Camp NaNoWriMo!

So there's this thing, on the Web. Something called National Novel Writing Month, in November, where the challenge is to write a fifty thousand word novel in a month. I would not go so far as to call myself a writer, but I have enjoyed this particular challenge for two years now.

Imagine my joy to discover that there's now a "summer camp" version of NaNoWriMo that's starting this summer, calling itself Camp NaNoWriMo. Same challenge, different month, as far as I can tell. And it's starting... well, in less than an hour. (From when I posted this, that is. "Already started" might be better to use.)

How could I resist? I'll be taking a shot at this, because writing is a fun and enjoyable challenge, and I'd like to believe mine is at least passable. I'll probably post excerpts and other info about the story that I'm writing throughout the month, too.

And I'm given to believe this will happen all over again in August...


Blog Notes

So I've added the Disqus comment system to this blog. Mostly because I've seen it in use on other blogs and (from what little I can see) it seems to work well. I am also letting anyone post comments, not just those with a Disqus account (for the moment), and I trust that this particular system will make controlling those comments easy enough, not that I expect to receive comments in enough volume to make that difficult in any case. Although now would be a good time to remind people that I expect civility and respect in comments on this blog.

I also added Site Meter. They track statistics for this blog, and collect information (namely extraordinarily unspecific location, technical details about your browser, and data about your visit) from anyone visiting it. More details can be found on their site about the specifics. Mostly I want to know where people are coming from and what they're looking at when they come. I believe you can tell your browser (although I admit I don't know how) not to run the kinds of scripts that Site Meter uses to get its information, if you're concerned about that aforementioned information becoming public.

That's really it. Just two changes that I figured I'd mention.

California Video Game Law Overturned: The First Amendment Consequences Thereof

According to kotaku.com, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday that California's recent law restricting the sale of violent video games to minors was unconstitutional, by a 7-2 vote.
The Supreme Court sided with the video game industry today, declaring a victor in the six-year legal match between the industry and the California lawmakers who wanted to make it a crime for anyone in the state to sell extremely violent games to kids.

In a 7-2 ruling Justice Antonin Scalia said the law does not comport with the First Amendment. He was joined by Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts, who had seemed sympathetic to California's concerns last year. Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer, traditionally members of the court's right and left wings, respectively, joined in dissent.
With this decision, the Court establishes as precedent that video games should not be treated differently from other forms of media, despite their (usually) more interactive nature. This comes as a result of an opinion that represents a plurality of the court, authored by Justice Scalia. Justices Roberts and Alito argued in a separate, concurrent opinion that the restrictions laid out in the California law were unacceptably vague.

I can't say I'm entirely displeased with this, despite the note of pain it causes for me to have to agree with anything Justice Scalia's authored. I do think it is worthwhile to have that down on paper that video games are not different from everything that has come before them in terms of protected speech, although as a gamer myself I suspect I am slightly biased on the issue. And, as it happens, I also agree that some of the restrictions in the California law were too vague to be legally defensible.

But, I also think that we should be thinking very carefully about the messages we're sending. Of course there is no clear line of cause and effect between violent imagery and actions in video games and actual violence in the real world, at least not one that's widely accepted. It's just as true that acts of violence in the real world do not take place in a void, absent all connections to the culture that surrounds them. And perhaps it is time, or even past time, to start taking a more serious look at any connections that might exist.

... Hmm, that comes out a little too vague for even my preferences. Here it is then:

I agree with this particular ruling of the Supreme Court. I think it sets a valuable First Amendment precedent to have, equating video games with the media that's come before. And I think that nothing, perhaps short of direct divine intervention, will stop regular people from condemning whatever they please, for whatever reasons they care to name... including the possible harm that a pervasive acceptance of violence could have on our culture.

And they are welcome to do so. Freedom of expression protects you from the government's excesses, but it does not protect you from me. It's long past time that that was part of our First Amendment discussions.


Monterey Chronicles - Return Flight

Seriously, never fly Delta.

If there had been free Wi-Fi in the Twin Cities airport, I would have posted this from there last night. There was not, and so I couldn’t. I certainly had the time for it though. You see, our return flight had one layover at the Twin Cities, in Minnesota, that was supposed to be about an hour long. Thanks to a slight delay in our leg out from San Jose, that had been shortened to about 40 minutes by the time we were on the ground.

Once we got to the gate, the trouble began: the listed departure time was a full hour after what we were expecting. A prior flight had been delayed or something, thus meaning they wouldn’t have the plane for us to board until an hour later than they had been planning. And that was bad enough, but at least it gave us the time to get dinner or something and relax a little.

Then our gate changed, because the prior flight in our gate had some kind of mechanical problem that necessitated a 2-hour repair. (Take note: Delta is screwing up more than one flight today!) They had already been waiting for something like two hours already when they got this news, so… yeah. Well, we picked up and bounced on over to the new gate.

Where we discovered that the flight we were waiting on wasn’t going to be getting anywhere until 15 minutes before the new (delayed) departure time. Let’s see, cleaning, crew change, and boarding in 15 minutes…? Yeah, no. So now we were going to be delayed an hour and a half, factoring in a reasonable turnaround time.

And then? Then the announcement came on… somehow we no longer had a crew. They had been delayed out of La Guardia in New York, apparently. So they weren’t going to be here until over two hours after the scheduled departure time, and we couldn’t do anything to board or prepare the plane until we had a crew. End result: a delay of two and a half hours, a flight that was supposed to take off at 1919 finally getting out of the gate at 2249.

Anyone else want to know why I hate flying?

(Note: there are more Monterey Chronicles coming; I still have stories to tell about the vacation. I just had to rant about this.)


Unwarranted Assumptions

... You know, it's kind of a shame. I really do like Dilbert. What I can't stand anymore is the strip's creator.

Yes, Scott Adams, champion of men's rights, is at it yet again. Let's be clear: that is not a new blog post. It's been up for just over a week now, detailing how much it sucks to be a man in today's world. Apparently society takes us round-peg men and forces us to try and fit into square holes all our lives. And apparently our natural instincts are shameful and criminal on top of that, thus forcing us into a state of repressed urges and unhappiness.

I mean, I could detail all the reasons why this is just beyond ridiculous, but there are far more capable blogs that have done this already. I trust that anything I could say on the subject would just be rehashing things said on one of those three sites. (And I'm sure there are more people that have discussed the subject; that's not a comprehensive list.)

So what I'll take issue with instead is Scott Adams's chosen response to the criticism. You see, he argued that he's just been misunderstood, and challenged several websites to a debate on the matter. He got responses, which are worth reading in their entirety if only to see all the fails coming from a (admittedly self-proclaimed) "certified genius". Although perhaps he's right and I am just misunderstanding him. Well, go draw your own conclusions, right?

First, from the Jezebel debate...
"I think we can skip the question of whether I offended men, since that is not what is bothering Jezebel or Salon, just to name two. And most men correctly interpreted the post as saying that male sexual urges manifest differently in different men."
Um, I'm almost dead certain that's not what you actually said, which was something about the "natural instincts of men are shameful and criminal" in today's society. I would imagine you're trying to bank off of the one comment in the original post: "To be fair, if a man meets and marries the right woman, and she fulfills his needs, he might have no desire to tweet his meat to strangers. Everyone is different."

There's only one problem with that: that still assumes that all men have a desire for sex with women, and that women have to fulfill that supposedly natural instinct which all men share. I'm sure all of those men that have no desire for sex at all, or desire sex with other men, will thank you for that ridiculous assertion. Moving on...
"I have a higher opinion of women than you do, in the sense that I think men are genetically more prone to bad behavior."
Thanks ever so, I'll log your beliefs regarding my tendencies to bad behavior in the file. As it happens, I have a higher opinion of humanity than you do, in that I think that no one is "genetically" prone to bad behavior. Can you honestly show me proof otherwise?

Anyway, moving on to the (longer) Salon debate.
"I'm referring to the fact that men (gross generality alert) have hearts that want a relationship with one person and penises that want a thousand different women."
Rather than addressing (again!) the blatant assumption, I'll ask this instead: didn't the time it take you to type out "gross generality alert" clue you in to the fact that you were writing something a little questionable?

Making blanket assumptions like that is exactly the problem in the first place, and here we are, at it again. (Keeping in mind the fact that this is my interpretation of the matter; I speak for myself alone!) The point of progressivism in general is to leave those assumptions behind, in the past where they belong. The point of trying to establish a different society is to create one where people are people, each with their own identity and personality, rather than throwing everyone into one of two boxes, "men" and "women", and calling that useful. To create a society where "man" and "woman" can be aspects of identity rather than broad categories that justify such ridiculous assumptions about "natural instincts."

And hey, it'd be a society where we don't have to fit any round pegs into square holes. It'd be a world where we'd have round holes and square holes and star-shaped ones and ovals and so on and so forth to fit every possible meaning of the words "human being", in all its variable glory. If you prefer the society we have now, by all means keep reinforcing the narratives that preserve it.


Monterey Chronicles - Kayaking

Yesterday morning, I went on a kayaking tour of Monterey Bay, or at least the coastline from Fisherman's Wharf up to the Monterey Aquarium and back. For the people who have been there, you know what I'm talking about, and for the people who haven't, well, I think it was about a mile's worth of paddling, each way?

Really the distance wasn't the point. The point of this particular excursion was the wildlife. I can honestly say that I have not actually seen sea lions, harbor seals, or sea otters out in the wild (such as it is) before yesterday. Now I have. We got as close as all the relevant laws will allow, which is to say about 50 to 100 feet away. You see, if we get any closer, we'll disturb their natural activities, which could actually harm them in the end, so we're banned from doing so. The guide for our tour kept a careful watch on the tour (which was only five people, not counting him, so it wasn't exactly hard), but other kayakers out there had to be warned off at least once.

Probably the coolest part of the tour was right at the end, when we were paddling along a stone wall nicknamed the "Invertebrate Wall" by the tour guide. There were sea stars attached to the stone, which was pretty neat... but then the sea lion burst out of the water about 20 feet away. I was kind of worried about that whole distance thing, but they were busy feeding, and it's not like we could do anything about that. You could actually see fish jumping in every direction to try to get out of the way.

... Unfortunately, most of the allure here is visual, and I don't have any of the pictures on my computer. Well, if you're ever in Monterey, it's totally worth it to take a kayak out along the coastline and see what you can see. Trust me, I had fun with it.


Conditions for Citizenship

Some labels are harder to claim than others. I could not call myself a member of the U.S. military, for example, as that is a sharply defined organization, and one that I am demonstrably not a member of. However, thanks to the circumstances of my birth, I can call myself a citizen of the United States. But as I said in a certain introductory post a little while back, I would call myself a patriot. And I would think that should be far more important than where I was born.

Identity is in many ways something that you define yourself. Yet somehow, we've decided that paperwork should take precedence. That no matter how much of a patriot I (or more importantly, anyone else) may be, it's the passport that matters, not the spirit. No matter how much of a "good citizen" any one person is, if they didn't enter the country legally, they can't ever become one.

I think that might just be an injustice. If only because of the actual people that it simply vanishes. There's a story that was just published today on that, come to think of it. (Hat tip to Shakesville for letting me know about it.) The entire story's worth reading, but out of that entire saga, there's one thing I feel I need to really highlight here (emphasis mine):
I was paying state and federal taxes, but I was using an invalid Social Security card and writing false information on my employment forms. But that seemed better than depending on my grandparents or on Pat, Rich and Jim — or returning to a country I barely remembered. I convinced myself all would be O.K. if I lived up to the qualities of a “citizen”: hard work, self-reliance, love of my country.
It'd be nice if he was right, I think. But apparently, it doesn't matter how much you love your country. Perhaps it should.

Monterey Chronicles - San Francisco

"Wait," I hear people asking. "What does San Francisco have to do with Monterey?"

Well, nothing. Except for the fact that my brother and I wanted to go to San Francisco, and Sunday was the last chance to really do that. He has work during the week, after all, and it's far enough away from Monterey to make it a full-day trip. So after the excitement on Saturday, we all devoted Sunday to a trip up the coast to San Francisco.

Why did we want to go there? I mean, pick a reason. There's the Golden Gate Bridge to see if nothing else. But, I admit we had a different goal: the Kinokuniya bookstore that we knew was in San Francisco. I've been missing the shopping that I had back in Kyoto, when I went there to study abroad, and we were hoping that we could go buy a few more Japanese books that we won't be able to find anywhere else.

Had we known that the Kinokuniya was part of a much larger mall entirely devoted to Japanese stuff, we might have budgeted more time and money for this operation. As it stood we spent quite a while sitting there in the Kinokuniya struggling to decide what shiny stuff we actually wanted badly enough to buy. Of my purchases, probably the one I care about the most is the guide to Project Diva 2nd, a Vocaloids PSP game.

Then we needed lunch, and we were surrounded by Japanese food. Everyone else went for tempura. I got eel. And no, I never tire of the looks on others' faces when I order eel. It's delicious, if you were curious. Then we found taiyaki for dessert, and did a little more shopping where I got a wall hanging of Miku Hatsune, one of the Vocaloids. (Can you tell what I'm kind of a fan of?)

Finally we managed to tear ourselves away from the Japanese stuff, and went to the Golden Gate Bridge. We started the adventure in Fort Point, underneath the San Francisco side of the bridge, and wandered around staring at old Civil War-era cannons before surveying the shipping in the channel under the bridge. Including the container ship that was big enough to be mistaken for a lighthouse from a distance.

After that, we walked up and out onto the bridge a short distance, far enough to catch a glimpse of sea lions down in the channel. Since we didn't actually want to walk to Oakland, we didn't cross the bridge entirely, but it was fun nevertheless. And we got to see another container ship, too.

That was pretty much it. But honestly, that was more than enough.


Chapter 1 notes for Midchildan Music

Midchildan Music is a crossover fanfiction story that was born with one simple idea: what if Miku was a Nanoha-style device AI, in the same position as Nanoha's own Raising Heart?

Of course it isn't quite that simple. The first problem was that pretty much any major Nanoha character you care to name either has a device or a good reason not to have one. And I had no interest in trying to get Nanoha (or any of her friends) to take on a new device, not when they already had ones of their own. That meant I needed an original character.

Largely, this first chapter is that OC's introduction: my nameless Sergeant in the 42nd Battalion of the Bureau's Ground Forces. Making him nameless was somewhat of a spur-of-the-moment decision, and one that I'm really not quite sure about anymore. To some extent, that decision was made for the same reason that many video games don't name their protagonists, to make it easier to empathize with the character.

At the same time, though, I never intended to make him perfectly generic. Given that he is the one telling the story, it would have been completely impossible to do that. So I can't imagine that making him nameless is actually accomplishing anything that I originally intended it to do, and I think if I was rewriting this now, I might try to give him a name from the beginning.

Speaking of his personality, one particular aspect of it deserves attention: his power level. C rank makes him weaker than any main character shown in the series, effectively. I did not want to make him at all powerful for a number of good reasons. The Nanoha series themselves focus on characters that are clearly quite powerful, and I wanted to see if I couldn't create a story from the perspective of someone who is, essentially, one of the line troops that the series itself would use as little more than redshirts. Besides, making him less than powerful in his own right means that I can get him in trouble a lot more readily.

The other problem that my OC gave me was in the amount of "making stuff up" that I had to do. I gave him the job of device technician mostly to make it possible for him to recognize what "Miku" (or this version of her, anyway) was. But I needed a way to prove it, essentially. "Show, don't tell" and all that. Which meant I needed him to actually talk about his job.

The problem is that the series themselves don't exactly offer a whole lot of information on how devices actually work. So pretty much all of the specific detail that shows up, both in this chapter or later ones, is stuff I've invented, including the idea of some kind of "AI chip" in the first place. I'd like to believe that it doesn't contradict Nanoha canon, but it's not actually canon all the same.

Anyway, that's chapter 1, pretty much. Not much actually happens beyond the Sergeant finding an AI chip and turning it into a device. Aside from the end-of-chapter "powerful forces at work" cutaway, which is really just reminding the readers that I didn't name the chapter "Two Very Bad Ideas" for the hell of it. What can I say, I like foreshadowing.

Monterey Chronicles - Cannery Row

Pretty much the first thing we did on Saturday afternoon after driving down to Monterey itself was to go to Cannery Row. As my brother explained, and as we could see perfectly well once we were there ourselves, Cannery Row is the particular "tourist" area of the city (well, one of, at any rate), with a large number of food and touristy shopping options. Plus the Monterey Aquarium, which I have not been to yet. We'll get to that soon enough.

I probably should have been paying more attention to things like the area's history... from what I remember, from the 1930s about through the 1950s, Cannery Row was a major fishing and, well, canning area. That came to a halt when they ran out of fish, since these were the days before controls on fishing really existed. John Steinbeck wrote books about this area, too, in addition to works like Grapes of Wrath.

... That's a really crappy account of the history. I really wasn't paying attention. *sigh*

Well, anyway! We ended up stopping in several different stores and attractions along Cannery Row, although mostly I just bought candy and chocolate. There were probably a half-dozen stores that we passed devoted to candy, and one in particular that was devoted solely to Ghirardelli chocolate. Most of it is already gone, sadly.

There was also a cool little mirror maze attraction that we saw, where you had to find your way through a practically endless collection of mirrors. Seeing someone, or the exit, didn't actually mean that someone was anywhere near you. Oh, and they used strobe lights and occasionally just turned them off entirely to make it harder. My brother and I actually were making a good deal of progress toward memorizing the correct route entirely, though.

The same place had a laser challenge thing, where you had to work your way through a hallway without touching any of the laser beams. Kind of like a spy movie thing with the lasers that you can't touch without sounding an alarm. That was completely impossible. I'd be absolutely certain that I was nowhere near the laser beam, and then the little buzzer would go off as I went right through it.

So yeah. Cannery Row. I'm given to understand that it's fun. If you're ever in Monterey, go check it out.


Monterey Chronicles - Intro, Departure Flight

Yeah, there's a reason why I haven't been posting over the last several days. Let's just say that the days immediately prior to a vacation tend to be a little... chaotic. And the first few days of a vacation are rarely any better. First comes the packing, and then there's all sorts of new things to do, and so on and so forth. But yeah, this post is coming from a hotel in California, practically within walking distance of Monterey Bay. I've been here since Saturday, and it's been quite the interesting adventure.

So I get to make it a series of posts! There's all sorts of things I've been doing, and it'd be way too much for any one post to take in. I'll try to provide pictures, where I have them, but I've mostly been letting everyone else take the pictures, so I actually don't have that many.

At any rate, the adventure started on Saturday with the most incompetent ground crew I've ever seen. We had a really early flight, so we had to be at the airport really early... and when we got there, we saw an absolute train wreck of a line to get to the baggage counter and no sense of proper routing or crowd control. Had we not taken advantage of the lack of control to, well, jump ahead a little, we probably would have missed our flight, despite getting there within a reasonable time.

Then when we do get to the gate... there's no gate agent, and the airplane's crew is just standing around chatting and having their breakfast. At first this wasn't a problem, because we still had a comfortable margin before the flight was scheduled to take off. It became a problem before too long, because there was still no one there nearly 15 minutes after the plane was supposed to start boarding. The flight took off a full half-hour late thanks to the total lack of any gate agents until it was way too late to board a 757's worth of people on time.

So, basically? Delta has a few things to work on as far as "efficiency" is concerned.

Thankfully we managed to get to our connecting flight on time and reach San Jose safely. From there it was a reasonably short drive south to Monterey itself. And from there, well... all sorts of things happened! I'll get to that with the next post.



Kyudo is a Japanese word that translates as "the way of the bow". It is the traditional Japanese art of archery, focusing as much on mental attitude as bow handling techniques.

And there's a kyudo organization in the D.C. area: the Virginia Kyudo Renmei. I'm kind of wishing that I had known this existed two years ago.

Anyway, I went to the practice that was held last night. Mostly I just watched, since there's not much I can do on my first day there... it's not like they were just going to hand me a bow and arrow and tell me to hit the target over there. That's not the point. Well, it's part of the point, but there are more important things.

I did get a little instruction in "kihontai", also known as "how to stand up correctly" (not the literal translation), and I got to practice actually holding and drawing the bow. It's not as simple as you might think. This is why there's an entire martial art devoted to this process: because it actually does take some real effort to learn.

Either way, I had fun. Can't wait to go back and keep practicing.


AMV - Distant Memories

So there are some things I don't know how to do, and making AMVs is one of them.

However, I have friends that do know how to do these things, and one of them just recently created a new AMV mixing together Kingdom Hearts and Air.

Just to make it abundantly clear, this is a work that a friend of mine put together, and not something that I claim any ownership in. All I'm doing is spreading the word.

There's more information at my friend's blog, or on YouTube itself for this video. Or you could just watch the embedded version below. I definitely think it's worth watching, however you go about doing that.



And so the Internet, with its lure of total anonymity, strikes again.

Two bloggers have revealed that their actual identities differ quite significantly from the way they've been presenting themselves online. (I linked to Shakesville, the blog that I enjoy reading, but if you'd prefer the Washington Post, I have that too, for both incidents.) In both cases, supposedly lesbian bloggers have revealed that they are in fact straight, older white men.

And I guess I only have one question for them: what was stopping either of you from simply posting as yourself? (Hint: the answer is "nothing".) Perhaps you would have found yourselves less in the limelight if you chose to speak as yourselves rather than as these fictional identities, but certainly that would not have stopped you from saying what you liked. Which is why I suspect it wasn't about the "saying Important Things" at all.

Rather, for both of these men, their need to have attention won out over the desire to be honest and forthright. Their voices needed to be heard, no matter what the cost. That's not an unselfish desire to make a difference in the world, is it now.

I am under no misunderstandings concerning my own voice. In fact, I will freely admit that it's kinda lonely here. I'm just kind of yammering away into space, without any responses of any kind, or barely even any hits (66 since this blog was created, as of the time I wrote this, according to Blogger's numbers). And I'd be lying if I said I didn't care. I want people to read what I'm writing here.

But that doesn't mean I have the right to misrepresent myself, to lie to others, simply to get that attention. That would be little more than selfish, holding my desire to be heard over all other concerns.

My voice is out there. My voice, free of any misrepresentations. Whether it will be heard or not is a matter for others to decide.

Dance Dance Revolution, Endless Mode

Earlier today, I decided I wanted to actually get something that could be called "exercise". So I pulled out the DDR pad, hooked it up to my computer, and booted up Stepmania, a program that pretty much just replicates the same play style as Dance Dance Revolution or In The Groove.

That was at around 1150. I finally stopped playing DDR at 1330, one hour and forty minutes of constant play later.

That's the screen capture I took of the score screen when Endless Mode finally managed to take me down.

There are a few things it doesn't mention, like the fact that I got a second combo up above a thousand in addition to the 1,213-step combo that's listed there under "max combo". Nor does it mention the difficulty levels of the songs that I played, although the fact that I fit over 17 thousand steps into fifty-eight stages should attest to the fact that these weren't milk runs by any measure. (17000 divided by 58 gives just under 300 steps per stage; and 58 stages in 100 minutes is about 100 seconds in a song... that works out to around 3 steps per second on average.)

... Have I mentioned that I'm really good at DDR yet? No? Well, consider it said.


Causing Offense

A week ago today, the World Atheist Convention in Dublin adopted the Declaration on Secularism and the Place of Religion in Public Life.

On the whole, I can't find too many overt issues with the document. I think a lot of the things it talks about (no religious tests for public office, freedom to practice religion as long as one is respecting the rights of others in doing so) are at least in U.S. law in writing, although whether they're accorded to in practice is a harder question (and not one I feel like addressing here). I am concerned that the document encourages a negative view of religion in general, which runs headlong into a prior concern of mine, but as long as its opening provision regarding the freedom to practice religion is also held to, that should be a non-issue.

What does concern me a little more is part 1, section (c). In full:
Freedom of expression should be limited only by the need to respect the rights and freedoms of others. There should be no right 'not to be offended' in law. All blasphemy laws, whether explicit or implicit, should be repealed and should not be enacted.
Come now, what's the problem with that? Of course there shouldn't be a law against offending people, right? Well, again, as long as this is held to as written, I have no problem with it. In this case, though, I believe that taking this provision too far will happen, or more accurately, has already happened. I think people are starting to believe that there should be no right not to be offended at all.

The concept of "political correctness" is not usually treated with any respect. I feel like the responsibility of not taking offense is usually pushed onto the people who have a problem with the language being used. But I ask you: when someone comes up to you and says "I was offended by your use of <some word> in this context, and I'd appreciate it if you could find a better term to use"... what do you say? What can you say?

Or, put differently: I am not the government, and your right to say what you please does not stop me (or anyone else) from asking others to stop and think before speaking. Even if there is no law against causing offense, all people have a right to be treated with respect and dignity, and intentionally causing offense because you can't suffer the unendurable agony of actually having to think about the language you're using? Isn't what I'd call respectful.


Japanese cooking

One of my projects this summer is to learn how to cook. So last night for dinner, I helped with the cooking. I say "helped" because my dad, who is the usual cook for the family, did a great deal to help out and made the judgment calls on when things were done and the like.

How did I help? Well, I read the cookbook, first of all. It was kind of a Japanese cookbook that I bought in Japan before I returned to the U.S., and I'm the only one in my family that has a hope of understanding it, especially at the last minute like that. (That is, I didn't translate the recipe ahead of time.)

Admittedly, we did kinda diverge from the recipe ever so slightly, which originally called for yellowtail with a teriyaki kind of flavor to it. The recipe did say that we could substitute chicken, but I don't think they anticipated us serving it over rice, which we did.

It was good, all told. Solid F on the presentation (one of the reasons why I'm not providing pictures), but at least it tasted pretty good. And, you know, chicken served over proper (sticky) rice with proper (unsweetened) green tea, all eaten with chopsticks... the next best thing to being back in Japan, really.

In short: I'm starting to like cooking.


Development cycles and Pokemon Tower Defense

If you follow online Flash games at all, you may have noticed a new Pokemon Tower Defense game recently. Honestly I forget when it first appeared on the Web, but it's been around long enough to amass a pretty significant following and appears destined to become quite popular, if it hasn't already. (The developers do have a blog, of course.)

I have to say, though, I think my first reaction to it has colored a lot of my personal opinion on it since. And I'm not ashamed to admit that that first reaction was generally negative. Really, the first blow was struck when I reached the game's main menu, only to find the majority of the options grayed out with the note "will be added in the future". And when I went into the story mode, only to find no more than three levels and another "coming soon" note? Yeah, that didn't help matters.

They've been good about updating it fairly regularly since then. The v2.8 that we're at now has a lot more than the original did, and their blog has detailed notes about future updates. And considering the popularity of the game, I can't deny that it's all working out quite well. I just don't really think I like dealing with a game that's still in alpha.

I would think that most gamers are well familiar with the idea of a beta version, considering how common open beta tests are becoming these days. The concept of the alpha version, the version prior to the completion of all features in game, is probably less well known considering that (as far as this Wikipedia article is concerned) "external availability of alpha software is uncommon."

Perhaps the age we're in is going to change that... but then again, perhaps not. I can only speak for myself, but I can say that I'm not a huge fan of dealing with a game that has so obviously and clearly not been completed yet. I can see making balance adjustments, bug fixes, and even significant upgrades to a completed game; I played in the Starcraft II beta after all. But handing me 5% of a game and telling me "hey, check out this new game I made!" strikes me as somewhat disingenuous. You don't have a game yet, not by my definition of the term.


Translation Notes: Daughter of Evil

Original translation here.

Okay, I suppose I should just up and say it: I am really dissatisfied with this particular translation of mine.

悪の娘 (read as Aku no Musume) is probably one of Rin Kagamine's most well known songs, and it's definitely up there as far as my favorite Vocaloids music is concerned. Or just favorite music, period. The lyrics tell a story of Rin Kagamine in her alter ego as a princess of an evil kingdom, from her unjust rule to Kaito falling in love with Miku and the war that resulted from her jealousy.

And that's really the problem with my translation: I translated it as a story, really. I'm reasonably confident that the translation is free of major errors... although, no promises on verses 7 and 8 (discounting spoken lines and the chorus, which repeats twice before the 7th verse arrives); I'm not certain that those are perfectly translated. Still, even the translation I have does communicate some idea of what the lyrics are saying.

But for this, I feel it's insufficient. I read my translation back to myself, and realized that any sense of the actual song has simply vanished. I was originally motivated to do this when I saw a translation that I felt focused too much on the lyrical aspect (enforced an ABAB rhyme scheme, added in and/or took out major details to help maintain it), but surely taking that aspect out entirely shouldn't be the goal here.

Unfortunately, I don't know how best to fix the problem. Some kind of meter restriction may be in order, perhaps? While I can certainly read music and even reproduce it to a limited extent, I have no experience at all with songwriting, and I feel like that's the skill set that I could use right about now. So as much as I want to do a rewrite of this translation, until I figure out a decent way to account for the "song" part of it, not much is going to happen.

This is arguing for Ryancare?

I make a habit of reading the Washington Post, when I can get a physical copy. (Who else prefers the actual paper to the online version? Anyone?) Well, in the op-ed section this morning, I found a fairly impassioned defense of the changes that Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan makes to Medicare. Let's take a look...
Ryan proposes to change that. Beginning in 2022, new (not existing) Medicare beneficiaries would receive a voucher, valued initially at about $8,000. The theory is simple. Suddenly empowered, Medicare beneficiaries would shop for lowest-cost, highest-quality insurance plans providing a required package of benefits. The health-care delivery system would be forced to restructure by reducing costs and improving quality. Doctors, hospitals and clinics would form networks; there would be more “coordination” of care, helped by more investment in information technology; better use of deductibles and co-payments would reduce unnecessary trips to doctors’ offices or clinics.
Let's unpack the assumptions in there, shall we? First of all, it doesn't matter in the slightest whether or not existing consumers are affected. When someone who starts receiving Medicare benefits in 2022 looks at those a year older than them and sees them getting the old version of Medicare, there's almost certainly going to be resentment.

Then there's the hope that $8,000 will be enough. Ryan (and his plan's defenders) assume that the invisible hand of the market will ensure that it is. So what is it about this that will ensure that? After all, in that market-driven world, things like high-speed rail are apparently simply not going to work at all, due to economic realities. How is it that the insurance companies are going to be able to provide health care to everyone for less cost?

Well, we bring costs down! ... What's stopping the Medicare we have from doing that? Why does it take Ryancare to affect the health care delivery system so radically? There's no denying that the costs of Medicare have to be brought under control. But there are ways to do that (such as letting Medicare refuse to pay for frivolous medical procedures) without forcing those costs onto seniors, which is what Ryancare would do if its assumptions failed to materialize.

And then there's the kicker: the next paragraph of the argument.
It’s shock therapy. Would it work? No one knows, but two things are clear.
That's the best you can give me? "No one knows"? Even I know that if you're going to make an argument, you have to at least pretend to be more confident than that!

(And before you leap down my throat for selective quoting, those two things: that Medicare affects the entire health care system, and that there's wasteful spending as it stands.)

In all seriousness, what that tells me is that Ryancare is a fundamentally uncertain plan that could bring health care costs under control effectively, or could also simply force the excess costs onto beneficiaries, who would then have to pay a great deal more out of pocket... or go without health care, if they couldn't pay.

And that will only be worth it if the underlying assumption, that Medicare as we know it is doomed anyway, is true. I think I'd rather try to fix it before we write it off.


Religious Belief and Rational Thinking

So this morning, I was bouncing around the Internet and found my way to this blog post. (The post makes liberal use of ableist language, so be warned.) It was actually posted a few days ago, calling out all religions for their irrational and occasionally frankly ridiculous beliefs.

I can't necessarily disagree that religious belief is often irreconcilable with rational, scientific explanation. The rational, scientific explanation for things like consciousness or evolution do not and will never involve the concept of a soul or the existence of a deity. And to some extent, that's fine, as a large part of the point of scientific research is to explain in detail how the world actually works.

What is not fine is when someone informs me that I am "wrong" for, say, believing in the existence of the soul. Or holding generally animistic beliefs about the presence of the same in, well, a lot of things. I kinda like the idea of countless "gods" (certainly not the God of the Abrahamic faiths, but deities nevertheless) with dominions as small as a single rock.

Yes, I'm well aware that there is no (scientific) way for a rock to have anything we'd call consciousness. Yes, I'm well aware that there is no (scientific) evidence to support the idea that I have a soul. And you can tell me that from now until doomsday, because I simply don't care. I will continue to believe in these things for the foreseeable future, evidence be damned. And here's a thought: who on this earth can tell me not to?

Religious belief that does not affect anyone else is, perhaps, rare. Most organized religions make a point of spreading themselves, after all. And someone who justifies a killing spree with "it was God's will" can justify it however they like: it's still a killing spree, and they will still be held to account for that.

They will not, however, be punished for believing in a God that commands killing, merely for their unacceptable expression of that belief. My rights end where yours begin: I cannot tell you what to believe, and you cannot tell me what to (or not to) believe. Regardless of rationality.

So posts like the one above can stop implying that simply believing is somehow morally wrong or worthy of condemnation. Unless it affects someone else, there's nothing to condemn.

General notes for Lost Logia Halo

Lost Logia Incident Report: Halo Array.

This story is the first fanfiction that I have ever taken seriously, although not the first that I have ever written. It is the first (full-length) story of mine to be openly posted, and currently the longest of my stories that can be found online. Although it doesn't have a whole lot of competition in that field.

My favorite anime series is Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, a series that's interesting in a number of ways. Among other things, it tends to be more action-oriented than most magical girl shows, especially in the later incarnations, but not nearly as action-oriented as a first-person shooter like Halo. I admit the first thought of combining the two came in reading the (at the time) only other crossover fanfic that combined the two. (There have been two more since then, I have discovered just now.)

That crossover essentially took the position that the Time-Space Administration Bureau of the Nanoha universe was far inferior to the United Nations Space Command of the Halo universe, or at least it did in the short time I managed to read it. I ended up disliking it for a number of reasons (that one among them), although that is probably somewhat unfair of me to say considering I never did read it all the way through.

However, it did inspire me to write my own story. Foremost among my goals in creating Lost Logia Incident Report: Halo Array (as you may have noticed, Lost Logia Halo for short) was to truly set the Bureau and the UNSC next to one another and see each come out the better for it in the end. I felt that the Bureau's magical technology put it at least on par with the UNSC on a one-for-one basis, and it's not like the Nanoha canon offers any idea of just how extensive the Bureau is. And as I did not and still do not have any intentions of sparking a war between the Bureau and the UNSC, I suspect the question of "which one is truly better" will remain unanswered (by me at least) throughout the story. While I am more of a Nanoha fan, I am trying to ensure that that's a question which could be argued either way from the story that I'm writing.

The first question that needed an answer, though, was the simple one: how to bring the two worlds together? Nanoha canon is very kind to crossovers, really, because its universe specifies multiple worlds to begin with, and there's nothing stopping one of those worlds being the world from another game or anime series. Add in the idea that the UNSC's slipspace drives could be seen and misinterpreted by the Bureau (the big threat at the end of the first season is the possibility of a dimensional rift, and I decided that I would make the Slipspace drives create what appeared to be one), and I had the makings of a first encounter.

I also had to decide when in each continuity to set this story. For Nanoha, I chose the period immediately after the second season because I felt it was the easiest chance to put "young" Nanoha into the story; she has only minimal contact with the Bureau throughout the six-month gap between the first two seasons, and then becomes an instructor a short time after the second. Having the Arthra fall into another situation, with Nanoha and Fate aboard, before any of the major changes at the end of the second season could take effect felt most reasonable to me.

For Halo, I was certain from the beginning that I would have the Bureau walk in on the battle over the first Halo. Out of all of the moments in the Halo canon that I'm familiar with, it felt like the easiest pivot point which could bring the Bureau and the UNSC together for an extended period of time. Also, there were a few ideas I had for scenes that I wanted to put in which worked best with the original Halo storyline.

But that's getting ahead of myself, and I'm probably putting way too much thought into this already. That's how this all got started. I'll discuss my thoughts on chapter 1 in the next note.


Older translations

While I was in Japan and maintaining the blog I kept for that purpose, I occasionally posted translations of some Japanese songs that I liked to that blog. I have no idea what people thought of them, but I do know that they received a fair bit of attention. And although I like translating, unless I make it possible for people to critique my translations, I won't get any better at it. Which is why I posted these on my older blog in the first place.

Well, I still want to translate. And I still want to post translations to the Internet, when and where I can. So I might as well start by providing all of the translations I've done up to now on my old blog, in reverse chronological order:

Daughter of Evil, by mothy (Evil P) featuring Rin Kagamine
Young Alive!, by Nana Mizuki
Wolf Girl, by Kura-P featuring Miku Hatsune
Synchronicity, by Yui Makino
Programming for non-fiction, by Natsuko Aso

I will be looking to write up more detailed translation notes for all of those, as well as for any future translations I post here.

(...Ugh, I've got to stop saying "look forward to future developments"...)

Mobile Suit Gundam: Study Abroad War Chronicle

Just a silly little parody of the original, 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam series that a few classmates and I cooked up, back when we were studying abroad in Japan. Thought I might as well spread the word.

Lost Logia Halo chapter 5

Because if I can't use my own blog to self-promote, where can I?

I've posted the fifth chapter of one of the two fanfic stories I'm currently writing, Lost Logia Incident Report: Halo Array. The chapter itself is titled Reasons to Fight and can be found here, or the beginning of the story is here. The story itself is a crossover between an anime series called Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha and the Halo series of video games.

I've been thinking that one of the things I'll use this blog for is to provide a kind of more detailed author's notes, on my thoughts when writing fanfic and a more detailed explanation of why I did what I did, so to speak. So keep an eye out for that.



Hi! My name's Shawn, and if you're reading this, that tells me that you've found your way to this little corner of the Internet that I have claimed for myself. Welcome.

This is the third time I've set out to stake a claim here on Blogger, and so the third time I've written an introductory post. (My last two blogs are here and here.) Perhaps I like starting blogs more than I like carrying them on... which doesn't exactly fill me with confidence for this one.

Yet, in my defense, both of those prior creations were very specific in their objectives, and the latter had an end date from the beginning. I intend for this blog to have neither of those. This will be my space to have a discussion about whatever crosses my mind, and hopefully will remain so far into the future. And perhaps, if I am very lucky, it will be a space in which others can join in that discussion.

On what, one might ask? Well, who knows. I'm going into my fourth and final year of my undergraduate education, at Brandeis University. I am a History and East Asian Studies major, with a particular fondness for Japanese. A fondness that was first awoken by my interest in manga and anime, with plenty of video and computer games thrown in for good measure. And, because I can, I participate in National Novel Writing Month and write fanfiction on top of that. I have no idea what I'm going to do with all of this once I have to actually support myself with a career, but I'm sure I'll think of something.

What else is there about me...? Politically, I am solidly and most likely unshakably left-wing. I would self-identify as a feminist and progressive (pretty much entirely thanks to this quite excellent blog), although there's still a lot more I think I need to learn about... well, everything, but progressivism in particular. Personally, I would call myself a patriot as well, although I would never even dream of calling anyone else not patriotic enough.

And that's me in two paragraphs. If any of that might interest you, feel free to stick around, read a few posts, what have you.

If the urge strikes, you're more than welcome to join in the discussion. The only thing I would ask is that if you do, you endeavor to keep your comments civil and respectful. I would like for this to be a safe and respectful space, as I feel there are not nearly enough of those, and so I will be going to the effort to warn others of any non-work-safe or potentially triggering material. I would ask everyone else that wishes to add their voice to this space to do the same.

With all that out of the way... welcome to my little corner of the skies.