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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Easy Pound Cake

My twitter followers may remember that when I'm bored I sometimes make a poundcake, so here's my extraordinarily simple recipe:

2 Sticks of Butter (softened)
1 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Cup Sugar
2 Cups Flour
1 Tsp. Vanilla Extract
5 Eggs

Step 1 - Preheat oven to 350 degrees (fahrenheit)
Step 2 - Cream the butter (hit with a mixer until creamy)
Step 3 - Mix in sugar
Step 4 - Mix in flour and eggs
Step 5 - Mix in vanilla extract
Step 6 - Pour into greased pan (doesn't really matter what kind)
Step 7 - Bake for approx. 1 hour
Step 8 - Add icing if you want (I don't) and enjoy!

Couple of extra tips:

1 - If you don't feel like waiting for softened butter, you can soften it yourself with a couple of sheets of wax paper and a rolling pin (or baseball bat). Just roll each stick out until it's about 1/4 inch thick then scrape into the bowl with a spatula.

2 - Bundt pans work best for this for more even baking, but they aren't necessary. A loaf pan works fine, but try to spread it in a concave shape when pouring it in (it's pretty thick batter, so it should hold alright). If you don't the center will take longer to cook than the edges and the edges will burn.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Crest of the Stars: Greatest Space Opera?

Crest of the Stars (and it's sequels) has always struck a chord with me. Ever since I first encountered it it has been my favorite sci-fi story but I never knew why. In terms of the basic premise, it's not especially remarkable. A young man and a princess go on an adventure and overcome impossible odds... IN SPACE. However, I believe the charm lies in what it does differently from other sci-fi or space opera.


Let's look at the way it's written compared to other sci-fi first:

A common practice in sci-fi writing is to start the story in medias res ("in the middle of things"). The reader is plunged into events as they happen with exposition being given primarily through flashback or internal monologue. It is also common to start with a prologue and then jump much further and filling in the blanks through flashback, internal mono, or dialogue.

Crest of the Stars does the latter, but in a different way than is common. There is a prologue which illustrates the first important event in the story. The time between the prologue and the first chapter is largely unimportant. A few key facts are established in the first chapter (nameley that the protagonist was in school the entire time and that he made a few friends that he played a baseball-like game with until they learned his identity). The author COULD have chosen the Heinlein route and used the school as an infodump, but he didn't.

Basically, the story is told chronologically. You go from one important point to the next with exposition done primarily through dialogue.


Next, the universe:

The universe of the Seikai series is very deep. The "science" is well established and the politics are extraordinarily well thought out. It even has a unique language. This describes other sci-fi stories as well, but the reason Crest of the Stars is better is because it doesn't force the universe down the reader's/viewer's throat with expository infodumps (at least, not often). Insight on the universe is very stealthily delivered through in-universe literary quotes at the beginnings of chapters/episodes or through passing remarks. Even of one doesn't pay attention to those, the reader is given enough info through superficial clues to understand the situations and motivations of the characters.

A deep universe that can be enjoyed superficially.


The characters:

This is where Crest of the Stars really shines. First off, besides their social statuses (a count and a princess) the protagonists are largely unremarkable. They have no special powers, no super weapon, no special training (the princess has had basic military training, but she is by no means Special Forces). If not for their titles, they would be "everyman" characters. This makes them easily relateable.
Second, their interactions feel very natural. This goes back to the previous point about the universe's depth. Most exposition is told through dialogue, but it rarely (if ever) feels like a character is telling you something you shouldn't already know. Sort of like when someone says "nice weather" even though the nice weather is plain for everyone to see.
Third, plot armor is very thin. I don't really want to get spoiler happy, so suffice it to say that people die and the protagonists are FAR from invulnerable. This , combined with the chronological storytelling, allows for great dramatic tension and, as Hitchcock said, tension is the key to good cinema. I should think it applies to other media as well.


So, ultimately, you have believable characters in a well-structured universe whose stories are told in an easy to understand way that also serves to create tension.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Problem of the Modern Tsundere

I-it figures that you don't understand what the problem is with most modern tsundere characters. I guess it can't be helped, I'll explain it to you. I'm not doing it for YOU or anything, I-I just... It'd be too pathetic if you went your entire life without knowing.

...

Right, so the problem, as I see it, with most modern tsunderes is that they are similar to Asuka from Evangelion. The reason this is a problem is that Asuka's dere-dere side is never really displayed in front of the object of her affection, only the viewer. Her character doesn't work in the contexts that one finds most tsunderes.
The MC needs to see and understand that the tsundere is being affectionate in their harshness. Otherwise, they really have no reason to hang out and, in series that force them to anyway, their interactions seem forced and cliched.

This is especially a problem when the MC is dense as fuck. Having a tsundere in the cast means that an MC has to have a decent level of perception to see ANY feelings of affection in most asuka-like tsundere characters. So when they seemingly "get it" it's out of character for them.

Now, it worked in Eva because Shinji and Asuka DON'T really hang out. They spend a lot of time together, but it's not "quality time" they're just in the same places most of the time. The few times when they try to get closer it's awkward (for them as well as the viewer). In a way, Shinji is a tsundere as well, but instead of being prickly (tsun-tsun) in the outspoken way like Asuka, he's prickly because he's hard to approach. In many ways, the Hedgehog's Dilemma is the perfect illustration of tsundere character interaction. There's no way around the spines, so direct attack or complete avoidance are the only routes.

So a combination of shitty MCs and characters who follow the prototype (carbon copy tsunderes) and not the archetype (philosophical tsunderes) are the problem with the modern Tsundere. The archetype isn't outdated.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Breaking the Glass Ceiling

"Glass Ceiling" is a term that gets thrown around a lot. Put simply, it's the invisible barrier that blocks women from advancing vertically in the white-collar world. Some say it is a manifestation of the lingering sexism in the country and many have come up with solutions to break it, but I feel that they are all off the mark.

In college, I was part of a group project in African-American studies and our subject was Executive order 9981, which racially integrated the US Military. In our research, we found that a number of progressive strides attributed to the civil rights movement and it's leaders were preceded (by years in some cases) by similar policy changes within the military that were started with EO 9981 and accelerated by the Korean War. For example, months before the Little Rock Nine "shattered" barriers by going to an integrated school, schools on military bases had already been integrated. Soldiers were living in integrated neighborhoods before redlining was outlawed. Soldiers got equal pay for equal work and all jobs were open to everybody. I won't go into detail here, but suffice it to say that blacks would not be where they are today if not for the military.

It is because of the above discovery that I believe that the military is the key for womens' advancement as well. There are three military related things that seperate women from what many consider to be "true" soldiers and citizens.

1: Women have different (read as "lower") physical fitness standards in the military
2: Women are generally barred from direct combat jobs (infantry and the like)
3: Women are not required (and, in fact, not allowed) to register for the Selective Service (The Draft)

These three things are things that need to change for women to be truly regarded as equals.
I personally believe that the draft is the most important. How can one demand equal rights without accepting equal responsibilities.

Chnage these three things, feminists, and the glass ceiling will shatter...


In 20 years or so.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

In Defense of the Sexy Movement

Since I inadvertantly found this essay I wrote a few years back and with Halloween not too far off, I figured I'd share it. My opinion is largely unchanged on the matter (as is society's) but some of the stuff in here is just filler bullshit because it had a length requirement. It should be pretty easy to tell so just ignore those parts:

28 April 2008
In Defense of the “Sexy Movement”
It has been brought to my attention that many people these days are up in arms about the increasingly “inappropriate” clothing of today’s young girls. This was presented to me in the form of incessant news reports and talk shows discussing the newer and, supposedly, “sexier” Halloween costumes for little girls. Others are rambling on about the sexier and sexier casual wear of young girls. The question that this raises is “What makes it ‘Inappropriate?’” One could certainly make the argument that girls’ short-shorts with the word “juicy” emblazoned across the butt or the, so-called, “kiddy thongs” with phrases like “eye candy” or “sweet thang” written on them are sending our girls the wrong message about sexuality, but what makes it the wrong message? Why is open sexuality considered improper in general and who are the people of the free-love generation to comment? Why do people label young girls who dress in such a manner as “prostitots?” Why the overwhelming concern over something as trivial as the clothes that someone is wearing? As an up and coming historian and anthropologist, I feel that is necessary for someone to make some kind of definitive argument; therefore, I would like to take up arms myself in the defense of, what I call, the “Sexy Movement.”

“Halloween has become just an excuse for little girls to dress like sluts.” - Celia Rivenbark

A recurring issue concerning girls’ clothes is Halloween costumes. This concern over sexy costumes began, not with little girls, but with teens and young adults. However, recently, several of the costumes that were previously reserved for older girls have been miniaturized for girls of a younger age. Many people say that such costumes are too sexy for girls their age, but what do they mean? Newsweek journalist, Matthew Phillips wrote an article entitled “Eye Candy” in which he cites a “sexy” Little Bo Peep costume which “comes complete with a corset, knee-length skirt, and a lacy petticoat.” Setting aside the fact that this costume is entirely period specific and accurate, he uses it to claim that all Halloween costumes are getting this way. This, however, does not represent all, or even most, costumes on the market. Despite this, many still use it and other similar costumes (the “Major Flirt” and the sexy “Pirate” costume come to mind) as examples of the downward spiral of western society.
Many people, especially parents, seem to think that if a girl wears a sexy costume, it puts her in danger of being attacked by a sexual predator, however, she is in no more danger than any other young girl out for the night. Furthermore, even if a young girl is wearing a sexy costume on Halloween, she is still probably A: With a responsible adult who is either a parent or someone that the parents trust, B: With a larger group that probably includes some older children, C: At a friend’s, or even their own, house for some kind of party where at least one parent is present, D: Not Trick-or-Treating, but staying home and handing out candy to others, thus removing her from many of the dangers that could befall her. The costume, sexy or not, makes no great difference.
Many feel that sexy costumes are entirely unnecessary for a holiday designed for children, even if those wearing the costumes are not children themselves, but the fact is that Halloween was not designed for children. The modern concept evolved from a pagan holiday by the name of Samhain (pronounced sow-in in Gaelic). Because of this, some members of the ultra-conservative-Christian community have chosen to believe that Halloween is a holiday for devil-worshipers, but what they fail to take into consideration is that Christmas as we know it today also evolved from a pagan holiday (Yule), but that is an argument for another day. The point is that Halloween, and other holidays like it, are normal adaptive strategies that have allowed us to keep order over the centuries. Halloween and Carnival both serve as safe releases for the things that we want to do which are generally considered to be wrong, or even taboo in some cases. Halloween allows us to step outside of our societal frame and simply enjoy ourselves. We place our trust in strangers and take on personas (Latin for “masks”) that are different than the ones that we project, and yet may still be a facet of our own personalities that we usually suppress. As we live in a sexually repressed society, many choose Halloween as a way of expressing their pent up sexual tension by wearing a sexy costume.

Why then do young girls, who should have no sexual tension, dress this way as well?

The answer is, simply, human nature. Specifically, the nature of girls. It is natural for a girl, no matter her age, to want to be considered beautiful, however, the only standards a girl has are those of the previous generations. It is normal, and expected, for younger girls to emulate older girls. As a direct and measurable, result of this, girls are beginning to use cosmetics at younger and younger ages. This phenomenon will only continue as time progresses. This is also the reason why they dress in a more “adult” manner at earlier ages. They have yet to understand the negative connotations usually associated with said clothing and, therefore, see no problems with it. Also, this emulation of previous generations is how fashion evolves. The next generation takes several things from the previous generation and then adds its own flair much the same way that music evolves.

What is the Real Issue Here?

Although Halloween costumes are an important point, the big issue here is girls’ clothing in general. As of late, girls’ clothes have become more and more revealing, or at least that is what people want you to believe. As is the case with many other things, (crimes, drug abuse, sexual harassment, lawsuits, etc.) the media only shows the most extreme cases of “sexy” clothing. However, I , and many others, have difficulty accepting their definition of “sexy” as it is a commonly held belief that the sexiness of an outfit is determined by how revealing or tight the clothes are. Those that say this also argue that girls who dress this way are more likely to be attacked by a predator. In response to such statements, some parents become overprotective and try to shelter their children from the outside world and ultimately end up hurting their kids rather than helping them.
In an attempt to alleviate these concerns, many schools have incited strict dress codes or even uniforms. However, the assumption that revealing clothes makes a sexy girl is usually wrong. As it stands, the sexiness of an outfit actually means how alluring or seductive the girl wearing said outfit appears in it. Following this logic even further, it would probably be acceptable to say that an outfit’s sexiness is sometimes more determined by what skin is shown rather than how much as certain skin is more appealing to some people and certain outfits compliment specific parts of the body. Simply baring a mid-riff or showing the leg does not necessarily make a girl, young or old, more appealing. In truth, a young girl wearing, what is considered to be, “adult” clothing is probably less likely to be attacked by a sexual predator because most pedophiles are attracted to the “innocence” or “purity” of a young girl and, as a result of this, are actually turned off by such perceived promiscuity. Furthermore, the innocence factor is actually more important to many pedophiles than even the gender of the child as inappropriately dressed girls are seen as “tainted” or “undesirable” by society at large, not just predators. As it is, a young girl in innocent clothing just becomes all the more alluring to many people. Nowhere is this more evident than in the infamous Schoolgirl fetish.
I defy anybody to find a heterosexual male who is not attracted to a Schoolgirl in some way. I myself am affected. Putting girls in uniform has actually made them more appealing to many people. “Why is this?” you ask. It is possible, and entirely likely, that this is because the amount of skin shown is limited, usually to the area around the knee or maybe the calf depending on what type of socks the girl is wearing, leaving an air of mystery. A mystery that many would like to solve. In fact, one could say that, at least in the realm of school uniforms, the amount of skin shown and the allure of the girl are inversely related. As one increases, the other decreases. This is not limited to young girls by any means as you can put almost any girl in uniform and she becomes sexier. The same could be said about the increasingly popular Gothic and Lolita style which is based on children’s clothes of the Victorian Age . In fact, this particular infatuation involves adding even more layers. These elaborate clothes help to accentuate a girl’s cuteness, fragility, and, again, her purity.
These newer movements are reflected in popular culture along with other styles, including the more “adult” ones like shorter skirts and mid-riff baring shirts, where they are spread to the masses even further. Girls see these things, many like them, several try them out. Nothing more, nothing less. Young girls are not the only perpetrators. Each generation wears sexier clothing than the previous one.

The other side of the coin.

I would be lying if I said that revealing clothing can not make a young girl more appealing to someone, but it is probably not for the reasons that you might think. Sometimes, such clothing helps to accentuate the “innocence” factor because the girl is unaware that she is “letting it all hang out” or that such clothes are deemed inappropriate. However, a pedophile is a pedophile is a pedophile. Though they may, or may not, be less attracted to adult clothing, they are still attracted to young children. Whether a girl wears sexy clothes or not does not change a predator’s position; therefore, stressing such things is pointless as your daughter is still more desirable than any adult woman .

Why, then, do people call these girls “prostitots?”

To me, the term “prostitot” makes it sound as though these girls are soliciting themselves simply because they can. Someone will say that a girl is dressing like a slut, but what kind of clothing constitutes “slut-like?” What is more, I was unaware that all sluts wore a common uniform. According to many “credible” news sources (CNN, NBC, ABC, etc.), any clothing that accentuates a girl’s bodily features (legs, butt, bust, etc.) in a way that is arousing is sluttish; however, as I stated before, covering up can accentuate the body. The fact is that none of a girl’s peers would perceive her as sluttish solely on her clothing without being explicitly told by their parents that dressing in such a way is immoral.
Another thing to consider is how fervently those who are against this evolution disagree with the movement. They coin terms like “prostitots” and “baby booty” in an effort to whip up sentiment and get a point across, but they ultimately end up incriminating themselves. By saying that young girls are dressing too sexy, one acknowledges that young girls have the potential to be sexy. Were this not the case, this issue would not be brought up as it is the person that makes the outfit sexy, not the other way around. Take the professional modeling industry as an example. Only professional models can pull off many of the outlandish looks that we see on the catwalk, that is why they are employed. When one’s body type does not agree with their outfit, the outfit ceases to be sexy. One who is not attracted to young girls at all would not care what the girl was wearing as they would not be looking at her. When one considers that most pedophiles are attracted to the innocence of a young girl, and the most fervent opponents say that they are “protecting the innocence” of our young girls by keeping them in nice dresses and conservative clothing, one has to wonder just how much these opponents are really “on the side of justice.”

What about the boys?

Another factor in this “battle of the sexy” is the double-standard against females. A Speedo on a twelve-year-old boy is fine, but a bikini on a twelve-year-old girl is atrocious. A five-year-old boy running around in his underwear is playful, but a five-year-old girl doing the same is filthy. These are outdated throwbacks to the days of the medieval period wherein the men are expected to be open and exuberant while the women are to remain quiet, modest and subservient. To this day people use terms like “ladylike” or “tomboyish” to describe girls and boys will say to each other that one throws or fights like a girl. Even though almost no sexual dimorphism (differentiation between sex without regard to sex organs) exists between young boys and girls, we still hold them to various gender roles and definitions.
Some of the worst offenders of this double-standard are, surprisingly, feminists. They claim that women are equal to, and in some cases better than, men and should be treated as such and that women should not be judged solely on their appearance, but when a girl wants to dress in a manner that happens to be pleasing to a man, they say that she is a subservient, chauvinistic, slut and a detriment to women everywhere. This supports the idea that women should be held to some sort of standard while men should not. This contradicts their protests about the objectification of women. In short, one should practice what they preach.

So what IS the problem anyway?

The “problem” of the sexy movement goes much deeper than the clothes that young girls are wearing. It is based in the very deepest roots of our society as a whole. As long as we hold on to these preconceived notions about how a person of a particular gender should act, women will always get the short end of the stick. However, in regard to the matter at hand, clothes are just changing in a way that older generations perceive to be sexy and, therefore, wrong. Styles are just changing and have been following this trend for decades. In the 1920s and 1930s, flappers were scorned because they showed their calves. In the 1950s, girls were chastised for showing their knees. In the sixties, women were despised for wearing pants (or nothing at all in some cases). Each of these generations of women was looked down upon by the previous generation who were, themselves, looked down upon by the generation before them. These changes in fashion should be celebrated rather than reviled as they are indicative of change in our society. As women get closer and closer to true social equality, they are allowed, by their peers, to dress in increasingly “inappropriate” clothes. Despite this, many try to stunt the growth of this movement with things like “tradition” or “values” and claim that this movement is the cause for the destruction of these values. This is vaguely reminiscent of the Holocaust and opponents to the movement are offering up “final solutions to the ‘sexy’ question” in an attempt to protect their “values.”
The sexy movement is part of the natural course of human societal evolution, therefore, fighting it is pointless. The next time you think someone’s skirt is too short think about how your parents’ generation thought about how you and your friends dressed and acted. The next time you hear someone say that, ask them the same thing. I’m certain that you will come to the same conclusion. In the end, we should allow people to dress as they please without fear of judgment just as we should allow people to freely practice their own religion or to express what they think through various means. After all, this is America.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Personal Defense Carry: I Don't Get the "Weight" Problem

One of the factors that most people consider when choosing a personal defense firearm for everyday carry is the weapon's weight. The thing I don't understand is why.

Weight just seems like a non-issue to me. The biggest difference in weight I can think of would be a 1 pound pocket pistol against a 5 pound or so large-caliber revolver. The difference being 4 pounds, which is about as much as a person's body weight fluctuates in a day just through food intake and waste evacuation. In short, it's not something especially noticable and something that pretty much anyone would get used to in a relatively short amount of time.

The fact of the matter is, very, VERY few people face the same problems as a soldier. A soldier has to carry anywhere between 25-80 extra pounds of gear wherever he or she goes. When you have to lug so much, of course every ounce counts. Unless the civilian in question is carrying a 40 pound purse for some reason, a personal carry firearm's weight should be the last thing on their mind when making decisions.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Video Games as High Art

There are three games that stand out to me (and thus, three games that I bring up) when the discussion of "games as high art" comes to the table. Now, it's no coincidence that these three titles are the same as three of my four favorite games of all time, but the reason they are my favorites is because they stood out to me, not the other way around. The three titles in question are (in alphabetical order) - Ico, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and Missile Command. Let's look at them one by one, shall we?

First, let's start with the elephant in the room, Missile Command. I know what you're probably thinking "How can an arcade game from the 80s that's a bunch of dots and lines and bleeps and bloops be 'High Art'?". What few realize, at least conciously, is that missile command makes perhaps one of the most poignant anti-nuclear statements of all time. Game designer James Portnow (Extra Credits) perhaps says it best http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/narrative-mechanics. The elephant in the room isn't sonoticeable now, is it? Missile command is the perfect blend of narrative, gameplay, immersion, and entertainment.

Moving on, Ico is perhaps the closest to missile command perfection that one may find in this modern era of slick visual presentation. Let's get this out of the way, yes, even though cutscenes are infrequent, Ico is an incredibly visual game (unlike MC). The environments are vast and beautiful and serve to deliver an immediate sense of scale not possible in a non-visual medium (like the Lord of the Rings movies did for the books). The aesthetic of the castle in which the title character is trapped and the characters themselves are unique and almost feel like moving paintings. The biggest difference between Ico and a purely visual work is that almost everything that you see is as a result of player action. Ico is close to Missile Command in design in that it's very minimal. There is no hud, controls are relatively simple, and very little of the story is explicitly stated. Most of the story is created by the player as they guide Ico and Yorda through their trial. The true beauty in Ico is the game's ability to illicit emotional attachment to a fictional character. In many ways, Yorda was a proto-companion cube, except she was much better than the CC because the attachment is formed by the player, not by some witty dialogue that treats her like a living thing. As you spend time with her, a bond is formed. Things change from a necessity to protect her (since the puzzles are unsolvable without her) to a desire to do so as evidenced by a near-endgame event during which almost everyone (myself included) automatically jump toward Yorda instead of running for freedom. It is a truly unique experience that is yet unmatched in it's emotional immersion in any medium.

Now, you may be wondering why Ico and not the significantly more succesful Shadow of the Colossus. It has nothing to do with success, I assure you. It has to do with the fact that the narrative, while limited, is almost entirely told through exposition instead. The game is certainly unique, but uniqueness alone is not enough to herald something as an example of high art.

Finally, we move on to what is perhaps my favorite game... Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. MGS3 is probably as far away from Missile Command in terms of narrative/gameplay integration as one can get before falling into visual novel or JRPG territory. Non-interactive cutscenes aplenty that act as exposition with gameplay contributing very little to the story. This is somewhat justified in that in most of them the player character is an inactive observer anyway. However, the gameplay does one thing very well. Better than any film I've ever seen. It creates tension. That's not to say that previous games in the franchise don't, but not nearly as well. In every previous game in the Metal Gear franchise, the player is given sufficient cover/concealment to avoid contact with the enemy. Once the player memorizes the patrol pattern, one can easily maneuver from cover to cover. MGS3 is different. In MGS3, true sources of cover (walls, boxes, etc.) are few and far between. You must instead use imperfect concealment (grass, stumps, etc.) combined with conventional camouflage uniforms to maximize your camo index (chance that an enemy will pass by without noticing you). Unfortunately, there is no way to conventionally get 100%. This means that no matter how well you camouflage yourself, there is a chance that the enemy will spot you. This makes it so that every time a soldier walks near you, you completely stop moving, your heart beats a little faster, sometimes you ready your weapon and your eyes are pasted to the screen as you wait to see if that 85% index will be enough to fool this guy. If he does notice you, you have a very short amount of time to act before he calls for help. This situation is replicated throughout the game and it never gets any less intense. The other point in favor of this game is a single occurence toward the end. After defeating your character's mentor in a duel, a cutscene is interrupted and the game becomes playable again. Only one action can be taken, executing your mentor. The game forces the player to pull the trigger. In my opinion, it is by far the most compelling artistic choice I have ever seen in any medium and one that is only possible in video games. Also, MGS3 is the only thing that has ever made me cry manly tears.

So that's that I guess. Probably could give it a little more thought, but I can always elaborate on points later, if anyone cares (or reads this).