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.

 

Fourth Edition Me

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.

Death?

Not today.

 

*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.

Painting Small Things

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.

Done with Dudebros…

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.”

Quiet in

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?

*crickets chirping*

Oh wait, DudeBro… now your counter argument is that the rebooted image of Lara Croft is sexist/hyper sexualized? Let’s take a look:
Lara Croft, hypersexualized?

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.

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