It All Adds Up

In a recent discussion on Twitter I brought up the importance of first impressions to people interested in the STEM fields. One point I made was that decisions aren’t always made out of one big moment, but sometimes lots of little factors play into it. “Little things add up to big things,” I had said. One person responded with “no, little things only become big things if you dwell on them. Let them stay little.” The attitude expressed felt fairly dismissive towards little things being important. It made me think and wonder how well the “little things don’t matter” holds up to mathematical scrutiny.

I mean, a 3% interest rate is a “little thing,” right? Well, no, not when compounded monthly over a long series of time. Sock away $1000 for fifty years, add $100 a month over that time, and see where the interest takes you.

How about a tenth of a degree, that’s a “little thing,” isn’t it? Well, if I’m aiming at something 10 meters away, maybe. I’m off the center of my target by a centimeter. But at 100 meters, I’m off by ten times that distance. If I’m aiming at something that’s 200 million kilometers away, say Asteroid 67P, well guess what?

Maybe 0.1% of a population is a little thing, right? Depends on the population. With 7 billion people here on Earth, that’s still a sample of 7 million.

Little things add up.

A cell in the human body is a “little thing.” What happens when one cell mutates, does something a little different, and passes that sequence on to other cells nearby? Now it’s a tumor, and someone’s life is on the line.

A platelet is a little thing. But platelets build blood clots. A clot in the wrong place causes a heart attack or a stroke.

Little things add up, even if you don’t pay attention to them.

A guy giving a woman a “once-over” might be a little thing. When it happens so many times in a day, when a woman starts wearing paranoia as a form of armor because she doesn’t feel safe, even where she works? Is it so little any more?

An act of microaggression is a “little thing.” Then a co-worker does this sort of thing to you every day. Not listening, yanking tasks out from under you after you said you were working on them, not calling you by name, not knocking on your cube before talking to you, not communicating during a vital project, dismissing your ideas because he didn’t come up with them, and talking over you in meetings. When your manager wonders if he has to professionally separate the two of you, and you say “I’d accept that,” then it stops being a little thing.

Little things add up.

Thirty minutes is a little thing — not a long time at the very least. But if that thirty minutes is spent walking, that can lead to weight loss, better fitness, a better self-image, and even a positive outlook.

A word is a little thing. Put enough of them together in the right order using the right set of skills, and you have a novel.

A photon is a little thing, but their presence is what we need to see.

Little things add up. They can become big things whether we like it or not. What matters is how we treat those little things.

Taking the Black

I’ve been asked more than a few times how long it takes to earn a Black Belt in a martial art. The quick answer I always give is “five to six years, depending on the student and the school.”

I’m going to delve into that a little more, using some of my own experience to fill out the numbers. None of this is set in stone, but there are a few certainties.

A typical class goes for about an hour and a half, unless it’s a weekend, which can go for at least two hours. That’s about five hours a week, 260 hours a year. At the six year mark, that racks up 1440 hours — sixty days.

Doesn’t sound like much does it?

Clearly you can’t do that time all at once. Not even at eight hours a day (which expands the overall time frame to 180 days). Any sort of exercise is a controlled form of self-inflicted damage and healing. When you consider that martial arts involves a good deal of impact based conditioning, that makes recovery even more important. And that doesn’t even take into account the time off you have to take due to work, vacation, sickness or injury, or even the extra hours you put in drilling in kata by yourself.

That’s why it takes five to six years to get just that far, and as I’ve said before, black belt is just a milestone, not an end state.

There’s some “You Wills” along the way:

You Will Get Hurt

You’re studying a martial art. That means you’ll be hitting things, whether in the course of conditioning, bag work, or sparring. If you’re not doing that in the course of your training, you’re not in a very good school. Martial arts is an application of physics, and with every action comes an equal and opposite reaction, so when you hit something it hits back. You bruise a shin, pull something in your elbow or shoulder, or get a black eye because you led with your head*. You take the time you need to heal. You put ice on it to keep the inflammation down. You take a little more time to stretch to make sure you don’t make it worse.

And you endure.

You Will Doubt Yourself

You make mistakes along the way, and you’ll get the corrections you need to improve. Sometimes, though, you just can’t get that step right, or that one piece of a kata or bunkai gets away from you.  Maybe you get that bit of instruction you need and you go “how the hell did I miss that?” You wonder if you’ll ever get it right, get on track, pass that test for rank when it comes. Even if you’re in a school with a regular testing schedule, you still have those spans at specific belts, and they only get longer the further you train.

And you persist.

You Will Hit A Rut

The only way to get good at a martial art is repetition, tempered with good instruction. That repetition gets to be a pain in the ass. You find yourself enduring the boredom, because if you don’t you won’t make it. You don’t ask the instructors when your next test will be — that only holds you back. And then that kata just does not get any easier because you keep finding corrections and nuances upon which you can improve.

And you repeat.

You Will Be Humbled

Along the way you realize that being a Black Belt does not make you a master. Maybe you’ve become stronger, quicker, more aware, but you’re not superhuman. In fact, you’ve become cognizant of the dichotomy between the power and frailness of the human body. You understand the difference between the years you’ve spent and the decades your teachers have undergone, and that there’s still a lot to learn.

And you accept.

If you don’t, you’ll never make it. You’ll stagnate, get frustrated and quit, most likely before you take that last critical test.

After I passed, I got something from the Okinawan KarateDo Association. It’s like a diploma — definitely something I would frame and hang on my wall — but the three most significant words on it are “Certificate of Proficiency.”

It’s a good reminder that once you get there, you’ve only just begun.

 

 

 

*True story: I never knew there was a floating bone in the ankle until I popped it out of place after landing a round kick off my sparring partner’s elbow. Didn’t hurt. Luckily, there was a chiropractor in our dojo at the time and he popped it back in with no fuss. THAT felt weird.

On Women and Gaming (Spoiler: Hell yes!)

Let me tell you something about the role of women in gaming.

When I was a kid I never had a gaming platform. No Nintendo, no Atari, no Colecovision, no Intellivision. I think back in the day we had a multi-game version of Pong. However, I did save up my money for a PC — or what passed for one at the time. I had a Radio Shack TRS80 Color Computer. My parents thought it would be a good thing because I could actually use it to learn something. While I did teach myself programming, I loved playing games on it. Most of them were knock offs of popular coinop games, and I had acquired them through a friend of my step-father’s (we had to buy the tapes or, later, disks) who got all this freeware via BBS. I wasn’t lacking for the cool games either. I had friends with Commodore-64s, so I never missed out on games like “The Bard’s Tale” or “Pool of Radiance.”

My step-sister, Megan,  on the other hand, had a Nintendo. Some of you reading this may never have experienced the early days (youngins), but back then platforms like Nintendo and Sega could do things PCs just couldn’t. Thus games like “Super Mario Brothers” and “The Legend of Zelda” were all kinds of awesome. However, my access to the Nintendo was under the following conditions whenever I visited:

  • Is my homework done?
  • Are we done working in the shop? (My Dad made and painted minis, so my addiction is generational)
  • Is the Nintendo and the TV available?

If the answer to all those questions were yes, I’d check with my Megan and then play. If a movie or show was on or if Megan was playing something and I couldn’t join in, I sat back and watched. Or I got a book to read. Or I did something else. It never bothered me if I couldn’t play on Megan’s Nintendo because it was her Nintendo, they were her games, not mine. As far as I was concerned, it was up to me to be courteous about the matter.

Somewhere between then and now, a small but very angry and vocal group of mutants forgot what courtesy and manners are. These are people who have no qualms about sending death threats to people like Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn because they have opinions on games or are taking strides to mold games into something more than killing pixels. As a gamer with 30 years invested in both the digital and analog sides to the hobby, I am more than happy to try stepping between the Anitas/Zoes and those who would dox, threaten, bully or otherwise seek to cause them harm.

You see, Megan doesn’t play much these days — she’s two busy being successful in her line of work, being married to a genuinely good man (whose day job is trying to save people with cancer from death), and being Mom to two beautiful baby girls. No matter how thin the family line is due to distance or relation, I am their Uncle. I am that crazy cool geeky Uncle who gives them tigers to help ward off the monsters that cause nightmares, dioramas that show the Princess can save herself from the Evil Wizard, and can’t wait to read them “The Hobbit.”

Do you think I’m going to sit back and let this veritable gene-pool of sewage fester and nurture its strength to attack these two lovely girls just because they may happen to like something?

Fuck. That. Noise.

If these fedora vaping MRAs and game-stooges want a fight, I’ll give them one. Hell, I’ll let them take the first swing if it ever gets into the Real World (which is as unlikely as them landing the first hit). What are they gonna do, call me a Social Justice Warrior? That’s only an insult in their heads. A White Knight? I’ve got news for them: I’m a goddam Paladin to these motherfuckers, and I’ve got Smite Evils to go around. I see a Dudebro bullying a woman, a POC, or a GLBT, trying to use terror to get them to be quiet or quit gaming, I am stepping straight the fuck up.

And if any of you Dudebros are reading this, if you think I’m doing this in the hopes of getting rewardsex, stop projecting your deprivations onto me. I’m in your face because you refuse to be a decent human being. Full fucking stop. I’m engaging because it’s the right thing to do, because trying to be the strong silent example gets overwhelmed and obscured by your shit, and because I want my two darling nieces to not livein  fear of jackasses like you.

My name is Mike Brendan: Reader, Writer, Gamer, Geek, Feminist, Paladin. Check yourselves.

On the Nature of Character

Okay, an image of Gal Godot as Diana — aka Wonder Woman — has been floating about the internet. Lemme say this:

I dig it. She looks strong (despite what some may call a slender frame), and carries a presence that is both powerful and feminine. No she doesn’t look like she’s built out of bricks, but I can deal with that. So should any fan. Please, let’s not critique Godot’s physique. Chances are she can hold her own.

My concern is for how she’s portrayed in the screen play.

Zak Snyder’s directing this film. Okay, cool. I thought Sucker Punch was a really good film. My Mom, the militant feminist, loved it (although she thought the overall timing of some of the action scenes was drawn out longer than necessary…)

But Man of Steel? Not a Superman film by a long shot. I mean, you could have gotten closer to nailing Kal-El’s character down with a nuke, for crying out loud. Why Superman got the grimdark treatment when they already had fricking Batman for that role is beyond me. But I digress.

My biggest concern is that Batman vs. Superman is being used as the proverbial altar upon which Diana my be sacrificed. Dan Didio is tremendously clueless about the comics market, and I wonder if that permeated into WB/DC’s movie brain trust. If the film fails, they could use it as an excuse to never make a WW film. So by that train of thought it has to succeed, and yet I don’t want to throw my money at a film that could marginalize WW in the hopes that she get her own movie.

I want BvS to do right by WW and by Gal Godot. Will they? No clue whatsoever…

Remember…

For Memorial Day, I’d like to share a story about my Great Uncle Bill, who served in the Pacific Fleet in WWII. Please forgive me if I’m short on details, as it’s been years since I’ve heard all the particulars and Bill is no longer with us to verify them. If my memory serves correctly, Bill served one of the supply vessels in the Fleet. While he had seen some action, including a kamikaze attack, the best of his stories involves a little trade mishap.

The Captain of his ship loved sauerkraut. One day the Captain was at the bow, talking to another Captain and arrange a food trade: a little less than half their food stores for a big bunch of sauerkraut. I guess the other ship had a surplus, I dunno, strange to me are the ways of military logistics and supplies. However, unbeknownst to the Captain, the First Mate is over at the stern make trade arrangements as well: a little less than half their food stores for sauerkraut.

I trust you can see where this is going…

Yes, for nearly a month, Bill and everyone else on his ship were served sauerkraut three times a day. Bill claimed that by the end of that month he could “shit through a keyhole from thirty paces.” He hadn’t touched sauerkraut since.

It’s easy for those of us not in the military to recall stories like these, because we don’t experience how terrible war is. Films like “Saving Private Ryan” come close to depicting it, but we’re still safe in our chairs.
Five years ago, my cousin Anita was serving at Fort Hood. She didn’t panic when the gunfire began. Instead, she acted, getting the people around her to safety. I don’t have much more to say  – other then that she’s a hero, and that’s something I need to remember.

In this Age of Information, it is all too easy for a civilian (ie who hasn’t served) to mentally cordon off the men and women in our military — to mark them as faceless Stormtroopers of an Imperialistic regime. We need to remember that they aren’t disposable cogs, that they’re people we love: friends, family, or spouses.

And that is what Memorial Day means to me — not just to remember their service, but to remember that they are loved and in some cases missed.

 

Been A Long While

I know… I haven’t been chatting much on here. Between updating my Tumblr with Skaven pics, working on book reviews, my continued Fitness Quest and preparing for my first Pathfinder campaign, I haven’t had much time to babble here.

Well, that’s going to change…kind of.

I’m going to try to blog a little more often here, but with the coming of said Pathfinder game, I thought I’d try doing regular write ups to show:

1) How I run a game.

2) The hell I can put some characters through (muahaha)

3) The narrative that guides the game, and the dice rolls that send it off the rails.

4) Choice quotes and moments within each session.

Granted I can’t give too many things away — my players might catch wind of this and start reading this for hints of what’s to come. That said, I think this will be a fun exercise for me as a gamer and GM.

The new blog is empty right now, but you can tune in to the fun at Rollingd20s.wordpress.com.

The first session is tonight, so you’ll be seeing some material soon!

Enjoy!

Fitness Quest, Year Two

Having nursed some light knee injuries, celebrated the holidays, and then spent the week of New Year’s Eve on call, I’m ready and more than willing to get back into the gym AND the dojo to start this second year in my Fitness Quest. It’s first leg on my path to Nidan* and also what hopes to be the beginning of some solid training in Brazilian Ju-Jitsu.

Weight’s not part of the issue — since April I’ve gotten down to 185 pounds** and have kept it steady since. While I’d like to get down to 180, my body fat’s a greater concern. I’ve bee hovering around 22% body fat, and to be quite honest, I’d like to see just how low I can reasonably take it. The goal is to get under 20% at the very least. It’s going to take some work.

In losing weight, there’s only one clinically proven path:

1) Mind what you eat (the calories you consume).

2) Be active (burn more calories than you consume).

How a person handles both depends on the individual — there’s no “magic method” that works for everybody, no matter what the hawkers on the internet say (“Buy my book to learn how to lose weight without dieting!”+). Moderation in eating works for some, others need to do more. Some get results just by walking three miles a day, while more than a few need to hit a treadmill or lift weights.

Thus far, a mix of weights and karate have gotten good results for me — but with the goals I’ve stated above I hope to get better. I want to be leaner and stronger. I want some extra muscle on my frame.

To help with that, I’m going to use a little tech. I’ll be picking up a heart rate monitor to better gauge the impact of my workouts. In addition, I picked up a FitBit — which is proving to be quite useful in gathering data and shaping my plan.

Since this has been my “recovery week,” which is how I usually handle being on-call, I’ve been using it to establish something of a baseline. Here’s what I’ve been finding out.

1) When I’m sedentary — where I sit around the house like a lazy knob — I burn about 76 calories an hour, or 1824 calories a day. I’m a bit more active than that. On the weekends I burn about 2200 calories on average without any exercise.

2) On a normal work day, again without any exercise, I burn about 2400 calories — again on average. This kind of surprises me, to be honest. I didn’t think my metabolism worked that well. For some reason I thought those numbers would be lower.

3) The quality of my sleep is not a problem. My FitBit can keep track of when I’m asleep and when I’m restless or awake. Given that I’ve been worried as to whether or not I have any problems in that department, I made use of that feature. The answer to that question is no — not when it rates my “sleep efficiency” at 95% on average. Guess I need to go to bed earlier.

Those first two items brought to light something that I should have known but never thought of: that my my body burns fuel over time. So, at least  for me, shifting my diet to six smaller meals through the day makes sense. I’ve been doing this since April/May, and it’s been working well so far as my weight goes.

But now I’m wondering if I need to tune my diet a little more to help with my body fat. I’m going to be keeping track of my calorie count as well as my burn with my FitBit page. It’s possible that I might not be eating enough to balance things out and build muscle mass. If my intake is too low, my body may think it’s starving, and thus storing food as fat while consuming the muscle I’ve been trying to build up.

Don’t get me wrong — my time at the gym has not been in vain. I’ve been getting stronger, but I don’t feel things are developing as I was hoping they should.

The next month and change should prove interesting. I’ll be tuning my diet as a I go. Martial arts training will continue as normal, but I’ll be doing a full body routine at the gym as opposed to the splits I’ve been doing.

I’m also going to try to build up my cardio to the point where I can run a nine minute mile, but that’s for the course of the year.

Ever forward!

 

*Second Degree Black Belt

**I drifted up to 191 over the last week of the holidays, but I’m not really worried about that.

+This is a form of bullshit. How you eat is a diet. It doesn’t matter whether it’s for happiness, weight loss or nutrition. A lot of hawkers who talk about how they lost a tremendous amount of weight will try to tell you that what they discovered is “the way” despite a lack of credentials or hard evidence. It’s best to consult with a doctor, a fitness trainer or a nutritionist and do some research before diving drafting up a fitness plan. These are people with training and understanding of physiology and metabolism to help you understand yourself and how to reach your goals. 

No Tweets Today — My Phone’s at Home. :P

Yes, this is the most roundabout way of saying “Sorry if I seem silent on Twitter. I’m not ignoring you! Really!”

This is how technology permeates my life in such a strange manner — even for an IT guy.

Here’s how my tech life functions. With all the hacking happening on Twitter, I decided to set up my account with verification. When I log in on a browser, Twitter sends a confirmation code to my phone, which I then use to complete the process. Works great…as long as I have the damn thing.

Of course, since I usually tweet from my phone anyway, this is doubly maddening. I expect I’ll be completely spastic in about … oh… ten minutes. :P

Thoughts on “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” — SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

I wanted to love this film, not just like it. I wanted to tell people it was awesome, not “it was okay, but…”

“The Hobbit” was one of the first fantasy stories I had ever experienced — as a child listened to a recording of the story as read by actor Nicol Williamson. Since then I was hooked. While I thought the battle scene with the Goblins of the Misty Mountains may have been a bit long, I still loved “An Unexpected Journey.”

“Desolation of Smaug” however, proved to be a fair but problematic film.

Smaug was the best part. Wonderfully animated, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, the dragon was both massive and fearsome. The riddling talk with Bilbo was great, and the film did a fine job of presenting Smaug’s menacing presence.

I had no issues with the Orcs as antagonists, either. It actually serves to set the stage for the Battle of Five Armies. Yes, I know it was the Goblins of the Misty Mountains that showed up in the prose, but to be honest, Azog the Defiler was established as a significant villain in the film. It would actually make sense for him to show up at Erebor come “There and Back Again.”

I was fine with the inclusion of Tauriel, although I’m undecided about the romantic interest and potential love triangle that is Legolas/Tauriel/Kili. Kili’s attraction to Tauriel does come across as genuine, and even in his state by the film’s end, part of him accepts the possibility that what he feels may be unrequited. What I hope for Tauriel is that her decision is for her, and not driven by any sense of obligation to either interest.

The scenes involving the Necromancer and Dol Guldur were well done, although I think the big reveal near the film’s end was premature. Could it have been better served if it were done in the third movie, following the White Council’s victory? Hard to say for now. I do think the visuals surrounding the reveal were overdone, and I’ll say why in a little bit.

My problems with this film stem from my initial concerns in adapting a single book into three films — I’m of the opinion that two would have cone the trick — and that’s pacing. “Lord of the Rings” worked because, Jackson started out with three rich novels and cut stuff out to fit a big screen adaptation. With “The Hobbit,” Jackson had to go the other direction and add material in. I contend that’s the tricker way to go in adapatation, because you have to make sure that all the pieces of the story still fit together. In the case of “Smaug” they don’t, and I’m left to wonder if the film sacrifices character in favor of action.

Two of the main action sequences — Thorin & Company’s escaping from Mirkwood and the dragon’s pursuit of the Company in Erebor — are way too long to maintain the necessary tension. In the latter case it undermines Smaug’s power, but that’s secondary.

The Erebor sequence I’m talking about in an elaborate chase sequences where Smaug pursues Bilbo and the Dwarves into the great forge. What follows is this Rube Goldberg series of events that leads to dumping several metric tons of molten gold into a mold to create a giant statue of a Dwarven King right in front of Smaug, which then melts and floods the Great hall and washes over the Dragon. It’s supposed to drive the Smaug out of Erebor and give him motivation to attack Laketown…I think… Two problems here:

1) Molten gold is not going to phase a creature that breathes fire.
2) Smaug was already set to go out the door and attack Laketown (he even said that’s what he was going to do) when the Drawves pulled their useless prank.

It was a pointless film sequence that was tailored for showing in 3D with a high frame rate for its own sake (even though the film wasn’t shot in 3D). Same thing with the Necromancer’s big reveal — designed to be seen in 3D for the sheer visual effect. As I said regarding all the CGI in the atrocious Star Wars prequels, just because you have the technology to do something in a film doesn’t mean you should use it.

Personally, the Forge sequence could have been cut in favor of a couple of things:

1) Meeting with Beorn and introducing the Company by pairs so as to gain his favor (instead of just bum rushing his house).
2) A sequence in the halls of the Elven King where Bilbo actually acts as a burglar and formulates his escape plan.

I also would have liked to have seen Bilbo actually use the Ring to distract the spiders. It still would have led to the Dwarves’ capture, but would have also helped Bilbo’s character arc.

One last issue I had was the heavy handed foreshadowing surrounding the Ring. There’s a big difference between “There’s something weird about this magic ring,” and “This magic ring is eeeeeeeevil!” You don’t need to play the latter when you have a moment where, upon donning the ring, Bilbo can understand what the Spiders of Mirkwood are saying, or that the world looks different, shadowy. Subtle nuances can can work very well and lead to a strong reveal, and if the viewers put the dots together it’ll make for a better experience. Even if you don’t, the clues are still there.

The Hobbit is it’s own story, and it’s possible to treat it as such while it serves as a prelude to “Lord of the Rings.”

The film left me wary about “There and Back Again.” The film has five key events to cover (in no particular order):

1) Smaug attacks Laketown
2) The Dragon-Sickness screws up negotiations.
3) The War of Five Armies
4) The White Council drives the Necromancer out of Dol Guldur
5) Denouement

Laketown and the War are going to be Big Things and will require significant screen time. Ditto with Dol Guldur. A denouement should be brief (but Return of the King’s wasn’t and it worked). The gathering of Men, Elf and Dwarf after Laketown will need some strong character work before the sharp and shiney get to maiming.

Now, if the third film runs as long as “Journey” and “Smaug” (169 and 161 minutes respectively), that should be plenty of time to cover all this. However, if the action scenes go too long again, what suffers?

We’ll know next year, I guess.

I’m Dreaming of a Weird Christmas…

I blame Bob Freeman for spawning this entry. On Twitter he mentioned Cthulhumas was coming, and in about ten seconds the seed for “Cthulhu Wonderland” germinated in my brain. I let it brew in my head whilst I worked, then scribbled it down on my lunch break and fleshed it out in its grand corpulence so that I may share this sickness with you, you poor bastards.

But first, and oldie but goodie.

Jingle Hell

Crashing to the ground,

in a crumpled heap.

Someone set me up,

for the Big Dirt Sleep. (no, wait please)

Woke up on the slab,

feeling mighty stiff.

Got up, tried to walk it off,

and took a big fat whiff. (*sniff* WHOA!)

Jingle Bells, what’s that smell?

I’m so stinking dead!

Things just never been the same,

since that mace upside my head. (Ow, quit it!)

Jingle Bells, burn in Hell!

Undeath sure does blow.

I can’t even write my name,

in the fresh fall’n snow.

 

Cthulhu Wonderland (You oughta know how to sing this)

In a deep sunken city

Lies a great ancient mystery.

It’s dreaming is done,

Now time for some fun.

Waking in Cthulhu’s Wonderland.

Minions don human guises.

From the sea R’lyeh rises.

The stars are now right,

We face a new fright,

Walking in Cthulhu’s Wonderland.

Strolling through a very surreal landscape,

And we know the angles are all wrong.

We’ll say “What of Euclid?” He’ll say “Who’s that?”

“You’ll see the folds in space before too long.”

We are mere, puny mortals.

Elder Signs line the portal.

We made a mistake,

A breach in the gate.

Fleeing from Cthulhu’s Wonderland.

Prophecies of Elder Gods have come true,

Humankind will face it’s final day.

This is just too much for us to undo!

We dropped a nuke to keep our doom at bay.

Later on, in the madhouse,

Jackets tight, no, we won’t grouse.

Don’t care if it’s dank.

Our sanity’s tanked.

Lost it in Cthulhu’s Wonderland.

 

 

Yes. I have issues. I have a lifetime subscription.

 

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