Benny's Adventures

Sleep is Vital

Lately I’ve felt at odds with my ambitions at a daily level due to lacking energy and efficiency. I suspect the primary culprit is a lack of sleep. I’m doing my best to get back on track. You’ll hear more from me once I do!

31 July 2012 Posted by | Life, Miscellaneous | , | 1 Comment

But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.

— Umberto Eco

24 July 2012 Posted by | Quotes, Thinking | , , , | Leave a comment

Is that you, Foe Hammer?

I first crossed Halo’s path when I convinced my parents to purchase the original Xbox with Halo to play with my high school friends. Many a LAN party was had and I have fond memories. Due to the significance of the original Halo in my life I picked up Halo: Anniversary Edition (Plus I would be able to play through the story with one of my fraternity brothers, in theory). I finally started playing through it and my, the power-armored stroll down memory lane is wonderful.

is that you foe hammer 1

For those that don’t know, Halo: Anniversary Edition allows a transition between updated graphics and original graphics at the press of a button. Besides the direct nostalgia, comparing old and new is an eye-(and ear-!)tickling experience.

The first thing I noticed is color. The ring world is vibrant and colorful where once it was drab and dark. The technology improved since Halo came out for the Xbox and allows for all this extra detail.

Another big graphical advancement is the draw distance. I’m not quite sure what the effect is. Somehow the world seems less lonely initially because I can see more. I suppose it doesn’t help that I’m playing on Easy to try and observe all these differences so all the marines’ chatter breaks up what could be a very solitary romp around the big ring. I’ll have to come back on Heroic or Legendary and see how it feels.

I believe the music has been re-mastered as well. Not being much of an audio person I’m not exactly sure what that entails, but it is my impression that the music exists with the rest of the game much more noticeably. I’m hearing more subtle tunes coming from the background that I did not previously. Whether it’s new or not I can’t be certain but that it affects me as much as it does is a testament to the well crafted sound track. The ebb and flow of combat, the prelude to engagement, and the prologue of relief is all captured and amplified so well!

For anyone who enjoyed Halo: Combat Evolved, the Anniversary Edition is a worthwhile purchase.

19 July 2012 Posted by | Gaming | , , , , | Leave a comment

Fire Needs Fuel: Of Gamers and Imagination

I am a proponent of video games as art. As a gamer fortunate enough to experience a golden age of gaming (marked by the birth of the NES, though I did miss out on the even humbler roots of gaming) it disheartens me seeing many artistic qualities of video games stripped to more directly appeal to consumers for reasons of profit. I understand the reasoning behind it – both the greed involved and the need for a publisher or developer to pay the bills, which means the employees can feed their families. That doesn’t stop my lamentation, however, and it is up to me and individuals like me to fight to retain the imagination that made games wonderful.

This thought process was sparked by an imgur album I came across on Reddit. This comment thread in particular catalyzed this post:

fireneedsfuel 1

It occurred to me that a developer could infuse a game with all the artistic creativity in the world and the player may never see beyond the mechanics of the game into the art. (I realize that this particular case is a glitch and thus unintentional, but regardless this is what sparked the thought. I do address the fact that this is a glitch further down so read that at least before you comment)

Consider books, another medium requiring imagination. Without the reader suspending disbelief and diving into the world a book is nothing more than a large set of words arranged in grammatically proper groups. The author is responsible for ensuring tone, vocabulary, setting, plot, characters, and much more are appropriate for the effect he/she seeks but it’s all for naught if there is no kindling to set alight with creativity.

Here’s another example but about movies (I don’t know the source for it, so if anyone wants to enlighten me I’d be much appreciated. Personally I encountered it first on Reddit):

fire needs fuel 2

This is satirical and thus exaggerated some, but it holds enough truth to be valuable. I submit Exhibit A (a comparison done by metacritic) as evidence.

Now back to video games. “MrBtongue” on YouTube makes a compelling argument about Diablo 3 under this light, with this being his most poignant statement:

In my opinion, the game they set out to make is a regression from the rest of the series.

Watch the video for his arguments. Pay attention in particular to his description of Diablo I. This guy gets it.

How many people would notice the points he makes though? I fear that the average gamer would not pause to let their imagination wrap around the world of a game, instead focusing on the surface game mechanics and its direct response in the brain. (Note MrBtongue’s second and third points)

I said earlier, “This guy gets it.” Let me clarify. This guy is a minority who can enjoy subtleties in games. With skyrocketing popularity games must cater to more and more people to earn the profits needed to be considered a success. As a result they are tailored toward the average human to drawn in more people than a player who has an imagination to call upon.

It is on the developer to sow their games with the seeds or art, and it is the role of the player to water those seeds. The developer is the spark plug in the internal combustion engine of a players artistic perception, and the imagination of the gamer is the fuel that undergoes ignition.

For example, a developer cannot deliver a broken game and call it art. This glitch in Skyrim is one of many, but never was the game as a whole broken. Big Rigs, for example, is NOT art. For what it’s worth the referenced Skyrim experience was accidental so let’s look at something more intentional. *spoiler alert* In Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, there is a poignant moment where the character you control dies.

Gamers loved it (for good reason). So what did the makers of Call of Duty do? They spammed scenes like this until it lost all meaning. A developer cannot repeat the same thing over and over and expect to evoke the same reaction. Rather they are tasked with the admittedly arduous task of taking the fundamental heartstrings of a player and knitting it together into a new experience.

On the other hand, when a developer delivers a gem of a game full of fun, personality, and awesome the player needs to be receptive of it. A great example of this category is Psychonauts, which was saved from obscurity by turning into a cult hit but not without taking damage. Really it should have been a blockbuster hit, but the mettle of the average person is not the kind to appreciate an intelligent game.

I tend to hold everybody to a high standard. If we are to proudly display the banner of “civilization” and embody the pinnacle of evolution (or creation, as you may believe) on the planet, we need to act the part. Perhaps this is a flaw, however, and my punishment is to be disappointed time and time again in my fellow man and woman.

16 July 2012 Posted by | Gaming | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

15 July 2012 Posted by | Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

Hindsight on the Lifestyle Shift from College to the "Real World"

I took some time to scan my old posts to find loose ends I haven’t addressed. In the process I encountered a post I created while researching over summer and staying in an apartment near campus. I was struck paralyzed by grocery shopping and amused at the prospect of cleaning my bathroom. I had no problem with it but living in a dorm with a cleaning staff didn’t present many opportunities to perfect the art while taking classes.

Later I more directly compared my experience living in dorms to living in my apartment. This was from June of 2011. It’s been a year since and there is much to add to the topic. I also promised a more holistic perspective "soon" and it turns out "soon" is just about one year later. Who’d have thunk it!

Time

The dominant impression of difference is time. Let’s think worst-case-scenario for college: 4 lab classes with 3 55-minute lectures per week and a 3-hour lab once a week. That’s approximately 24 hours of time. My professors used to say for every hour of class time an ideal student will spend 2 hours of out-of-class time. For an "easier" major that may be overestimating while for a "harder" major it can easily be underestimating but it is reasonable enough for the sake of discussion. Now the total time related directly to school is 48 hours per week (12 class, 24 out of class, and 12 lab). Just for completeness let’s add another 12 hours for any research endeavors and other miscellaneous academic pursuits.

That’s 60 hours total. Keep in mind that this is an overestimation based on Duke’s system. Very few people if anybody takes 4 lab classes in one semester, for example.

The most fair comparison for strictly academic hours in college would be commitments in the "real world". The first is my job. I’m expected in at 8am and I can leave at 5pm. There’s an hour lunch in there somewhere if I choose to use it. So far that’s 45 hours. I am going to include here time I have to spend grocery shopping, cooking, and otherwise running errands because I would prefer to be doing other things. Personally this comes out to about 5 hours in a given week, but that’s because I avoid or minimize as much as I can. My cooking times, for example, can be as low as 15 minutes for a given evening. And on top of only having to shop for one person I streamline my grocery trip as much as possible.

A total of 50 hours.

Thus it seems more time is available in "the real world." Bear in mind this is my experience. Depending on work circumstances this comparison may be different but for me I definitely have more time in "the real world."

Using Time

While at first more available time is a blessing it is rapidly filled with commitments. This happens in college too but the main difference is in the nature of the commitments. In college, everything wraps up neatly on a weekly, monthly, or per semester basis. The problem set I have to do? Completed in a week, graded in another, and while that’s happening I have another to work on. The lab report? Next month. The class? Done at the end of the semester. There is a constant sense of completion, of progress, and accomplishment. Not so once outside of the academic world. I have a job that is indefinite in the length of its commitment working on projects that have tasks taking up months for deadlines and goals that are years off. I don’t get an A+ for making a delicious meal nor do I get a pat on the back for showing up to work. I’m not guided but for the most part am expected to be able to guide myself, asking questions as necessary and completing assignments and tasks as soon as humanly possible. This is jarring for a young adult coming out of a system that breaks things up into guided chunks after something around 18 years.

Learning to find success in the "real world" as a result is tough. I think most people are trained for sprints to succeed and then thrown into a world where it takes endurance and patience. There are fast paced industries but even there a single project’s scope is often larger than anything experienced in college. More importantly, without constant feedback on successes and failures and the obligation to complete relatively tedious tasks the sense of accomplishing fades and rediscovering a sense of progress takes time.

Access to Passions

Furthermore, after college access to luxuries becomes more difficult. When I was in school living on campus going to the gym was easy, spending time with friends simply required walking out my door, and I could find a million exciting things to do within a 5 minute walk from my dorm room. Your mileage on this will vary depending on circumstances like if you didn’t live on campus or if your college had less of a residential mindset than Duke did, but for me transitioning into the "real world" from what was essentially a walled garden was difficult. I have more time now but doing anything I love takes more thought. If I want to go to the gym I have first get a gym membership and then drive to the gym (my apartment complex doesn’t have a gym). If I want to practice my instruments I have to find a way to practice outside or practice at a time in my apartment when it doesn’t bother anyone, which can be impossible when I have other things to do in those times like tutor. I want to volunteer at local schools but I work from 8 to 5 (at least!) so I can rarely help in the actual school portion that I am interested in. Compromises everywhere and hard work just for fun.

The Little Things and the Big Things

I would argue that as a whole, taking what I’ve said so far into account, school felt more care-free. I worked hard, I had fun, and I learned a lot but never did I have to worry about causing millions of dollars of damages in a project because I was off on a design by tens of thousandths of inches.

Oh! And I forgot one big thing! My family treats me much more adult now. It’s been developing gradually but now with a steady income and evidence that I am in many ways a relatively independent human being I’m told more problems and issues the family is having. This can be somewhat jarring after many years of being kept in the dark to some degree but it’s also empowering to know what’s going on and potentially help out.

The “real world” feels heavier due to having easier access to available information. Each successive level of schooling – elementary to middle to high to college – slowly removed layers of difficulty in having access to information. Now, there is a confounding variable here of the Internet but let me tell you something, there’s a world of a difference in following a presidential campaign as a middle schooler, a high schooler, then an idealistic college student, and now a legal adult in the “real world” paying taxes, needing insurance, paying rent and otherwise handling many more things for myself than I had to otherwise.

College or the Real World?

If I could choose freely between the two I think I could choose the experience I have now. It’s certainly not as easily fun as college life was but I thrive under the responsibility and freedom when I’m on top of my game. Every once in a while I get overwhelmed but that’s not enough to give up on adult life.

College is great but I did not have enough talent to feel I was making contributions to the world. I was learning but not creating. As a working engineer (acknowledging that my college education helped get me here) even if I make no great breakthroughs I can reason that every project I complete contributes a little bit to the world.

Additional Thoughts

I worked hard in school and with a little help from serendipity I have a job I enjoy and learn a lot from. The salary is such that I can afford certain luxuries that make life better. I don’t simply mean being able to buy things.

The biggest luxury my work situation affords is being able to freely automate most of my payments. For my vast student loans, car loans, and other bills I can set up auto bill-pay and not have to worry about it. I do monitor it so I don’t miss any errors or oddities that come up but without having to constantly remember to actively pay bills the load on my mind is lessened. The college analogy is having a homework but getting to automate it.

My apartment is larger than my dorm and is harder to maintain. For about 5 months I basically had the same amount of stuff as I did in college just spread out over many more rooms. In time my material possessions began to build up so now I have a legitimate full apartment to maintain. I can get very stressed out with messes so ultimately the higher maintenance means it’s harder to remain stress free.

I haven’t mentioned cooking much yet. In college I had a meal plan that included “food points” I could use at merchants on campus or even off campus for delivery. I never had to cook until I first lived in an apartment by myself. I’m still not an excellent chef by any means but I’ve assessed my needs and desires to cook most efficiently for me.

 

Hopefully this covers what you’re curious about. If you have any more questions ask in the comments and I’ll get to them! (Hopefully in less than a year…)

13 July 2012 Posted by | Life | , , , | 1 Comment

Gasp! Mermaids don’t exist!

This is a legitimate article I encountered while scanning Google News’ Science category:

Mermaids don’t exist, according to US government

I am dumbstruck that such a piece warranted publishing. At first I thought it was an Onion article!

Speaking of the Onion, here’s a bonus:

 

3 July 2012 Posted by | Funny | , , | Leave a comment

A Post a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

It’s not foreign for me to contemplate the role blogging plays in my life. The allure of gaining Internet fame is ever-present but as a man understanding probabilities and likelihood I’m not going to quit my day job.

Maintaining a blog has become meditation. Like maintaining a journal I can take thoughts and parse them through writing. I’ve often sat down with a vague idea in my mind and as I write, the quest for the precise set of words to convey an idea with its subtleties acts as a sieve to remove the chaff from my thoughts, leaving a focused idea that I can develop further.

The hunt for wording is exciting. As an aspiring poet of (hopefully) above-average skill I’m drawn to the feeling of discovering the perfect word, not unlike the feeling of placing the correct puzzle piece in its rightful home. I reach back well into the recesses of my mind to access words I haven’t thought of in years sometimes and it sends waves of warmth down my spine as if I’ve found an old game I loved to play. My voice as a writer develops in tandem, and as cross-training helps in the physical realm, pursuing multiple forms of writing serves to improve my core strengths, benefitting everything I do.

I challenge myself to express ideas more concisely, to use metaphors that are uncommon or perhaps even brand new. I challenge myself to grow as a writer and to speak my ideas with the same intensity I have in thought.

Here’s an example. Just a few paragraphs ago I said, “…I can take thoughts and parse them…” That section of the sentence initially said, “…thoughts in my head…” rather than just “thoughts.” Reviewing it I wondered, “Where else am I going to have thoughts?” It hit me that unless I was expressing a specific way the thoughts are behaving in my head, such as a whirlwind of thoughts, it is assumed that the thoughts are in my head.

Revelations like that fascinate me, and as I write I have many kinds. Recently I looked at Gunslinger Girl critically and reviewed it. In the process I managed to distill my enjoyment into its component parts. With that information in hand I could then apply it to other things I enjoy and compare, or better yet I can predict more accurately if I will like something in the future.

Getting to know myself, whether learning about my preferences or developing my voice, is a reward for writing unparalleled short of winning the lottery and a lifetime supply of chocolate.

1 July 2012 Posted by | Blogging, Life | , , , | Leave a comment

   

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