sixth or seventh session.

Thomas Payne

"Time makes more converts than Reason."

Thomas Payne, Common Sense, 1776

...This is taken slightly out of context. He's talking about how things that were once considered bad judgment can be ignored over time: we become complacent.

...Where Our Hero Confronts Poets and Loses

I didn't get much of a reception to my latest album on Kahvi. ...A post or two on the Kahvi message boards... a single (!) link from another blog. That was it.

A little disappointing. ...So I decided to do a quick search. ...I eventually found one podcast that made use of it: Sundown Lounge. It's a poetry podcast out of LA, featuring quite a bit of funky music. My music was used as a kind of backdrop (he calls it a "Music Bed") over the host speaking in episode 129.

Hey, I'll take that. I was into poetry once... and my dad has always been a fan. And, hey, I once lived (kinda) near LA. It fits.

Of course, his choice of my music was random... he just picks a Kahvi track for each episode.

Besides that, the music (which is more typical, lyrical music) on the podcast is really quite good. It's surprising what you can find for free these days if you're plugged in to the right jack. ...I suppose I shouldn't be startled. One of my wife's friends is into the LA musician's scene (not as a performer, but as an organizer). I've seen a few local (LA) gigs, and they were all superb. Angela Ueber comes to mind. (I would link, but such things are blocked here at the VA.)

Anyway, it's certainly worth a listen, if you've got 40 minutes.

As for my music?

Meh. It didn't go over well. Can't win 'em all.

Conté Crayons

My wife didn't know what they were. (And she found them pretentious.) I'd only read about them in art books. But this week, I started working on a project using Conté Crayons. I like them.

They have much the same effectiveness as charcoal, thought they are a wee bit waxier (only a wee bit). ...I find they blend a little darker when pushed around, so it's difficult to gauge how much to put down to achieve the proper tone... but (and here's what I like most) they erase a little more easily than charcoal. ...Not entirely, of course, so it's foolish to think you can get really white tones if you've put down any Conté at all... but still, it comes up nicely otherwise. Other than that, I just seem to have a little more control with it than charcoal... and the tones and textures just appeal to me more.

The project we're working on is huge. The idea is simple: just a tool. But we're drawing it on two sheets of 20x30(ish) paper, making the total size (if mounted horizontally, as I've done) 20x60. This is enormous! My tool is a simple pair of pliers, somewhat old and beat-up. I've worked four hours on it so far, and have only shaded one of the jaws and outlined the second. (As well as blocking in the entire tool.) It's a lot of work...

But I am enjoying it. ...More than charcoal.

This Blog Space Rated M (18+) for Mature by the ESRB

I subscribe to Wikipedia's article of the day. The latest article talks about the ESRB re-rating Oblivion, from teen (13+) to mature (17+).

This made me angry.

It was all well and good to ignore the ESRB... but today I was forced to think about it. And I decided I don't like the number.

Sure, fine, tell me that the game contains violence. Undead. Some gore. And that there's the potential for user-contributed content to have much, much worse. I'd like to know these things.

But don't fucking tell me how old my kid should be to see it. That's not your decision, and I resent you, Iyesarby, for suggesting it is.

I own two copies of Oblivion: one on the PC, the other on the Playstation 3. In fact, I've been playing Oblivion a lot, recently (to calm m'nerves.) I let my 11-year-old play.

Drawing Class: "Microscopic" drawing

The assignment here was to draw something tiny and capture the detail. I chose a gourd with a hole in it--you can (I hope) see the fibrous texture inside the hole. The cropped area I used as a source was about 1 inch wide: the paper is 24 inches wide, and there's a 3-inch border... so I was drawing at 18x life-size. It's charcoal, of course.

I'm actually somewhat pleased at the result... it was sucking hardcore before I was done, so I feel like I salvaged it. In fact, I might actually hang this one. This is a style I really like: realistic, but abstract.