Weekly Photo Challenge: To Build Or Not To Build

To Build Or, Not To Build

That’s not a hard question at all. I’ve mentioned my love of LEGOs before, but I haven’t really taken any photos of them. Considering this week’s challenge calls for something awesome among the mundane, these little bricks were perfect. Yes, that’s a Hamlet-themed figure, my favorite of the bunch (except maybe the Goth Girl. She’s adorable). Yes, that is also the LEGO Leaning Tower of Pisa in the background; I get one of the Architecture sets every year for Christmas. It’s a fun, geeky way to inspire more traveling and building.

Daily Prompt: LEGOs For Life

Hey, folks. Yesterday’s Daily Prompt was all about toys. Specifically, the ones you played with as a child, and the ways they affected your adult life. I could spend all day writing about how video games have shaped me; I learned how to use an Atari 2600 joystick around the same time I learned to walk, I could speed run through Mega Man X like a record-setting pro, and I’ve played just about every Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and major fighting game released in America. I don’t play as religiously as before – though I have a tendency to play Tetris as I’m watching Jeopardy – but the 90s gamer geek culture is thoroughly engrained in my personality. However, it’s not all that I am, nor is it my only influence. Besides, video games aren’t actually toys; they’re part of an emerging medium, much like films were in the last century. When it comes to toys, I can think of only one thing:

LEGOs.

I don’t think I need to expound of the virtues of those amazing building blocks; it seems like common knowledge. It even got its own feature length, award-winning movie in 2014! It makes you think and create, limited only by the extent of your imagination and patience. Unlike video games, it allows you to play and build with something tangible; you can see and physically touch the fruits of your labor, and thus feel accomplished for it. On my fifth birthday, I was given the Black Seas Barracuda. Even by modern LEGO standards, it’s an amazing, massive piece of work: 865 pieces, eight characters, cannons that actually fire, the folding stern that lets you see inside…So good. The adults apparently didn’t care that it was supposed to be for kids aged 9-12; they just set up a table, opened the box, handed me the instructions, and let me work. It took a couple of weekends – my parents were divorced – but I built that ship myself before I started first grade. It’s still sitting in storage somewhere, a remnant of a childhood long past.

Needless to say, building it (and many others to follow) played an important role in how I turned out. For me, it was another puzzle to solve; I grew up noticing the little pieces that made up life. When I read, I could understand things like characterization and theming long before I knew those were even words. When I drew with crayons, I didn’t just choose random colors; I asked how we knew that the colors we saw were the real ones. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I freaked out a few adults with that. The more I learned, the more pieces I found, the more I could understand reality and how it all tied together. As an adult, I have so many interests in both nature and the sciences; I love a great sunset, and even more because I understand the physics and astronomy behind it. I can walk on the beach and feel the sand between my toes, and imagine the time it took for the waves and wind to grind the particles down. There’s so much out there, and so few see it…

By the way, I never outgrew LEGOs. No one should. I have a few vats of assorted pieces at home, and I’ve made a tradition of getting one of the Architecture sets every Christmas. A shelf in my room has the Empire State Building, John Hancock Center, Seattle Space Needle, Burj Khalifa, Sydney Opera House, Big Ben, and Leaning Tower of Pisa. They’re not quite as grand as the old sets, but they’re a nice reminder of my travels and places I’ve yet to see. In that sense, LEGOs are inspiring me in a completely different way now. It doesn’t get any better than that.

The MindSponge Kickstarter

Hey, folks. Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I love learning about weird facts about all kinds of subjects. So when MindSponge was brought to my attention, it really piqued my interest. Donovan looks into questions that most people don’t think about. I didn’t know why tennis balls are fuzzy until I watched his first video. Or how LEGOs can be applied to advanced mathematics, for that matter. Though the channel doesn’t have many entries at the moment – it was just started a month ago – there are plans to have short fun-fact videos every Friday, and longer videos on Wednesdays. Donovan already has 140 questions in the works, but community feedback would be much appreciated.

Here’s the thing, though. Asking people weird questions might sound easy, but translating it into a web series certainly isn’t. Especially when you’re doing it all on your own. I’m not much of a filmmaker, but I do know that production costs can get ridiculously high. Filming on location, transportation, finding and conducting interviews with experts, hours of editing…there’s a lot that goes into making quality videos. There’s only so much you can do alone before the logistics catch up with you. That’s why Donovan has started the MindSponge Kickstarter. Getting some better equipment and hiring a crew is vital in getting the series further developed. The project will continue either way, but having extra support would be immensely useful for the production. So if you’re interested, give the channel and the Kickstarter a look. You might learn something new.

Stay curious.

The Telescope And The Not-So Big Gift

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about desire. No, not the steamy kind. This is about something you always wanted for Christmas or birthday as a child, but never got. Most kids in the late 80’s/early 90’s would probably say a Super Nintendo, Stretch Armstrong, or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Turtle Power!). But of course, I just had to be the weird one; I wanted a telescope. Not one of those lame kiddie ones, but an actual, legit telescope I could take into the backyard and look at the stars.

Learning about Galileo and watching the Endeavour launch might have been an influence.

Yeah, you can probably imagine how that Christmas went down. Even though I was struggling with long division, I was still savvy enough to know that a telescope was a Big Gift. I knew that kids got the Big Gifts only when they were really good and their parents were rich enough. I knew I was set in the former – I was the #1 Reader in my class – but definitely not the latter. I understood that my mother was working hard just to keep the essentials running, so Big Gifts weren’t likely to happen. However, I failed to notice the more obvious: I was living in the suburbs. With so much light coming from the other houses, stargazing would have been feeble at best. Besides, it’s not like they’d let a little kid go wandering around the neighborhood at night. Nevertheless, I put the telescope on my wishlist and crossed my fingers.

…And my toes and eyes.

I didn’t get it, of course. Pretty sure I got some books and a sweater. However, someone must have decided to meet my wish halfway; a few Christmases later I was surprised to receive the LEGO Space Shuttle Launch Pad. That thing was so good, it became a fixture in my room for almost a decade. It’s still one of my all-time favorite sets. For a kid who knew better than to expect too much, that was a Big Gift all its own.

Daily Prompt: Playtime, Or: Work Hard, Play Hard!

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is about playtime. I’m going to assume that this refers to when I’m at home, and not traveling abroad. This one’s actually kind of tricky for me because I tend to combine play and work. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a prolific amateur game reviewer. Video games have been a part of my life from the start; I learned how to play Yars’ Revenge and Kaboom! before I could run. I didn’t have many games growing up, but I started building a collection once I entered college. Between all the on-disc anthologies, ports, and stuff I’ve acquired from publishers or acquaintances, my library includes somewhere around 800 titles. Over the years my tastes have refined; I look at everything I play with a critical eye, and it’s certainly not limited to just 7-9/10. The company or gaming platform is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is if it works, and how well. I also don’t play into the politics that a lot of mainstream review sites have succumbed. Getting free swag and advertising is nice, but that has no impact on the game itself. A good product should be able to stand on its own.

Also, I always actually play the game I’m reviewing. Some reviewers play only a few hours before making their decision, which means that any important storyline twists or gameplay developments (I’m looking at you, Mass Effect 3 and God Hand!) are overlooked. A lot of reviewers are pressured into covering games as quickly as possible; I recall one holiday season in which five AAA titles (each of which was at least 20 hours long) showed up on my doorstep in a week. How is a person supposed to deal with that kind of workload in a timely manner without sacrificing quality? What’s worse, some game studios use such biased review scores as way to determine the bonuses – and livelihoods – of its designers. Review scores are not objective, so basing an entire studio on them is impractical, if not dangerous.

No wonder the game journalism world is such a mess.

Wow, rereading that was pretty depressing. For a second there, I wondered why I even bother reviewing. It’s because I don’t have to deal with the same kind of pressure as the mainstream guys. I’m not getting advertising, the swag is relatively limited, I can cover more obscure stuff, and I’m not constrained by time. That way I can approach the game at a better pace, figure things out, and come up with something that isn’t a rushed, overgeneralized excuse of a review. I don’t think it’s possible to fully quantify an experience with just a numerical score. Instead of focusing on the #/10, I focus on purely persuasive writing. That’s what reviews are, after all. If I can argue my perspective well, then a number tacked on at the end isn’t needed. I’ve conveyed my idea, and it’s up to the reader to use his/her own reasoning to agree or not. I’d like to think people have enough rational thought not to be swayed by just a number, even I am disappointed constantly.

Enough about reviews. I can go into that later. When I’m not reviewing a game, there are a few old standbys that I always fall back upon. I love puzzles, so the Professor Layton series is always a pleasant distraction. I’m practically obsessed with any game that uses nonograms as well. I fell in love with Persona 4 partly due to its adherence (and accuracy) to Jungian psychology. I start up a new game of Symphony of the Night just so I can explore the castle – which is still one of the greatest works of art in gaming history – and try to find some little detail I missed the last time. Chances are, I will. Not to mention its amazing soundtrack, which I will be posting here all too soon. While Metal Gear Solid 3 is a superior game from nearly every standpoint, I have a soft spot for MGS2 and its use of postmodernism. You could teach a course on postmodernism with that game. However, the top spot on my most-replayed list is Street Fighter III: Third Strike. I’ve been playing it frequently since its online release in 2011, so much so that I’m currently the 8th ranked Chun-Li on PSN. Seriously, look me up.

Gaming aside, I usually read and/or study. I spent this summer reading through Haruki Murakami’s bibliography. I’ve been making a lot of headway with the works of Umberto Eco, David Foster Wallace, Alice Munro, Roberto Bolaño, H.P. Lovecraft, Cormac McCarthy, and Gabriel García Márquez. I also acquired all three volumes of The Graphic Canon, which is absolutely stunning in its range and style. I’m also a fan of the annual Best American Series, particularly its short story volumes. There are far, far more examples I could post, but I’d be typing this entry all night. I’ll post a full list of my list here soon (pretty sure it’s around 600 physical books by now), but I’m open to any suggestions. That goes both ways, too; given my obsession with books and criticism, my foray into literary reviews is inevitable.

When I’m not reading, I’m typically watching movies or anime. I’ll say this right off: if you want to get someone interested in anime, have them watch Cowboy Bebop. This was my generation’s introduction to the genre, and what an introduction it was. Interstellar bounty hunters, film noir, crime drama, science fiction, mystery, action, comedy, clever writing, superb voice acting…this has it all. Even if you don’t watch it, listen to the soundtrack by the legendary Yoko Kanno. Trust me. If you like something a bit more subtle in its surreality, check out Haruhi Suzumiya. A brash and self-centered high school girl wishes her life was full of adventure. What she doesn’t know is that she can warp reality, and that her friends are aliens, time travelers, and espers. What happens when someone has the power to rewrite the universe and doesn’t know it? Things get…interesting. Same goes for Death Note, which focuses on a villainous protagonist that gains the power to kill anyone with a few pen strokes, and the famous (but eccentric) detective determined to catch him. I’ve also made a point of finding Hayao Miyazaki’s films, and I’ve yet to be disappointed. On the 3D side of films, I’ve got a huge soft spot for The Shining, so much so that I can quote pretty much any scene verbatim. Same goes with Jurassic Park, The Silence of the Lambs, Apollo 13, The Thing, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

When I’m not doing all that…well, I’m trying to learn how to draw using an digital tablet. It’s really hard, because I’m much more used to brushes and paints.  I wish I was good enough of an artist to make my own web comic, like El Goonish Shive. Or even a graphic novel adaptation, like Don Quixote. I don’t have the screen presence to become the next Nostalgia Critic, but I can snark Rifftrax-style with the best of them. Nor do I have the voice (and amount of friends) needed to copy Two Best Friends Play. Oh, and you may have noticed I have a thing for LEGOs

What do you do for fun?

Daily Prompt: Land of Confusion, Or: The Unseen Party

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt involves confusion. Or rather, a time when you felt out of place. This one’s kind of hard for me because there’s too many moments from which to choose. I’m really self-conscious in social situations. I’m what you’d probably consider a textbook introvert. I could write novellas just on what that’s like. I’m utterly unflappable in dangerous situations or when traveling abroad. I try to be polite and congenial to anyone that strikes up conversation with me, even though it leaves me exhausted. And for whatever reason, people like talking to me. But in a closer, more personal setting with a large group of people? I’ll carefully, stealthily slip into a corner, whip out a book I’d smuggled past the watchful eyes of my peers, and try to avoid making contact with anyone. It’s not that I despise people outright, it’s just that I find such situations insanely uncomfortable and tiring. Nor is it about arrogance; I just have a soft voice (which strikes people as odd given my appearance), and most of what I talk about goes right over peoples’ heads. Let’s see you try to explain the latest news from CERN or the finer points of Hayao Miyazaki’s films and not be met with blank stares. My interests aren’t what most would consider ”normal”. Whatever that means. The ensuing silence is awkward and makes me wish I hadn’t bothered at all. I think and work way better when I don’t have to juggle it with reading facial expressions and cues. The fact that introversion is considered to be abnormal by current social expectations makes it even worse; I’m all-too aware of the confused stares and contemptuous mutterings of people who just don’t “get” introversion.

Double standards, anyone?

However, I’m not blind to the necessity of social interaction. No man is an island (more on that later, I promise); human beings are wired for interpersonal communication. It’s how innovation and culture develop. It’s totally possible to come up with findings on your own – just read up on the discoveries of Henry Cavendish – but the process is much easier when you can bounce ideas and thoughts off of other people’s perspectives. I think it ends up being more of a matter of pacing and exposure than anything else.

So how do people balance it?

I’m not sure. I’m still really uncomfortable in social situations, but I don’t completely shut people out. This is probably best exemplified in a party I recently attended. It was the birthday of a young boy of a family friend, aged maybe 8 or 9 at most. What I noticed – and this a trend common in pretty much any kids’ party I’ve ever seen – was that all the adults tended to congregate together. They’d sit around drinking, watching a game on the TV, etc. But no one was talking to the kid. You know, the entire reason for the party in the first place? He wandered near where I was reading, with the unmistakable grimace of boredom and loneliness plastered across his face. I felt bad for him, so I decided to put the book down and talk:

Me: Hey, dude. What’s going on?

Him: (sighs) There’s nothing to do.

Me: What do you mean? Where are your friends?

Him: (dejectedly) We just moved here, so I don’t have any.

Me: Yeah, that sucks. What would’ve you done if they were here?

Him: (sighs) I dunno.

Me: Aw, come on. What do you like to do?

Him: (glances at my copy of The Geeks’ Guide To World Domination) …I kinda like to read…

Me: Uh huh. What else do you like to do?

Him: (shyly looking down)...Well, I have this big box of LEGOs. But I don’t know what to build…

Me: Hey, cool! LEGOs are awesome! If you bring them out, we can build lots of stuff!

Him: (confused)You want to play LEGOs with me?

Me: Sure, dude. Let’s see what we can make!

Him: (a huge grin on his face) Okay!

Over the course of three hours, the two of us dug through his box of LEGO bricks. He had plenty of ideas, and he excitedly showed off his creations to any adult who would give him a second glance. In the meantime, I focused on building a single, massive spaceship for him. By the time it was time for me to leave, I had crafted something so huge he had to carry it with both arms. He proudly showed it off to his parents, who were shocked what the nearly-silent bookworm they had ignored the entire party had done for their child. I may have disliked being in that situation, but the grin on that kid’s face made my awkward efforts worth it.

I’d still rather read, though.

To Build, Or Not To Build?

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To Build, Or Not To Build?

That is not a hard question at all:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Sets and Pieces of outrageous Fortune
Or to take Fingers against a Pile of bricks,
And by connecting end them: to build, to design
No more; and by a design, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That LEGO is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To build, to design,
To design, perchance to Imagine; Aye, there’s the brick tub,
For in that design of death, what ideas may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes Creativity of so long child-life:
For who would bear the Bricks and Pieces of time,
The Oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s Contumely,
The pangs of despised memories, the Nostalgia’s delay,
The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his Quietus make
With a bare Brick Separator? Who would Box Sets bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after completion,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Builder returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear the joy we have,
Than fly to other toys that we know not of.
Thus LEGOs doth make Creators of us all,
And thus the Native hue of Inspiration
Is brightened o’er, with the brilliant cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment,
With this regard their Currents go forth,
And lose the name of Boredom. Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia? Nymph, in thy Blog
Be all my ideas remembered