Habit

What is a habit?

A habit is an achievement of efficiency.  It uses the invisible learning process to solidify neuron connections in the brain along required pathways and to prevent complication or interference from other pathways.  In the mind as representation of behavior of the brain, this translates to a reduction in the amount of thought and focus necessary to complete a task.

Done being scientific.  What does this mean in human terms?  Habit and thought are antithetical.

The more you think about a thing, the less it can become habit.  The deeper a habit is ingrained, the less you think about it.  The way to make a habit is to engage in the act of doing a thing repetitively and to avoid thinking about it beyond what is necessary.  The way to unlearn a habit therefore, is to focus on it with all the awareness you can muster.  Find the reason for the habit, and stare at it mercilessly.  Keep your mental eyes on it and convince your mind that this is not an activity you will engage in without consideration and focus.  Eventually your mind will capitulate and will begin to disable the mechanism that keeps the process in question moving outside of your conscious control.

Consider as an example: the first time you learned to walk up stairs.  You were probably very young and probably needed a few tries to do it successfully, even if your legs were long enough to take it in strides and your muscles strong enough to propel you upward.  Eventually your body and mind habituated to it and you found yourself flying up and down stairs with ease.  But since then, have you ever tried focusing on climbing stairs?  Concentrating on what each muscle group in your legs were engaging in, where your eyes were looking, where your hands and arms were, your sense of balance, breathing, etc. all at one time?  What do you think would happen?  Undoubtedly you would flounder just as you did as the small child first confronted with a new method of crossing terrain.  The mind simply cannot handle so much focus and concentrated effort while also being efficient, which makes complete sense from a logical point of view, but the ramifications of which are too often lost.

Habits are very powerful, and like any power can be abused.  The habits we form at any time only become more difficult to observe as the years go on.  Eventually we forget the reasons why we set the habits in motion, and may find ourselves needing to revisit them.  But old habits die hard, as they say in common language, and knowing you have a bad habit many years old is sometimes not enough to unmake it.  There are times when very old memories need to be dredged up, painful as they are, and brought to the surface so we can see clearly where the habit started.  Habits like this cannot be fought directly; you cannot hope for victory by fighting a war inside your mind.  You must find a way to use your hidden ability to reverse a habit by focusing at its source, and staring long and hard enough at it to convince your mind this is not something it can hide anymore.  Keep it in the open sunlight and it will shrivel and die.  Then, you’ll have a clean slate upon which to rewrite the way you behave as a person in life.

Promises

Some people are very afraid to make promises.  Rationale usually involves pointing out that nothing can be guaranteed.  But what is a promise?

A promise is just a statement from a person.  When you make a promise you are saying “I feel strongly about this right now, and as far as I can see into the future, this is how I want it to be.”  Are you saying “I can guarantee a positive outcome in the future”?  Of course not.  A promise and a precognition of future events are two completely separate things.  Nothing in the future ever happens precisely the way it is predicted in totality; that’s the nature of the chaos system we live in.  Should we let knowledge of that reality prevent us from making the strongest statements of feelings we can toward each other?  If we’ll do that, might we not as well refuse to tell someone we love them, since we can’t know 100% of everything about them and it therefore it is somehow “false”?  This is clearly a bad line of reasoning.  There is validity and value in things that are not guaranteed!

Have courage to make your feelings clear.  Make promises you would intend to keep as you make them.  And for those of you who have received promises and later felt the hand of fate take something away from you, keep your chin up and never let fear stop you from asking for more.

War

Men and women are beautifully different.  Each gender has, in general, certain benefits, pressures and expectations in life and society.  I’d like to explain a bit more of what drives the average man in daily life from my own perspective.

I enjoy being a man.  I like the fact that I make more money than the average woman, because I spend more money on women than I do on myself anyway.  This seems to fit in well with everything else I know about the relationship between genders, with man as protector, hunter, provider, etc. and the woman as nurturer and caretaker.  I appreciate feminism but I have never been with a woman who didn’t appreciate her own position in a relationship with me as well.  I respect and admire women in general and would do almost anything for a woman I love, as long as I am not taken for granted.  I think that’s all most men really want, to give all they have and for it to be considered enough to make someone else happy.  All I can ask any woman is to be the lover and respite I desire when needed, and never to forget me.

There is so much more to this quality of sacrifice that I want to talk about.  Women are expected to be variously beautiful and good mothers, to fit in with cliques of other women and to be faithful, as well as myriad other complicated social ways and mores based on particular culture or religion.  As a man I, on the other hand, am constantly assessing myself against other men in terms of financial, physical, and sexual prowess.  I live in constant concern over these things as if I could lose everything when a more successful man interferes, or even just by losing my own position.  And this is the crux of the issue:  as a man, I know without a doubt that I am not as valuable as a woman.  These things I consider worthwhile pursuits are merely the least worthless achievements possible for me.  I cannot taste the slice of immortality that comes from having a child and providing for it as only a mother can.  My sole purpose in life is a figurehead, a giant statue set at the door to keep others away, which could be replaced as needed by another serving a very similar function.  And when war is called, I will go and she will stay.  My only goal is to live in her memory as a hero.  In this way we men will come and go, living lives violent and short, hoping to make a mark.  Those not capable of violence will endeavor to be capable and aggressive in any other form available.

A woman’s goal in life is to make life.  A man’s goal in life is to give his life.  Those of us who accept this fate are the men who understand the nature of war and care more for others than possessions or themselves.  Volumes of books can be filled on the various ways many men attempt to deny the truth of their lives’ worth.  But if I need someone in the trenches next to me, I will choose the man with the sorrow of real knowledge of his position in life any day.  And in the mean time, I will gather around me those men I see as most fit for this very purpose, and look for that one woman who will remember me most clearly.

Review: Rogue Trooper (PC)

Atmosphere: A.  Full of dark and brooding colors and environments, it nevertheless has a crispness and completeness to it that makes exploration a pleasure.  Very high production values for the time (2006) and still looks decent to me today.  The soundtrack (both music and FX) is absolutely fantastic, with rumbling militaristic bass beats in every action scene, fun screams and satisfying gun reports.

Intelligence: B.  Conceptually weak on science but better than most games.  Where it really shines above however is the script and directing of the entire plotline.  There are many cliches, but soldiers speak and think like soldiers and the GI does not screw around; he never sways from his course of duty for a moment, even when characters such as the “high-ranking enemy cliched slutty chick” show up.   The player interface is also very well-designed, and getting him to do very deadly things is extremely easy and entertaining.

Involvement: A.  I found this game highly addictive from the start, with an interesting and unusual storyline (rich with background information that thankfully isn’t retold much here), good character progression and fun abilities to gain with each new level.  Making head shots and stealth kills never really gets old.  The idea of walking around in a poisonous atmosphere (and all your enemies suffering in various ways for this fact) is also a lot of fun.

What will annoy you:

Multiplayer.  Alas, every good game seems to be missing something big, and for this one, it is a rich multiplayer experience.  You are limited to only a few maps with specific mission criteria and no deathmatch.  Personally I’m fine with that last omission (since I love co-op), but with so few options to choose from, it would have been a simple way to expand their available options in network play.  It is even more disappointing because the game has a wonderful combat system and is high quality in nearly all other respects.  And perhaps most relevant of all, at this time (the end of 2010), despite the fact that this game has a devoted (if small) following, lack of good multiplayer has left this gem of a game all but forgotten.  The last few times I have checked, there has not been a single online game up and running anywhere in the world.  That is a crying shame.

Ease.  This game is very easy if you have any FPS skills.  Sure, you can die quickly in the wrong spot, but you’ll quickly find all kinds of ways to “game” the system.  For instance, no matter what difficulty level, a headshot with the standard rifle is always a kill.  Walking around crouched makes you deadly silent and much harder to spot by the enemy than appears reasonable.  Even at the highest difficulty you’ll end up getting enough salvage for all your upgrades and any ammo you need, and in the end you’ll rarely use other weapons.  Micromines are versatile and powerful, and completely free to use, so you’ll almost never employ grenades.  Setting up the tripod as covering fire creates an invulnerable distraction that can kill things forever, while you walk around with a pistol that has infinite ammo, apparently as much power as the rifle, and can make the same head shots (plus it sounds fantastic, like every other sound effect in the game).  You’ll even headshot snipers with your pistol from across maps.

Weapons.  While very cool in concept and effect, unfortunately most weapons pale in comparison to the standard rifle/pistol at higher difficulty levels.  This is because enemies have more hit points, which reduces the effectiveness of even shotguns at short range so greatly that you’ll just go for a headshot instead.  Grenades are very effective but I find it hard to use them when I could just lay down a large pattern of Micromines instead (which can kill even the heaviest units after a few drops), without costing a thing.  Simply put, if you’ll play this game you might as well spam all your other weapons whenever you please just to have a bit of fun, because you’ll never actually need them save for a few specific circumstances.

Bugs.  Only a few, and most of them forgivable, but they’re there.  Occasionally you’ll find yourself getting stuck when trying to climb up a ledge from the wrong position or jumping at the wrong angle.  Less serious errors include being unable to cancel out of certain motions when done by mistake, which can lead to deaths during combat.  Reloading from the last checkpoint is, however, very fast and never requires much backtracking.

Review: Tron Legacy

Atmosphere:  A+.  Despite all of the modernization and environmental redesign, the Tron universe is very recognizable, and seamlessly executed with visuals and (of course) the Daft Punk soundtrack.  Details are everywhere, but rarely threaten to drag the film down the slippery slope of Michael Bay-ish overpowering sensory noise.

Intelligence:  C+.  Based entirely on preposterous ideas and inexplicable plot devices, it nevertheless does offer a few nice novelties and twists, and maintains passable cohesion in this limited and expected scope.  The script dialog for each actor is surprisingly appropriate and reasonable for their characters.

Involvement:  B+.  Direction and acting are actually quite good (especially Jeff Bridges), but pacing is occasionally a problem.  The characters have adequate development and should be somewhat genuinely interesting even to non-fans of Tron.  The storyline (if not the science behind it) largely resolves itself naturally with only a few eyebrow-raising moments, and is pleasantly surprising in substance.

What will annoy you:

Plot devices.  Many are slap-you-in-the-face obvious for anyone who has seen the previous film or has half a brain.  Others are just cliches dressed in new clothing, blurring the line between “program represented as human facsimile” and cheesy heroism/romanticism as a tool to quickly further the story’s progress.

Deviation.  Tron made decent attempts to connect real-world computing technology with observable phenomena in the digital world.  Tron Legacy received more of a dreamworld treatment where things just “were” a certain way, and I missed this connection to the original universe.  I certainly wouldn’t have wanted a 50’s-style educational discourse anywhere in the middle of the film, but a few more intellectually stimulating tidbits here and there would have been welcome.

Marketing.  The official trailers for the movie take various scenes out of context and give a false impression of the final product.  They seem to focus on outlandishness and tired cinematography, and it’s unfortunate that people might be turned off from what is a much more impressive film in its totality.

Follow-through.  I and many other movie-goers waited through all of the credits, fully expecting at least one tie-up of certain open points of interest (I’m pretty sure you’ll think of at least one or two when you see it), but alas, none were to be had.  Hopefully this is just to keep you guessing and waiting for a sequel.

Digital Actors.  While extremely impressive, I didn’t consider them up to Avatar standards (the new baseline in motion capture technology) and was surprised at how easy it was to see the lack of humanity in them.  This may partly be due to the fact that we as human viewers are hard-wired to scrutinize other human faces much more carefully than alien-hybrids, but I’m reasonably certain there is a technological gap here.

Sam Flynn.  He’s kind of a dumb-ass compared to his father.  This isn’t a huge gripe, except that he’s the lead character.  But, at least he isn’t half as annoying or limited in range as Sam Worthington in Avatar.

Resolution.  It’s not that there were gaping plot holes; it’s that the ideas behind them were gaping in intelligence.  More than one plot point was resolved in fine fashion while also leaving me puzzled as to why it was required.  It’s difficult to explain without giving away spoilers, but you may get one or two head-scratching moments even before the heavily-foreshadowed tie-ups take place.  “Reintegration” is one that burns in my mind so badly that I have to mention it here without worrying too much over what it reveals, because I am sure you’ll remember it also.

Favorite Webcomics

I’ve posted a link on the Blogroll to the right where I keep a list of my favorite webcomics.  Many are of an adult nature, but all demonstrate considerable talent and intellectual and/or emotional sensitivity and awareness.  Some are also just guilty pleasures. :)

The example which prompted me to post today from SMBC:

Xtranormal

Just found a piece of pure brilliance, possibly the best idea to hit the web in a long time.  I’ve begun turning old email conversations between my brother and I (nothing more than typical hyper-intellectual self-important college students bantering like oblivious idiots over metaphysics and other vapid topics) into this format.

Review: Starcraft 2

Atmosphere:  A.  Very few flaws can even hope to disrupt your suspension of disbelief.  Every mission or scene brings originality and the mark of fine craftmanship.

Intelligence:  B+.  The execution is nearly brilliant and only slightly less impressive than the presentation.  At its base is a thoughtful and prolonged exposition on the kind of men who wage war most effectively and their place outside of it.  The interface is also greatly improved in terms of usability.

Involvement:  A+.  Massive content and insightful writing create a thrilling engagement not easily distracted.  Both the single-player and multi-player aspects are of the highest production quality.  The campaign even offers some replayability due to a few dichotomous choices and financial limitations.

What will annoy you:

Price.  I do agree that the game is worth $60, but it is not easy to stomach that kind of price for a modern computer game that offers only a single campaign.  If more games of this quality were available and I was accustomed to both this and a higher price, I personally would probably not have any objection at all.

Interface.  While massively updated, there are still some glaring omissions in helpfulness.  Your ability to zoom out always feels just a bit cramped, and the standard screen-edge-scrolling is very old hat.  More hotkeys to automatically select certain classes of buildings (like W for all Warp Gates as the Protoss) would also be welcome.  I’m also still disappointed to see that units must be purchased before they are actually produced in queues; it really doesn’t make sense, and basically just feels like a punishment for planning ahead.

AI.  Again while this is an area that has had enormous attention, there are some issues with units failing to pathfind (mostly in balls of both large and small units such as Marines and Thors) and incredibly stupid SCVs who will box themselves in after building a structure.

Voice acting.  Many of the voices are fantastic, but some sound quite weak.  The Tank gunner sounds like he is struggling to replicate his original voice.  Tychus, for being a main character, has a voice that is just a bit overdone.  Kerrigan also didn’t strike me as very sincere in her affectations.

Final Fantasy.  One of the last new characters to appear in the game is very much out of place as some kind of effeminate anime representative.

Review: Valhalla Rising

Atmosphere:  B-.  Good attention to detail and beautiful scenery.  Stoic and silent Viking portrayal.  Effectively (to say the least at times) conveys mood of primary characters to the audience.

Intelligence:  C.  Has few interesting developments, but then again, doesn’t have high aspirations.

Involvement:  D+.  It will take some real effort to hang on due to art-house direction and amateur scripting.

What will annoy you:

Blood.  Every bit of blood from an impact in this movie is digitally enhanced, and obviously so; in addition it makes positively the wettest sound you will ever hear.  It’s a cartoon-like effect that’s badly out of place with the atmosphere.

Mystical Confusion.  There are certain primeval fears we all share: being operated upon without our consent, parasite infestations, large predatory eyes and teeth, etc.  One of those fears, though not commonly discussed, is suicide of our loved ones.  We all have a basic paranoia that someone we know will try to end their own lives and we won’t be able to stop them.  Whoever wrote this story is completely obsessed with this idea; at some point, nearly every character catches the fever of lost ambition and wanders off in a stupor to die, and the only one questioning their actions is the moviegoer.

Directing.  You know how when you were 14 you thought you could make the greatest movie in the world, never realizing how hackneyed, immature and overbearing it would be?  Valhalla Rising is the movie I would have made at 14.  It’s an art shoot more than anything else.  It’s as if the director said “ok, you guys are really depressed now, so just wander around the area here writhing in your own self-pity and we’ll take all sorts of shots”.  The problem is, they appear to have used every single shot they took.  Some of these overextended model shoots are unbearably long, others instantly expose the director’s desperate and predictable need to affect you emotionally, and all push far, far past the boundary of suspension of disbelief.

Length.  The actual substance of this story, minus the art-house formatting, could be told with feeling in about 10 minutes.

On the death of Games Workshop

When I was 11, my brother brought home some small metal figurines.  I wondered (and asked), how do they work?  They don’t have any moving parts, so what do you do with them?  When my brother told me “you paint them”, I thought, wow, imagine that; you can give them color!  Neat.  He let me have a couple miniatures he wasn’t crazy about, and I painted them up (poorly, but impressive to both of us).  Not long after that, Warhammer 40,000 was released, and the lure of sci-fi warfare left a permanent mark in our hearts that persists to this day.  My brother sent away for his first pack of plastic Space Marines (a box of 30 was $20 if I remember), and we were hooked for life.  I also started getting into Battletech heavily, but only with my own house rules.

Many years later, and still many years ago now, Adeptus Titanicus/Space Marine was released, and I dived in with all my allowance.  I also pursued Space Hulk, Blood Bowl and other small off-shoot games.  But in the next few years, GW started making changes.  They effectively stopped supporting the Epic 40k universe (and other games I loved) completely, started charging unbelievably exorbitant prices, and developed an aloofness and arrogance that I could only compare to companies like Microsoft (and Apple nowadays) and ComEd, or the American car companies before they got hammered, or Sony when they were so certain the Playstation 3 was worth $600 and everyone would buy one.

So when did this:

Turn into this?

My brother and I often lament the great misuse of the intellectual property that is the Warhammer 40,000 universe.  For instance, how did the very dangerous and intimidating Space Marines turn into colorful posers with “accessories”?  Who thought it was reasonable that ultimate soldiers going to war would do so with embellishments and loincloths?  Where is the camouflage and concealed proof of rank?  Where is the maximization of combat effectiveness?  When did these superhuman warriors become primarily religious crusaders?

At the same time, the years have seen many changes in other races.  The Squats, those wonderful space dwarves, were eliminated from the lineup, despite being perennial favorites of so many players who appreciated their greedy-biker-vengeful-blacksmith personalities.  And in place, we were given…  Robot zombies, female Space Marines, and Asian Manga men.  WTF.  Very original.  I even wrote to them and expressed my views over this.  Their response (in my own words):  “Well I guess we made the right decision because everyone’s buying them, so go #&%@ yourself.”  In my opinion, the fact that more consumers were buying their product was part of the problem.  Leonardo Da Vinci might not have died an outcast if he had spent his time producing what the average consumer wanted.

When I first heard about the Tyranids, I thought “well, it’s a knock-off from Aliens and many other things, but they’re not doing a bad job”.  Still, a little part of my mind worried about the future and what else could be around the corner.  Would they continue to refine the original races, or would they “go commercial” and turn from being a small quality studio with dignity to a mass-production company aimed squarely at the average consumer and run by executives?

The final straw for me was when I read something in a new rulebook detailing Chaos Daemon usage.  It was in regards to the effect of a psychic attack the Lord of Change could use which killed enemies in an area and turned them in to Pink Horrors.  To paraphrase, here is what it said: “For each unit killed under the blast template, you may place one Pink Horror exactly in its place.  You must have the real Pink Horror figures available; you may not use any other figure to represent Pink Horrors in this manner.  If no Pink Horrors are available, this has no further effect.”

Yep.  The company that produces the rules to use with the miniatures that I have paid thousands of dollars for at this point is actually telling me, outright, that I am not allowed to use their rules without buying more of their miniatures.  My army actually suffers versus the enemy because I have not given GW enough money.  Instantly, I built a resentment toward GW that had only fledgling support in the back of my mind up to then.  I started to look at all I had bought and all that other people had spent and began to think it was ridiculous.  The prices, the constant recycling of old material to re-release for more money, the wastefulness, the aloofness, the cancellation of some great material…  I started moving my interest more heavily into computers, Battletech and other games at that point.

But it was so tragic to watch the managers of the incredible Space Marines and their Emperor turn the hobby I loved into overpriced geek smut, catering to the masses, caring nothing for the purity and the grit of the original enterprise.  Gaming has always occupied a huge part of my life and I had more than a little heartbreak over this.  I even wrote to them directly several times.  The bad news just kept coming each year; I even found out from insiders just how they planned to cycle games and how often they would abandon support for older ones (I believe it was every two years), so it was confirmed that they planned to dump my beloved Epic game all along.  Finally they took the sales business into their own hands and opened their own stores, legally preventing any other store online from advertising their product.  I made two visits to these stores, and was repulsed by their very aggressive sales tactics and disturbing support of people with clearly pathological addiction to their product.  Every time I hear about a GW Store closing, I do a little dance.

I have many Warhammer 40k novels.  Aside from computer games, that is the only thing bearing any GW property I have paid money for in perhaps 10 years.  I continued to use their rules for many years and wouldn’t mind picking up a game or two right at this moment.  But, when I think of the years I’ve devoted to them and the complete disregard they’ve shown me, I don’t want to give them another penny.  I’m a big fan of many computer games that license their property, but I’ve never paid full price for them.  And again, I like the books from certain authors who can rekindle a bit of my childhood interest in the mystique and adventure of living a Space Marine’s life.  But oh, how I long to have the millions necessary to purchase this intellectual property outright and return it to its right direction.

Alas, I believe the Corpse-God may truly be dead after all.