I know, I know, given my dislike for a certain edition of a certain game the title of this entry comes of as ironic or cliche, but whatever, I’m taking it.
I was going to do this last week, but life is what happens when you make plans, to quote John Lennon. Events leading into Upgrade Day were going smoothly — dinner with Mom & Step Dad, dinner and a movie with Dad.*
And then last Monday I rear ended someone on the drive home. Hard. Fortunately no one was hurt, although the impact did some damage to my car that’ll keep it in the shop for a week, maybe two. Insurance is a good thing to have these days, and while I’m not hurting in the literal or fiscal sense, the accident did send me through a wonky mix of emotions for the rest of the week. Didn’t help that this past Saturday was my test for Shodan rank in my dojo. I passed the test, but talk about being a bundle of nerves.
With all that going on, turning forty was the least of my problems.
Strange as it may sound the past week put a LOT of things into perspective. Life is never in your favor, even when everything comes up Millhouse. Even when you’re alert to your surroundings, a split second can change things. It can be very frail, even when it looks to be strong for all intents and purposes. That doesn’t always prevent wonderful things from happening, but sometimes we stop ourselves from enjoying things — or achieving them — out of fear.
Forty is often seen as one of those “turning point” ages, where some people see it as an apex of their existence.** To apply the phrase “downhill from here” is a sign of degradation. When I look at my Father, who is 67 and has only felt that age for one brief passing moment, I call bullshit on that line of thinking. The genetic lottery has been good to me, even with phrases like “cancer” or “cogenital heart defect” occurring in the same sentence as “family medical history.” Both parents contributed to my intelligence and creativity, and I got a nice mix of good looks from both sides of the family. I managed to dodge male pattern baldness while getting the lean and strong physique from my Mom’s side of the family tree+. While I have my Father’s eyes++, I also snagged the ability to keep some semblance of youth. Seriously, Dad doesn’t look to be in his sixties, and a few folks thought I was in my late 20s.
Let’s not forget the fact that I spent the past ten months getting into shape and training my ass off at my old dojo. Over the hill? I say I’m just getting started scaling the mountain.
I’m not exactly stupid about this, however. I’m aware of my mortality — and a universe conspiring to kill me — due to the death of one of my best friends last year, and let’s face it, my parents are in their sixties now. Time marches on.
However, I think the past year has been a big step forward in my life. I’m doing what I love, both professionally and personally. I’ve in the best shape I’ve ever been in, and while I’m single, I’m not lonely. I could live in dread of the time I have left, or I could look to the future as untapped potential. I choose the latter, preferring to step, dance, shuffle, boogie or slide one pace ahead of Death. He’ll catch up to me one day, but my plan is get him worn out by then because when that day comes, it’s gonna be one hell of a fight scene.
Until then though, I just keep moving, doing, being and living. Fear? I’ll face it. Regrets? Never again.
*We saw Gravity. Great film. Loved the thrill ride.
** Fifty, so I’m told, is the official “over the hill” milestone, but I’ve seen forty treated the same way.
+ A facet I began rediscovering since January 2013.
++ Cogan’s Dystrophy sucks moose cock, but I did get the ability to stare down people while in a darkened movie theater.
I don’t blog much about painting minis here (typically that goes to my Tumblr site), but I thought I’d delve a little into it tonight before getting back into a project.
I love D&D and wargaming, catching the bugs from both my Dad and my StepDad. Dad was particularly keen on historical wargaming, despite having terrible luck with dice at times and even going so far as to getting Napoleon shot at Waterloo. Yes, he was playing the French at the time. I can’t really laugh at that too much because when I play my Bretonnians (Warhammer), my Grail Knights — elite warriors they are — couldn’t hit a damn barn let alone the broadside for the longest time.
Playing is fun, but so is the painting. I know three people who do this sort of thing to pay the bills, and while I could hand them money and the surplus of figurines I have, I enjoy the work too much. The only exception I ever made was my Green Knight for the ill-fated Bretonnians, because at the time I didn’t have the acumen to get the coloring right. Red-green color blindness sucks sometimes.
I’ve gotten better since then, thanks to a tool called the Power Palette. It allows me to take an image and identify the closest colors that comprise it. Naturally, the colors are all from Reaper’s line of paints, but I’m good with that. In fact, it’s one of the things that’s made me quite loyal to that brand. However, after giving a good deal of money to not one but two Kickstarters I find myself with a lot of work ahead of me. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve been putting together an inventory spreadsheet of what I have with breakdowns by race (for PCs), creature type (for NPCs) and army (for Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000). Plus there’s a separate page for terrain and scenery, and one tab called “The Bin” which is where I have a shit-ton of single figure blister packs.
As intimidating as it can be, it’s helped me to organize, set goals and figure out what I work on next. It may seem a bit compulsive to do it this way, but when you’re sitting on hundreds of inch high figurines amongst the dragons, demons and even an eight-inch tall Cthulhu, you gotta do something to keep track.
Right now my queue has the following:
* Four goblin huts (the current work in progress)
* A set of walls and fences (nine pieces there)
* Two Men-At-Arms (once a pack of three, but one got modified and painted for a D&D character)
* 25 Elves for D&D (8 are metal, 17 are from the new Bones line of plastic figs from Reaper and include 5 Dark Elves)
* 10 “old school” Foot Knights from Grenadier (Closer to true 25mm scale than the larger figures seen today)
* 44 plastic Norman Infantry
* 48 plastic 12/13th century Foot Sergeants (possibly Teutonic)
* One big stonkin’ army of Skaven (I’ll get the numbers for those later).
I don’t expect to get to the far end of the queue by the end of the year, even if I keep a good pace. At a rough estimate, it takes me about an hour to paint one “man-sized” figure, so I’ve got about 140 hours worth of work before I even get to the Skaven. That’s just painting — that doesn’t take into account the time spent assembling, cleaning and priming the figures. Fortunately I’ve taken a cue from the pros I know and developed an “assembly line” method of doing things. Still, I got a lot of work ahead of me.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna get to it.
Okay DudeBros, I’ve about had it with you.
Earlier in the week I had an argument with one of your ilk. He was launching personal attacks on a woman — one of the writers for the Tomb Raider reboot*. Her offense? Having a concerned opinion about the design of the character Quiet.
Here’s a picture of Quiet, a sniper, in “uniform.”
Now, the DudeBro says I can’t judge this because I don’t know the context. Seriously? What possible context is there that can justify this sort of clothing for a sniper?
Okay, before we go any further, let me list my meager qualifications. I went here to learn how to write. To be specific, I learned how to write science-fiction. To be even more specific, my Master’s Thesis is military SF. So when I see this outfit, I can truly say “what the everloving fuck?”
Oh… Camoflague skin? I call bullshit.
Even if you say, “but Mike, it’s science fiction,” or “but Mike, it’s Metal Gear,” it’s still bullshit. I’m not expecting SF to be hyper realistic — I do expect it to make sense. Here’s why Quiet’s outfit is NOT suitable for a sniper, and why camo skin isn’t a good reason, and that her outfit is for clubbing, not wetwork.
Okay, so Quiet’s skin can blend in with her surroundings. What about her clothes? They’ll still be visible. Given the coverage it’s a small flaw, but still, her left arm is all shiny black PVC… If only her ability wasn’t limited to her skin. If only she had some device that could cloak her whole body from hostile eyes.
But let’s talk about another aspect of her outfit. Protection. I’m not necessarily talking body armor, although that might be nice. I’m talking about environmental protection. Whether it’s the harsh sun, mucky swamp or winter winds, she’s going to need gear suitable to her environment.
On top of that, camo skin does jack squat to hide bodyheat, so Quiet is going to show up on infrared. Also motion detectors counter visual camo. I’d expect the tech in Metal Gear Solid to have these options.
Let’s also consider the complete lack of equipment on Quiet. Optics, food, water, databook, that may fit on those pouches for a day trip, but for something that requires long distance work?
Now given the nature of video games costume changes are rare, so if this her default state and she has limited protection, camouflage and equipment, what purpose does Quiet’s costume serve? I mean, outside of titillation?
Oh wait, DudeBro… now your counter argument is that the rebooted image of Lara Croft is sexist/hyper sexualized? Let’s take a look:
You cite her torn clothing and the sexual assault as being evidence of sexism? Interesting. Yet when I turn your attention to this blog entry about an assault survivor who suffers a flashback when she plays this game and yet perseveres, you dismiss it without reading?
So, let me get this straight: Quiet’s outfit is okay without context, but Lara — who not only survives the assault but fights off and kills her attacker, whose outfit is torn apart by a hostile environment — is sexist design despite the context given by the game itself? Despite that fact that assault survivors identify with Lara and women — then and now — think of her as a heroic icon in gaming?
Dudebro, you are not part of the problem with sexism in gaming. You ARE the problem.
* No, I won’t mention the name of the Dudebro or the writer he attacked. The former doesn’t deserve the attention, and I don’t know the latter well enough to drop names.
When this post goes live, I will have exactly forty days remaining as a thirty something.
Honestly, I’m not sure how I expected to be handling this. What was I going to do? Freak out? Curl up in a ball and weep? Buy a new sports car and seek out the trophy date?
Well, I did get that new car, but a four door hatchback ain’t exactly “sporty.”
There’s no point in bemoaning what hasn’t happened. I’m not a man of regrets. So not everything in life has gone according to plan. I’m still single. I’m not a Ph.D. in math or Professor at a University. I’m not a New York Times Bestselling Author. But… so what? I have no regrets about what hasn’t happened in life.
Actually that’s not entirely true. I had one regret, and that was never reaching black belt in my old karate dojo, but that’s being remedied as we speak.
Instead I will turn my eyes to the future. I realize I’m reaching that “middle age” milestone. Last year, with Shawn’s passing, I became well aware of my own mortality. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve been working hard to get in shape. Despite that, I don’t think of the future as time I have left. That road leads to fear and worry, and since tomorrow’s never a guarantee anyway, why stress myself over it? Best to see the future as untapped potential, with dreams still before me.
I can look back at the things I have done and consider it a stepping stone for what’s to come. An eighteen year career in IT at the national and global enterprise levels? Nothing to sneeze at. A dual B.S. in Math and Computer Science, followed by an M.A. in writing? You can’t say I’m not diverse. Full speed ahead to becoming a black belt in a martial art? Yeah it took almost as long as my career if you count the hiatus, but I’m ready now for what I wasn’t in the right mind for way back when.
Yeah, it sounds like I’m boasting, but life’s been good to me so far, and I’m just getting started…
Okay, my Twitter and Facebook feeds just exploded with the recent announcement that Ben Affleck will be playing Bruce Wayne/Batman in the sequel to Man of Steel.
Anyone who’s ever seen Daredevil will automatically cringe at this decision — I know I did. When I started thinking about it, Affleck was not the problem with that movie, it was the screenplay. Think about it, both Matt Murdock and Electra have secret identities to cover up the fact that they are supreme martial artists. So how do they flirt? Overblown kung-fu fight, in a playground…in broad daylight. If you’re unfamiliar with Daredevil’s mundane side, he’s an attorney. And he’s blind.
So, yeah, the writing can screw the pooch. That to me is more fundamental than the casting. Ben Affleck is not a great actor, but this could be a workable role for him. More importantly, he’s actually a very good director, so if they let him behind the lens once in a while, that might make the film better. It still comes down to the script, and frankly, I’m a little worried. Man of Steel was a klooge. A good film visually, but if you knew anything about Kal-El/Clark Kent, you’d be left scratching your head. Logical decisions in the film aside (seriously, why terraform a planet that can already support your species AND give them superpowers?), the attempt to grimdark Superman was without a doubt one of the worst decisions made in super hero film history. DC has a grim dark superhero and he was played until recently by Christian Bale. In fact The Dark Knight Rises ended with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character being given the keys to the Bat Cave. Why not make him Batman in MoS 2?
Frankly, this all points to a greater, more systemic problem with DC, which has been shooting itself in both feet and walking the fire up its legs. They’ve made a number of dumb decisions since the reboot of their comic lines, ran a rigged Neilsen survey to cater to the results they wanted, and have been trying to make a product for the 18-24 year old male demographic ever since. At least that’s how it all looks in terms of PR. They’ve greenlighted a Justice League film, along with a Flash film, but have said squat about a Wonder Woman film. One rumor says DC was against it because the character’s back story is “too complex.” Meanwhile, as part of Marvel’s “Phase 2″ we’re getting Guardians of the Galaxy which features a raccoon with a machine-gun. Based on the clamor in Hall H at the San Diego Comic Con, I’d say a lot of fans are buying into this.
Personally, I can’t help wondering if DC just gave up fighting the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). They’re making a late attempt at a continuity similar to the MCU, but there’s no drive. It feels half-assed, as if they’re just throwing things together in the hopes of riding the trend of superhero movies and making a little money on the side. That bothers me, because I’d love to see those characters on the screen as well.
I just want the films to do them justice.
I’m in my hotel, chilling after Day Zero of GenCon. It took about six hours and change to get here, and my car — The Silver Nemesis — performed in fine fashion. At one point, I couldn’t help gunning the engine just to see how it would feel. Took it to 90 for about thirty seconds, and I think the Nemesis enjoyed it.
However along the way I found I had…issues with navigation…
We are evolved. We use tools. When we have the right tool for the job, we get magnificent results. Sometimes we don’t have that perfect tool, so we make do. We use a flat head screwdriver in place of a philips head, a business card in lieu of dental floss. We’re humans. We’re weird like that.
In getting from Point A to Point B, the GPS is the Perfect Tool. I don’t have one. My smartphone (the model of which begins with a vowel) had an app that accesses Google Maps. It could plot me a course and segment it into waypoints, zooming the map in and out as appropriate. As an IT geek, I like this approach, as it breaks a long journey down into smaller steps (a top-down approach).
Then OS version 6 came about, and with it Apple’s bizarre decision to drop Google Maps and supply their own. Now, there’s been some kerfluffle about how wildly inaccurate Apple’s app is, to the point where Apple publicly apologized and told people to use something else. I didn’t know how bad it was until I tried using it during my trip to South Windsor. The damn thing was off by ten miles and on the wrong side of a bloody river. Meanwhile, the new Google App got me right up to the gate.
The Google App no longer has the funcitonality I talked about earlier. Instead it behaves more as an actual GPS. The problem is it’s perplexing as hell, and if you drop out of GPS mode, you can’t get back in. What’s really irksome isn’t a fault of the app but the hardware. They’re not the most accurate of location devices. Maybe it’s because they talk to multiple cell towers as opposed to a single satellite, I dunno. In the end, the Google App kept putting me on a side street, which ended causing the app to constantly recalculate my course. It was a mess.
Oddly enough the Apple Maps app has been able to get me from the hotel to the convention center and back again without issues.
So, I wonder if I’m in a Lady or the Tiger situation. Do I go with the app that has the interface Ilke but could send me to the moon, or do I go with the app that’s accurate but throws “user friendly” out the window.
Or maybe I should consider a cheap GPS to keep me from getting lost.
Or maybe I should try Hari Krishna. (sorry old Muppet joke)
We all go through Changes*. Yes, I capitalized that word for effect.
There’s “changes”, examples of which include:
- Trying a different cereal at breakfast.
- Wearing “business casual” shirts at a convention.
- Taking an alternate route on the commute home to see if you save time or gas.
And then there’s “Changes.” Big things, like:
- Losing a portion of your body to disease or injury.
- Taking up a fitness regimen.
- Seeking out help for that Problem you have.
- Shaking loose of a bad habit to pick up a good one.
In a sense, Changes are either reactions to Big Things That Can Hit Life Really Hard, or they’re born out of Desire. I know I’m doing a lot of capitalization, but again, there’s desire and there’s Desire. The latter is born from passion. It’s being so fed up with the status quo that you finally do something about it or you just wake up and say “Let’s do this.”
I went through a combo of a Change when I embarked on my Fitness Quest back in January. Diet, weights at the gym and going back to Karate were all a part of getting healthy. It wasn’t out of any desire to be “Teh Sexxah Geek”**, but more because I was tired of being heavy and out of shape. Even though I’m not where I want to be in terms of fitness and physique, I do know that it’s a hell of a lot better than where I was seven months ago.
Likewise, earning a black belt in a martial art can be a “change” or a “Change.” Some people don’t make it that far, while others stop shortly thereafter. For those, the achievement is a change – and a notable one considering the effort that one makes just for the title of Shodan. While it may be a peak for some, it’s a beginning for others, making it a Change. You step it up at that point – become a leader in the dojo, leading classes, giving lessons, all while you’re training for that next rank.
In other words, becoming a Black Belt can be a change of lifestyle. It’s something I’ve wanted to do, and to be quite honest the idea of quitting Karate after reaching Shodan – especially now – just isn’t in my headspace at all.
As I’ve mentioned before, Sensei Dan is planning on holding Black Belt tests in November. I’m confident I’ll be ready. I’m confident that I can pass (whether I will or not will be decided when I reach that gauntlet). Dan wouldn’t have brought it up if he didn’t think I could. I have every intention on making the Change, but I think I need to make another Change beforehand.
I know it seems pretentious to announce something like this, but if I don’t say it I have a greater risk of chickening out:
On the 24th of October, I will quit drinking.
Here’s a little history. I didn’t drink until I was 21 because I knew that with my luck, I’d get busted if I did. Even then, I drank sparingly – occasionally – until I went to Seton Hill. For a writing degree. Funny how that works, don’t it?
I went dry for Lent this year to see if could do it, and truth be told it wasn’t as hard as I thought. I know I’ll miss beer (especially Guinness), I know I’ll miss wine (especially the pinots), and I know I’ll definitely miss whiskey (oh, Green Label…), but I think it’s time to call it quits. I have reasons:
- My capacity for drinking has diminished greatly with the loss of weight. This means I’m buzzed on one or two drinks nowadays.
- That diminished ability has made me more susceptible to hangovers – even mild ones.
- I just don’t need the calories that come with booze, plain and simple. Getting it out of the way should help as I try to improve the shape I’m. Why settle for good when I can go for awesome?
- If I have a problem with drinking, it’s that it’s difficult for me to have “just one drink” as opposed to not having a drink at all. Once that first round is down, I want another. More often than not I’ll get it. (The exception to this has been Green Label, which is meant to be savored)
- A portion of my family medical history does not sit well with alcohol. This is something that has bugged me for the past few years. It’s further compounded by phrases like “cancer” and “congenital heart condition.” I guess I’m at that age where these facts of life become important, because let’s face it:
- It’s time. That date I mentioned? One day after my birthday – my fortieth birthday. Forty may be the new thirty, but plenty of people will say “it’s all downhill from here.” Fuck. That. Noise. My Dad is still lean and healthy and active at 67***. That’s where I want to be. At 90. Maybe by then I’ll feel ready to slow down.
Maybe it’s a little weird to assert this sort of thing now, but better late than never, right?
Then again, is it really late? All things happen for reasons – even if we cannot observe them. I don’t think I was ready for being a Black Belt twelve years ago.
I am now…
I wasn’t ready to be even something remotely close to athletic.
I am now…
And maybe – just maybe – I wasn’t ready to push myself and see just what I can be.
I am now…
So let’s do this.
I’m writing this from a hotel room in Connecticut, where I’ve been since Sunday. We’re commissioning a new sortation site in South Windsor, and that means bringing a lot of hardware together to assemble and test. By “a lot” I mean a metric shit-ton of conveyers, scanning equipment, chutes, walkways and rails, all welded, wired and bolted together.
As an admin, I’m normally not on the site, but with only one guy on our team specialized in hardware the rest of us need to expand our skill set so we can assist in whatever way we can. I asked to accompany our guy, Nick, so I can learn more about what goes on during a commissioning. Sixteen hours of work later (starting Sunday afternoon and going into Monday), our job was — for the most part — done. The rest was just assisting our developers test everything, and at that point, I’d just be wasting my time there. Thus, I spent half of Tuesday and Wednesday, connected via VPN to the day job, being productive.
However I did get to help test portions of our million dollar sortation equipment with a cardboard box on a string. My job has its moments of awesome.
What I got from this experience is … well, a bigger picture. Normally during a commissioning, I sit in my cube and wait for a phone call or email from Nick telling me the servers I support are up. At that point I run a bunch of scripts and shell commands to tighten things up and voila, we’re ready for the go-live date. That part takes me about twenty to thirty minutes. Now having been to the site, I can say it takes about twelve plus hours of work to get to that point, assuming everything goes smoothly.
It’s easy for us to lose ourselves in our own roles, to become that cog in a machine without knowing just what the whole mess of gears does. Doesn’t matter if it’s Big Business or family or that one circle of weird friends you always end up with on a Saturday night. It helps to take a step or two outside yourself to see just what it can be that your life — and your actions — can touch.
This is one of those lessons we can forget all too easily — I know I’ve done it more than I’d like to admit. Fortunately, its one that can be practiced time and again. All you have to do is just take that first step…
In any field of study — be it the arts or sciences — a student must take care to not fall into the mindset of completion. We’ve all run into it, that feeling that we know everything we need. That school’s out, time to get to work. It happened to me when I worked at Mellon, and was cast aside shortly after I went to FedEx. I’ve seen it happen on the fencing strip and in the dojo. I call it Green Belt Syndrome.
With Green Belt Syndrome(GBS) comes two things:
1) That previously mentioned sense of complete expertise such that no further education is necessary.
2) A sense of entitlement to have that expertise acknowledged.
I recently saw a literal case of GBS when a fellow karate student was going from Black Belt to Black Belt, insisting on being tested for advancement. The problem with this — which was already spelled out for the student — was that any testing past Green Belt was at the teacher’s request. The sad thing is that the teachers are actually saving this student from an embarrassing failure. As it stands, there’s no way this person would pass. Two reasons:
1) The student’s Sanchin is terrible.
2) Anyone can see the lack of commitment.
When a student is standing around bored for five to ten minutes, that’s a problem. When a student receives instruction and doesn’t follow through, that’s another problem. How do you promote such a person? You can’t.
That way of thinking is easily broken by the simple realization of imperfection. It doesn’t have to come across as a negative (“You know nothing, Jon Snow”). In fact it’s better when that realization comes from within. It’s when you understand that there is much more to learn. Once that kicks in, you can decide whether you want to keep going or step away. It’s great to do the former, but it’s also okay to choose the latter. Sometimes we need to stage things back because we’re not prepared or willing to undergo the changes that come with new knowledge.
But if you decide to step up, then do it. Do it big, do it loud, do it greedy. Devour every morsel of wisdom and knowledge you can to make it a part of you. Figure out what works so you can make it yours and what doesn’t so you can put it in the trunk for later. Go and grow, but above all don’t give into fear…
Don’t be afraid to suck.
Don’t be afraid of makin mistakes.
Don’t be afraid to get hurt in some form along the way. It happens and not always by malice.
Steel is stronger than iron, but it has to endure fire and hammer to get there. Committing to that new path is a change of lifestyle, don’t underestimate that. Instead, commit. Learn. Grow. Find your limits — and learn which ones you can blow away.
This started on Thursday.
As a senior rank in the school, I’m asked to work with lower rank students. On Thursday, I happened to work with a newer student, maybe ten years old and half my weight. Obviously, I can’t do things at full strength. One of our exercises is the Kanshiwa Bunkai. When pairing off for this, we always take our turns as attacker and defender, and I always play attacker first. While doing the bunkai as the defender, Dan (my Sensei) interrupted to mention that he was proud to see me doing the kata to the best of my ability, that I wasn’t being lazy about it. Dan praised that and talked about it for a good minute or two, and I was waiting for the silent comma.
You know what I’m talking about. That pause before the rest of the statement. In Dan’s case it would have been kind and constructive. But it never came. He was just happy to see me setting a good example.
On Saturday, Dan took me aside for some one on one work, pointing out some needed improvements for my Sanchin and Seisan kata. At the end he talked about how well I was doing. Then he mentioned that he was going to be testing for Black Belt in November and that if I hustled, I should be able to take it.
Well, color me floored.
In five months I could be fulfilling a long unanswered dream. I could also get the crap beaten out of me, but that’s neither here nor there.
Right now I’ve got a belly still full from fried mac&cheese “fritters” ciopinno and beer, most likely the last such indulgence I’ll be enjoying until December. Training and diet have been fairly strict thus far, and I seen no reason to change that. In all honesty, I didn’t expect to lose 30 pounds in five months. I didn’t expect to recall the kata or renew the conditioning that had faded over a twelve year “leave of absence.” I figured it’d be another year before this opportunity would come.
On the other hand, it still might, but I’m not going to worry about that. I’m just going to step things up, train hard.
As far as I’m concerned, my time has come.