Rocket League's Achilles Heel

I think Rocket League is a fantastic idea (see here). Unfortunately, there are a few problems that have stopped me from enjoying it and may eventually stop me from playing altogether.

Something like 20% of my 2v2 Ranked Matches result in two players against me alone. People quit, lose connection, etc. I get it. The problem is Rocket League’s reaction (or lack thereof). First, no matter how long I wait, I never receive another teammate. Were it an exhibition, I might try my luck and take any score as moral victory. However this is a ranked match, where the points matter, so that’s not a good option. Second, if I quit the match, my rank goes down anyway. This is a no win situation completely within Rocket League’s control that should have been handled prior to release.

When I do have a teammate, only 10% are actually contributory. The other 90% are one of two variations. First, the imbeciles who either do not understand how the game is played or do not care for the rules. They fly around the arena, do flips in front of the enemy goal, or any number of truly infuriating nonsenses. Second, the imperialist pigs who have decided only they are worthy of touching the ball. Attempt to broach this unwritten law and you will be destroyed... immediately... for the rest of the game. No matter how straight your aim, no matter how clear the goal, if their name doesn’t appear during the replay, it is a crime. Both cases are nightmare fuel made worse by a ranking system that prevents me from leaving.

Again, I think Rocket League is a fantastic idea, but once I graduated from AI exhibitions, I encountered a veil of annoyance that no amount of excellent mechanics can pierce. 

NYC Experience: Ultimate Frisbee

Today, I was invited to a game of ultimate frisbee. The participants were all strangers, but friendly. We met at the edge of Prospect Park (in Brooklyn, NY), hiked to the Picnic House, and tossed a few for practice. My thoughts were pleasant...

Frisbee is a relaxing pastime. Passing an object between friends is an ancient form of play; the frisbee is its elegant peak. The technique involves deliberate hand position, smooth movement, and a careful consideration of breezes. It is a light, non-contact sport played in the shade of trees at the cool of the day while conversation passes overhead. It’s wonderful.

Then teams were formed, identification ribbons tied, and players split to either side of an impromptu pitch. Our leaders raised their hands, and the frisbee went airborne. After an hour of play, my thoughts had shifted...

ULTIMATE Frisbee is an athletic event. Passing a razor disc through grasping hands of mortal enemies is an form of warfare; ULTIMATE Frisbee is its most brutal form. The technique involves inhuman muscle manipulation, horror-esque contortion, and a psychic preconception of weather patterns. It is a “non-contact” sport of face-first, ground-munching “accidental” tackles on a sun-baked plain at noon while thinly concealed insults and false friendlies pierce the veil of camaraderie. It’s bloody tiring.

To the meet-up group, thank you for having me. It was a positive experience and everyone was very nice. To my team, thank you for passing me the frisbee on occasion. Standing in the middle of a mob, it can be difficult to aim. To everyone confused about the copious drippings of sweat and dog-like panting, this was easily the most physical activity I’ve had in the past year.

Till next time... many, many pant-sizes from here.

My Thoughts on Romance in Stories

I recently held a conversation with my sister Holly West -- editor at Feiwel & Friends and Swoon Reads -- on the merits and appeal of romance-focused plots. During this conversation, I created an analogy that perfectly describes how I feel about romance in relation to stories.

"Romance is like a vine. By itself, it's a pile of leaves on the floor, which isn't interesting or special. But if you wrap the vines around a heroic statue or haunted house, they're suddenly very pretty, and they make whatever they're wrapped around prettier as well. Romance by itself is one of two things: someone doing everything right, which results in a one page story ending with "happily ever after", or someone doing everything wrong, which requires a serious amount of stupidity or social ineptitude. Either way, it's not very engaging; it doesn't have anything to stand on. But if you wrap it around a heroic quest or a haunted thing or really any substantial problem that isn't "I love so-and-so", it becomes the beautiful part of the story that everyone looks for and loves."

My thoughts on this may change over the course of my writing career, but when I manage to parse the cacophony my brain flings at me, I like to write it down for future reference.

Rocket League: Five First Impressions

  1. "How about this? It's football, -- European, not American -- but giant and futuristic, and instead of people, there are cars with rockets and the ball's enormous, and it's set in, like, the middle of Chicago or something." Somewhere, sometime, this phrase or a version of it has been uttered by a drunk designer long after happy hour's demise. This is also the premise for Rocket League, and magically, the developers nailed it. Bonus points for bringing alcoholic ideas to life.
  2. The control scheme is intuitive, no more complicated than traditional arcade racing -- gas, brake/reverse, steer, jump, handbrake, boost. Input is tight, and remarkably precise (a necessity for high-octane games), meaning I never felt as though my mistakes were not my fault (see Bad Design: New Super Mario Bros. Wii). Each mechanic works well with the others, particularly in response to physics. Pysonics kept things simple, and I thank them.
  3. Though I once belonged to the PC Master Race -- for whom graphical detail is king -- I don't see graphics as a selling point. However, there is a sweet spot in which Rocket League lands: detailed enough to allow immersion, yet simple enough for integrity and consistency. In my experience, visual feedback is much more important than visual complexity, and Rocket League continues to receive good marks. Every action -- acceleration, boost, jumping, double jumping, ball impact, scoring (especially) -- has a visible response that gives purpose and power. It's an oft-ignored feature common in my favorite games.
  4. NPC difficulty levels have wide gaps in ability. My "Rookie" Matches ended with near-double digits vs. nothing -- clearly too easy. "Pro" matches also end entirely in victory, with my score double or triple my opponent's -- too easy again. "All-Star" matches end primarily with rage fits toward the flawless plays of an NPC quadrupling my score, followed by solemn contemplation of what the next difficulty level might entail. This gap (which may be unique to me) is jarring to navigate, though it seems "Season" gameplay provides more granular challenge.
  5. I enjoy customization in games, particularly where vehicles are concerned. Rocket League offers many options, with different styles and personalities. However, none of them matter at all. On one hand, this is disappointing -- my low-to-the-ground sports car with thick treads and racing stripes is mechanically identical to a van with bicycle tires. On the other hand, this great, because instead of worrying over in-game balancing and upgrades, I concentrate on the physical skill that makes this game so addictive.

So far? It's great fun, and I look forward to online / local multiplayer.

Bad Design: New Super Mario Bros. Wii

I played New Super Mario Bros. Wii because my circumstances afforded few gaming options, and Super Mario carries childhood nostalgia. These are my thoughts on the experience.

The Nintendo Wii was released on November 19th, 2006. Many of its launch titles took advantage of the motion controls that would make the Nintendo Wii an innovative success. However, the three year separation between its console's release and New Super Mario Bros. Wii seems ample time to cure the new-input addiction. But alas, Nintendo decided -- for a genre defined by reflexes, speed-running, and precision -- frantic motion controls were needed to... for... they were needed. Players are bored of such classics as "press-a-button", and surely long for "press-a-button-and-wave-a-stick-ambiguously". Why use readily-available, unmapped triggers when tilt-a-whirls are options? Nintendo, don't sacrifice your flow to highlight what is ultimately a gimmick.

The best platformers require precision presses with impeccable timing. After hours in-game, a player must intuit their character's movement: how fast they move, how far they jump, etc. This intuition is exponentially more difficult to achieve when the character's movement is -- on a basic level -- unpredictable. When I press "right", I want my character to move immediately, not after .5 seconds of Looney-Toons running man. When I jump, I want my character to feel no more weightless or flightless than natural, not ghost-like at the whim of invisible currents. This balance is not easy, but one might expect it from pioneers of the genre.

"Nintendo Hard" is a positive label, assigned to games whose difficulty feels perfectly balanced just past the comfort zones of the modern era without venturing into the realm of sadism. However, this positive quality becomes tainted when a game's true difficulty lies not in carefully balanced level design or calculated boss encounters, but in bumbling controls and wishy-washy feels. 5% of my deaths were due to surprising level design. 15% were due to inherent difficulty: enemies, gaps, etc. The remaining 80% of my deaths were due to input-related issues. If the goal of your game is to provide a classic experience, then the input must be immediate and flawless so the level design can punish the player. If the goal is to provide a modern flip-flop, then the level design must be simple and unobtrusive so the control scheme can punish the player. Having both level and controls punish the player creates a sadistic environment only the most dedicated or vengeful will bother to complete.

I did beat the game, and I count myself the latter.

Baramba Print & Play: Tips & Tricks

To create the basic game, you need: card stock, a cutting utensil, a printer, two six-sided dice, and 30 pieces per player (different between players, up to 4). Print the board, cut along the lines, and you're good to go. However, here are some tips and tricks to make the process easier or the product better.

  • For game boards, weight is key. To create a long lasting game board, use the thickest card stock available, laminate the board, and attach it to something thicker and heavier: more card stock, cardboard, wood, etc.
  • When printing the board, check the print settings in print preview. Some software will shrink the board to "Fit to Page". When using standard-size paper, keep the print as large as possible.
  • Place each dice in a clear, plastic container with a flat lid. Shake these to roll, and the dice stay in one place.
  • If you don't have dice, most smartphones have apps to simulate dice rolls.
  • Each player's 30 pieces need to be similar among themselves, while distinguishable from other player pieces. These pieces can be anything you wish, but I suggest using gems. They are: sold in multiple colors, sold in bulk (well over 30), easy to manipulate, cheap, and available in most general stores.
  • Find or buy bags or containers for your player pieces. You gain all the advantages typically associated with bags and containers.

Good luck!

Vex Print & Play: Tips & Tricks

To create a basic deck, you need: card stock, a cutting utensil, and a printer. Print the cards, cut along the lines, and you're good to go. However, here are some tips and tricks to make the process easier or the product better.

  • Vex cards are frequently manipulated, bent, fought over, or otherwise abused. To create a long-lasting deck, use the thickest card stock available and laminate your cards.
  • Cutting with scissors can produce uneven edges or ridges that are uncomfortable to play with. Use a guillotine trimmer (or similar) to accelerate the cutting process and produce clean edges.
  • Round the corners of the cards. It's an arduous process, but your fingers will thank you.
  • To align the logo on the card backs, you'll need print preview software that allows you to center the print on the page. Image manipulation software like Photoshop, Illustrator, or equivalents are good for this.

Good luck!

A True Tale of Baffling Bureaucracy

This contains no added untruths or exaggerated incompetency. Places and names have been shortened, because ethically and legally, it’s probably best.


04/20/2015

I visit The Institute to speak with Dr. S about many sleep-related issues. Dr. S suggests a sleep study to confirm sleep apnea. I inform Dr. S of my impending move to New York City, explaining I cannot participate in medical tests unless they are completely covered by insurance. Dr. S tells me they will check, then leaves the room. When Dr. S returns, Dr. S informs me the sleep study will be completely covered by my insurance. If for some reason it is not, The Institute will call me before the test to discuss alternatives. I agree to take the test, once again insisting I cannot participate unless it is completely covered.


05/18/2015

I participate in the sleep study at The Center. I sign multiple pages of consents and various legal paperwork beforehand. No one has contacted me since my visit to The Institute, and no one mentions insurance, billing, or any problems prior to beginning the study.


05/28/2015

I receive a statement. I owe The Hospital nothing.


06/15/2015

I receive another statement. I now owe The Hospital a four-digit sum. I call the number listed on the statement, but it is past business hours. I leave a message, requesting they contact me as soon as possible.


06/16/2015

No one from The Hospital contacts me. I call again, and speak with Receptionist C, who claims to only be able to read my account information. There is nothing more Receptionist C can possibly do. She suggests I contact The Institute to discuss the charge.

I contact The Institute, and speak with Receptionist B. I explain that Dr. S claimed this test would be completely covered. Therefore, this charge must be a mistake. Receptionist B pulls what records are available, and informs me The Center is a subsidiary of The Hospital. If I were responsible for any charges, it was The Hospital’s obligation to contact me before the test to inform me and confirm my approval. Receptionist B states that their records indicate Caller M of The Hospital spoke with my insurance on 5/15, and was told that the sleep study would not be fully covered. If Caller M did not contact me, then The Hospital was at fault, and I should speak with them.

I contact The Hospital, and speak with Receptionist A, who promises to call me back after lunch with more information and possible solutions. Many hours past lunch, I call Receptionist A, but no one answers. I leave a message, requesting they contact me as soon as possible.


06/17/2015

Receptionist A does not contact me. I call Receptionist A, who informs me Assistant Director V is willing to offer me a 50% discount -- a sizable favor as 25% is normal. I decline the 50% discount, stating once again I was not to be responsible for any charges, and was not contacted by anyone prior to the test, as per their obligation. Receptionist A offers to transfer me to Assistant Director V. I accept.

Assistant Director V claims Caller M made a note in their system, indicating Caller M had called on 5/15, but I did not answer. However, this was not the automated record system, and Caller M did not indicate the time she supposedly called. I check my phone records, and explain there were no calls from any medical institution on 5/15. Assistant Director V leaves the phone to speak with Director J. Assistant Director V returns, and claims they fulfilled their obligation by calling -- regardless of the supposed attempt’s lack of success or record -- and it was my responsibility to stay informed of my insurance’s involvement with the sleep study. Assistant Director V reminds me of the generous 50% discount, then states that if The Institute claimed information other than that presented on the statement, then The Institute is responsible.

I call The Institute, and Receptionist B transfers me to Representative G, to whom I repeat the story thus far. Representative G states that Dr. S did not say the test would be completely covered -- despite Representative G’s lack of attendance and all evidence to the contrary -- because Dr. S would not do such a thing. If Dr. S had offered to check with my insurance, then she would have spoken with The Center rather than contacting my insurance directly. I explained that -- given this new information -- the two options were: Dr. S did not check with my insurance then lied about doing so upon re-entering the room, or Dr. S did check with my insurance (even if by proxy) and lied about the results. In either situation Dr. S was guilty of providing false information which led to an unwanted, avoidable charge. Representative G claims I may call Dr. S a liar, but Dr. S could call me a liar in return, resulting in an endless legal circle. The Institute did not handle patient billing, Representative G would not help me even if she were allowed, and I had nothing against Dr. S that was legally defensible. After various inferred accusations -- including idiocy for not understanding my own insurance benefits -- Representative G ends the call.

I call my insurance, and speak with Representative C, who thoroughly explains the charges on my account. Representative C searches the call record for my account, and informs me that the only call from any medical center was from The Hospital on 4/20, and Representative C had handled the call personally. The Hospital did not request any information concerning my potential charge, and only requested a pre-certification for the sleep study -- proving Dr. S, The Center, and Caller M of The Hospital all lied and/or falsified their local records. Representative C says that even if someone had asked, there was no evidence of any special deals and no reason to assume the test would have been fully covered.

I call Assistant Director V, but no one answers. I leave a message, requesting they contact me as soon as possible.

Many hours later, Assistant Director V calls to inform me that -- after speaking with The Hospital’s CFO -- all charges would be waived and there was nothing I needed to do. I thank Assistant Director V for speaking to the CFO on my behalf, and Assistant Director V ends the call. I call back immediately for more details and to request a statement of the waiver, but no one answers. I leave a message, requesting they contact me as soon as possible.


05/18/2015

I continue to wait for my messages to be answered.

Simple Digital Spaces: Folders

If you missed Simple Digital Spaces: Files, start there. Good file practices will enhance the good folder practices learned here.

Step 1) Less-Clicks Principle: The goal of any efficient folder system is to minimize the number of clicks needed to reach a file. Therefore, the "correct" ammount of folders is often a balance between none -- which provides no organization -- and too many -- which slows down and complicates the file path. Personally, I have folders for each generic file group -- books, documents, pictures, videos, etc. -- then one further layer to form categories -- college, loans, blogs, etc. This way, most files take no more than 3 clicks to access.

Step 2) Consistent Naming Conventions: This rule applies to files and folders, and for the same reasons.

Step 3) Pre-Existing Organization: For some files, a standard of organization has already been established. Depending on the type and number of the files, it may be best to forgo personal solutions in favor of industry standards. Audio collections via Music > Artist > Album. Ebooks via Author. These standards aren't necessary, but when formulating a file system, they're something to consider.

Step 4) Avoid Default Locations: Most operating systems provide default, categorized folders: My Documents, My Pictures, etc. Though this may seem convenient, it is almost always in your best interest to create your own folders outside of the defaults. The provided folders may cause problems when switching operating systems, slow you down when transfering multiple file types, and/or be bundled with programming protocols of which you aren't aware.

Step 5) Single Master Location: Place your entire folder system within a single master folder. This simplifies file searching by providing a constant start location, simplifies comprehensive transfers by allowing a single drag-and-drop to copy everything, and makes integration with cloud services much easier, since most cloud services provide a synchronization folder that serves as an excellent master location (provided you have enough allowed space).

Simple Digital Spaces: Files

Keeping a simple, organized digital workspace is the key to more productive, less frustrating computer use. Such a space begins at the bottom with how you handle individual files.

Step 1) Compatible Naming Conventions: With polished operating systems, file names rarely cause issues. However the technologically explorative are bound to cross rougher roads where laws of the ancients still apply: stay short, stay lowercase, and use underscores instead of spaces.

Step 2) Consistent Naming Conventions: Find a naming system and keep it religiously. It need not be universally applicable, but in my experience, you’ll have a better time if it is. For independent files, I use the most efficient, instantly recognizable name possible. (e.g. writing_essay) For files in a series, I use a series code, underscore, and individual identifier. (e.g. project_1, project_2, etc.) For frequently updated files or mass batches, I use a series code, underscore, and the date. (e.g. profile_01012015, profile_02062014, etc.)

Step 3) Compatible File Types: In recent years, proprietary file formats have become increasingly popular, as it often restricts a user to a single product line and encourages further wallet excavation (looking at you, Apple & Adobe). Avoid these files types if at all possible, and use open standards: .txt instead of .docx or .pages, .svg instead of .ai, .epub instead of .mobi, etc. For mobile computing, software is often much more restrictive, and open file types are even more important.

Step 4) Consistent File Types: Following Step 3, all or most of your files should be in commonly accessible formats. To further the guarantee of usability and universal access, use the same open standards for the same kinds of files (documents, images, etc.). This way, when you find software you like, you can use it for everything, and there’s no confusion as to what can be used with which program.

Step 5) Practice Techno-Hygiene: Don’t keep useless files. Don’t keep duplicate files. Convert oddball files or formats to the system you established in Steps 1-4. Keep your naming systems easily memorable. Take the initial time to organize things properly, and save yourself time and frustration later.

A Tavern's Watch Smuggling

"Here, boy. Take it."

Jazza produced a thin package, which A’Dan slipped it into the waistband of his ragged trousers.

"Do you understand what you're to do?” Jazza asked.

A'Dan nodded.

"Alright, then. I’ll have a bed waiting for you, provided you’re not escorted by guards.”

Jazza watched A'Dan scamper away and into the Tavern’s Watch crowds.

Good kid. Too innocent for this place, but a good kid.


Dapple felt the carriage gain weight. She whinnied in protest, but Zuiwe's whip commanded silence. She plodded to the gate, where she was stopped and rigorously searched. Dapple was accustomed to the Tavern’s Watch treatment, but she didn’t like it. As the guard continued to the carriage itself, she felt a tug on her breast straps. She looked down and into the eyes of a scrawny boy crawling along her stomach. A whinny rose in her throat, but was silenced by a sugar cube from the boy’s pocket. Dapple slurped the cube and watched the boy sneak away in silence.


Dwarden’s arms prickled. War instincts took hold, and he swung to catch the lad sneaking through the back of his smithy.

"Whatcha stealin', boy?"

The young lad shook his head furiously, waving his free arm.

"Speak up, boy.”

The boy patted his lips with a flat hand.

"You a slave?"

The boy shook his head.

“If ya ain’t, who took ya tongue?"

The boy pointed across the street, where Caliente argued with a foreign merchant over some jewelry.

"Ah, well that makes a lick'a sense, dunnit? Someone oughta warned ya. What'd ya do to ‘im?"

Dwarden let the boy's arm go, and the lad fell to his knees with arms cupped forward.

"Come on, now, lad, ya shoulda known better n' beggin' fer scraps from ‘im. He’s not ‘xactly the givin’ type.”

The boy stared. Dwarden met his eyes, then heard the polite cough of a waiting customer.

"Get on, whicha, now. Get on."

The boy scampered away.

“Bloody rascal, don't know nothin' ‘bout nothin’. I wouldn’t bother Caliente with a hammer n’a army, ” Dwarden said, reaching for his belt-tongs. His hand found empty air. After a moment of surprise, he slapped the anvil and chuckled.

"That lil’ bastard!"

"Something wrong?" the customer asked.

"...Na, what kinna do fer ya?"


Hurbin jumped as A’Dan burst through his shop’s door.

Bloody hells, A’Dan, what’re you doing? You’ll scare away the customers!”

A’Dan peered around the empty antique store.

“Okay, well there might have been. Come to visit?”

A’Dan pointed to the roof.

“Is that all I am to you? An easy access to the roofs? Where’s the ‘Hi, Hurbin. How’s your shop going? Could I do anything to help, since you’re the only person who doesn’t literally kick me to the street?’”

A’Dan shrugged, tapped his lips with his fingertips, then smiled.

Little devil.

“Go on, then. You working?”

A’Dan brandished a thin package as he bolted up the stairs. 

It’s good to see the boy focused. It wouldn’t do to dwell on her... or on him.

Hurbin walked back to his shop--pushing the jeweler from his mind--and began pulling more interesting items to the front of his shelves.

Now, where’d that belt go? That was a surefire sale.


Iselle straightened her legs and crinkled her toes. It’d been a long day, she had a long night ahead, and the warm bath was loosening muscles she didn’t know were tense. She’d just closed her eyes when her bedroom window shattered. Iselle screeched, glaring in shock at the young boy who tumbled through and into her bed.

Get out! Get out, right now!

The boy raised his head, his face stricken with apology.

“A’Dan? What are you doing?”

A’Dan waved, his hands flying side to side. He pointed downstairs, clearly desperate to be understood.

“If you wanted something from the bakery, you could have used the front door!”

He waved his hands again, held one straight, then swooped the other underneath. Iselle used the moment to climb from the tub and wrap herself in a towel.

“You can’t use the tunnel. It’s for... it’s not for you.”

I wish Emma had never told him. There are just some things you don’t tell your son.

A’Dan retrieved his package, then swung it under his arm as well.

“What is-- no, wait, I don’t want to know. Just leave. I want nothing to do with your smuggling.”

A’Dan started for the door, but tripped. He grabbed for Iselle, but caught only a fistful of towel and ripped it away from her as he fell.

Hells take me, I do not need this right now.

A’Dans hands started to sign what she assumed was apology, but Iselle shoved him out with her foot and slammed the door behind him.

She started for the bath, but glanced at the clock and thought better of it. She began to redress.

I’ve half a mind to smack the little tramp, breaking in here like that. Not to mention the view he got for it. If it’d been anyone else, I’d have beat them with a pan.

Iselle bent down, looking for the elastic, form-showing belt she favored. She laughed, her mouth twisted.

He probably wouldn’t know what I’d hit him for. Poor thing. No mother to care for him and no father to teach him. No one should grow up like that. Naivety gets you nowhere here. 


Yazmine heard a knock at the tunnel door. She pulled her blouse a little lower, turned her skirt to show more thigh, then jerked the handle. Behind it was a small boy--homeless by the look of him.

Are you lost?”

The boy shook his head. He pointed behind her.

“Honey, you’re way too young to go back there. Do you know where you are?”

The boy swallowed, and, after a moment, nodded.

“What’s your name?”

He signed several symbols in the air. Yazmine gasped.

“A’Dan! You’re... you’re Emma’s son?”

A’Dan nodded.

“Oh my gods, I... I’m so sorry. We did all we could but, um... we couldn’t...”

A’Dan dismissed her apologies with a wave. Tears were in his eyes, but his face was firm. He pulled a thin package from under his shirt.

“Oh, I thought you-- um, okay. Is that for me?”

A’Dan shook his head, then signed a name.

Burn me, you can’t be serious.

Are you sure?”

A’Dan unwrapped the package to reveal a gleaming, white-iron dagger. The boy hefted it, tears falling from his eyes. He looked at Yazmine and nodded.

Yazmine stared. Her mind raced: the screaming, the unnatural blood, the jeweler’s filthy gold, the body, the “inexplicable” death, the month of extra guards. Her eyes came into focus on A’Dan--the little son of a whore with no one to go to--then walked to a door and knocked twice.

“Sawdra, honey, come here for a second.”

“What the hells, woman! I paid for her!” a voice said from inside the room.

“I know, sir,” Yazmine said. “My sincere apologies. Tonight is on the house for the interruption.”

A moment later, Sawdra appeared at the door. Yazmine pulled her out, and beckoned A’Dan. The boy wiped his face with the back of his shirt. When he reappeared, his face was cold stone. He slipped inside and Yazmine closed the door behind him.

“What’s goi--“

“That’s A’Dan.”

“Emma’s A’Dan?” Sawdra asked.

Yazmine nodded.

“He’s... He’s so small,” Sandra said.

“He’s big enough,” Yazmine said.

They looked at one another, then turned their backs to the door.


A’Dan leaned against the wall of Jazza’s room, chewing a thick loaf of bread. The merchant was discussing the night’s unfortunate news with Guado over a game of cards.

“So how did they find him?” Jazza asked.

“Blindfolded and bound with belts, throat slit, and tongue caught in a set of tongs... on a shelf across the room. He was stuffed behind his shop counter.”

“Does the Council know who did it?”

“Well the tongs were Dwarden’s and the belt was Hurdin’s, so they’ve both been arrested. Both claim the items were stolen, but neither knows who took them.”

“Hmm.”

“They’ll be released for sure. Both have witnesses that can vouch for them. Do you think... Do you think it was the Council?” Guado asked.

“Really?”

“Think about it! He had a dagger; we’re certain of that.” Guado looked at A’Dan. A’Dan smiled. “What if they caught him with it, then decided to make an example of him? You know how seriously they take the weapons ban.”

“If it was an example, it would have been public. Look, it’s not my practice to dip into the affairs of patrons. The man requested a dagger; I provided. It’s no matter of mine if he can’t handle it from there.” Jazz looked to A’Dan--now sketching on the bread-cloth with charcoal. “Perhaps it was our dear smuggler here. He’s capable of bondage, torture, and all sorts of evils.”

A’Dan looked at Jazza... then everyone burst out laughing.

“I kid, lad, I kid. What do you have there?”

Jazza rose and approached A’Dan, who lifted his drawing.

“Well, well, lad, that’s quite the woman you’ve got there!”

Jazza laughed and Guado came to inspect the drawing.

“Quite the woman, indeed! What’s with the bathtub?”

At the Bottom of a Well

You sit at the bottom of a well in the midst of an arid desert.
The depth holds a darkness the sun reaches only at its zenith.
The wet pulls at your clothes with a weight beyond your strength.
The stone bricks bruise your bones, leaving skin untouched.
What water remains is undrinkable.
What sunlight arrives carries no heat.
What sounds you manage go unheard.
Your clothes melt in the brine.
Your nails break on the rock.
You’re really quite lucky.
There are those in the desert who’d kill for your water.
There are those in the desert who’d kill for your cold.
There are those in the desert, but you’ve never met them.
You’re well and truly alone.
If you could stand, there’s nowhere to go.
If you could climb, there’s nothing beyond.
If you could escape, there’s only another problem.
There was a time when you stretched.
There was a time when you screamed.
There was a time, once.
You can’t really remember it, Time.
You could summon a second wind, but where would it blow?
You could remember a loved one, but where are they now?
You could keep living, but where would you be?
Sitting at the bottom of a well in the midst of an arid desert.

I’m told there are many types and degrees of depression. When I feel it, this is mine.

Wood-Burned Baramba Board

When planning Baramba, the first image in my mind was  a scene deep in the midst of a pine forest. Two orange-clad monks sat opposite one another with an old stump between, each with a small cup of river stones and burned-bone dice. Carefully burned into the stump was an ornate board of circles, diamonds, and dots — sanded to a smooth, splinter-free surface, but untouched by polish or stain.

Before this project, I’d never seen a wood-burning kit, much less practiced with or owned one. However, I’d seen the results live, and they were beautiful. I wanted a Baramba board that matched my original idea, I wanted a new creative experience, and I wanted a usable piece of wall art that meant something to me. Here are my efforts.

Yu-Gi-Oh: Inexplicable Attraction

While there exists a cacophony of cliches in television, there are three elements I hate more than any: repetitive rehash, brotherhood beats all, and duplicate deus ex machina. Each one receives a loving callout from yours truly at every entrance, and each one is a negative point during TV season grading. Excessive use of a single one can permanently break a show, and break out into spontaneous and intense ranting.

Yu-Gi-Oh’s first television season follows Yugi and his friends as they participate in a card game tournament hosted by a manipulative mogul to win back the soul of Yugi’s grandfather from the Shadow Realm. In season one, 60% of all episodes began with “Previously on Yu-Gi-Oh”, and were followed by endless exposition worked into 40% of all dialogue. I was never allowed to forget that: Yugi fought for his grandfather’s soul, Joey fought for his sister’s surgery, Tea believed in Yugi, Pegasus wanted Yugi’s Millenium Puzzle, Kaiba wanted revenge, and friendship trumps all obstacles. I was especially unable to forget the last, as every match — without fail — was written to the tune of “We’re here for you, <X Person>! Don’t give up! We believe in you!” The only times this god-like friendship power failed was when the plot required, and the plot held all the power. Every time a card was needed, it was the only card that would do, and it was the next card drawn. Every time a strategy threatened, a counter-strategy was pulled from fate-polluted air. The gods in the machine were so numerous that I considered Pegasus’s mind-reading abilities to be near worthless next to Yugi’s impenetrable luck. It violates other rules as well: it’s a kid’s show and written as one, the cheesiness deserves a dish, nearly all twists are obvious as car-wrecks, and the only saving grace is a mysterious Egyptian mythology concept that has yet to be even remotely explored.

And yet, I watched. I refuse to believe my childhood nostalgia is strong enough to counter such atrocities. I feel bad, noticeably ashamed at my viewing and encouragement of such obvious drivel. I should be lashed with the thousand-tailed whip of Bad-Writing Appreciation. But, after my lashing, I’ll turn on season two while I go about my day.

Odd Book: Genius by Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen

As a wearer of optics, I can say the font was a poor choice:

indistinguishable r’s and t’s, three-humped m’s, cobbler-elf sizing.

As an infrequent art-critic, I can say the visuals were unsettling:

context-varied detail, near non-existant environments, possibly-intended character-inconsistency.

As a participant in a creative field, I can say mental blocks feel just like this:

increasing urgency, inevitable breakdowns, just-beyond-reach solutions.

As an oft-depressed individual, I can say melancholy is depicted perfectly:

spousal conversation-block, small-thing obsession, inescapable apathy.

As a Mensa-declared genius, I can say this is the dark side of intelligence:

ever-growing self-expectation, insatiable curiosity, begrudging life-mundanity.

As a reader, I’m entirely unsure how to feel about this graphic novel:

its story, its ending, its message.

As a rule, I avoid things like this, but I find it odd enough to recommend:

get it, experience it, let me know how you feel.

Good Book: Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics by Tom Rogers

Though Full Sail University has had its share of bad classes with worse course material, Fundamentals of Physical Science is surprisingly not among them. In the continually brilliant move of associating course material to careers we actually care about, the textbook for this course is Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics by Tom Rogers — essentially a high-level, book-written Cinema Sins. Here are my top five thoughts:

  1. The highlighted movie flaws are a good mix of the obvious and the surprising. Everyone feels like scenes from The Matrix or The Incredible Hulk are nonsense, and it’s satisfying to have those suspicions confirmed with science. Everyone also falls for plot holes, lackluster forethought, and scientific mumbo jumbo from time to time, and it’s fun to berate yourself for not having noticed before.
  2. The fundamentals of physical science are explained very well, with numerous examples of right and wrong application, meaning this book works well as the text for an introductory course. I earnestly wish more “textbooks” were this amusing to read.
  3. The author has all of the snarkiness one would expect from genre savviness of this level. I’m obviously biased in this area, but the thinly-veiled jabs at Hollywood and its stories were easily the best parts of the book. I wish there were more, but I understand parody and sarcasm weren’t Rogers’ primary goals.
  4. This book contains numerous complex equations and intricate examples based on the films it mentions. These are very neat, and I’m glad someone took the time to work them out. I’m equally glad Rogers chose to set them aside with obvious grey boxes, so that skimming is easier and my delicate, insecure impression of self-intelligence isn’t harmed.
  5. The chapter on Star Trek and Star Wars began as well as one would hope, but quickly devolved into bashing on the plot, characters, and overall impressions he (and admittedly most everyone) gleaned from the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Thoughts on those films aside, it broke the character and system of the book, and was the weakest, least-interesting chapter.

Overall, I would have little problem recommending this to any free-time critics and movie-debaters. However, unless you enjoy the hobby, it’s a bit dense for a casual read.

Cuoieria Fiorintina's Leather Briefcase (Wallet)

Dillon: Let’s say you’re in the market for a really good wallet — one that lasts for 5 years, minimum. How much would you pay for a simple, slim, stylish, non-folding wallet that holds everything you need inside hand-stitched Italian leather made in and imported from Italy?

Dad the Father: Nothing, not when I can get one for free. <offers a thick, black leather, tri-fold biker wallet complete with buttons and chain clip from a dusty drawer>

Morgan the Spouse: Five bucks. Anything more than that isn’t worth it. This one was five bucks it works! <holds a worn, grey plaid cloth, tri-fold wallet whose thickness is doubled by a literally useless, fake clasp>

Greg the Friend: Fifteen. I have a wallet I bought brand new for that and it’s lasted for five years or more. Holds everything I need, and it’s still in good condition. <suggests thick, tri-fold, buttock-curved wallet with five times the needed space>

Mom the Mother: Hmm, for all that? If I were buying it for you for Christmas and it was really nice, probably forty-five or fifty dollars. <looks at suggested wallet online, and nods>

Mothers know best.

IMG_0170.jpg

This is a Brown Leather Briefcase from Cuoieria Fiorentina. It is simple, slim, stylish, without folds, and holds everything I need inside hand-stitched Italian leather made in and imported from Italy.

The wallet itself costs 24 euros, and the shipping to Somerset, Kentucky, USA was 16 euros. Normally, I would balk at the idea of two-thirds-price shipping, but the package made the 5,000 mile journey in less than two days and arrived in perfect condition, so the shipping cost was well-used.

I’m not accustomed to premium products, so to me, the quality is superb: the outside is smooth, the stitching is perfect, and the logo isn’t an unnecessary bulge. The inside is a silky, khaki cloth that allows for stick-free card insertion and removal.

… But I’m not a wallet critic or connoiseur, so it could be absolutely terrible to a refined taste. I know nothing of what’s in or out, tolerable or abhorrent, long-lasting or fleeting. What I do know is this: whether it comes from the specific tanning practices or the type of cow or the perfume of the lady who packages the product, this thing smells great, which is just the best kind of unexpected conversational bonus.

PC Building Pinnacle

This is the best computer I have ever built:

The components are excellent:

  • Processor: Intel i5-4690K
  • Processor Cooler: Zalman CNPS8900
  • Motherboard: ASUS H97i-PLUS
  • Memory: Kingston HyperX Fury 2x4GB
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970
  • Solid State Drive: Samsung 840 Evo 250GB
  • Hard Disk Drive: Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB
  • Power Supply: Silverstone SFX 450W Gold
  • Case: Silverstone MLO7 Gaming HTPC
  • Case Fans: 3x Corsair SP120

I spent far more time on the physical build than any other, using professional tools and boundless patience to achieve a component density greater than the Alienware X51.

It is the most mechanically beautiful, technically powerful, and aesthetically simple of my builds. It is not the best, but it is the best I have ever done, and it is a beautiful note on which to end.

I have sold this computer, left the world of PC Building, and returned to boring, Apple-infused mainstream mobility. Why?

  • I obsessed. I coveted the most beautiful, most powerful, and most expensive of components, and I lack the financial funding for constant upgrades, spec racing, and the hobby in general.
  • I neglected. I built a powerful machine of which I never took advantage. I spend most of my time writing, not pushing the limits of computing technology.
  • I simplified. In my Pursuit of Simplicity, I vowed to rid myself of needless extras and this was one of them. It hurt, but I feel better with it gone.

Someday, when I have the money, the time, and the spousal approval, I may return to the PC Building realm, but for now, I’m happy without it.


Real Life: Spectator

Curled, red hair covers pale, freckled skin under soft, brown blouse and ripped, blue jeans. Tears run slow streams as She runs from the store.
Car door rips open, slams shut, waves Spectator’s hair nearby.
She screams, Spectator looks, She wails, Spectator looks away.
She bludgeons the dash with vicious swipes.
Her knuckles crack, the dash cracks, Her face cracks and floods.
Spectator watches—a helpless stranger watching helpless strange.
She clutches her phone, Her lifeline and torment, Her fingers flash over numbered keys.
The car and She sputter to life, screaming as they careen away.

Curled, red hair covers pale, freckled skin under soft, brown blouse and ripped, blue jeans.
Eyes dry, cheeks puffed, She speaks to the man behind the counter.
Her voice shakes, her timbre shivers, and her words pierce Spectator’s ear.
She speaks, Spectator listens, She walks, Spectator walks behind.
Black Hair Lollipop and Long Hair Trucker Cap stand by.
Lollipop sucks, Trucker Cap speaks, She waits.
Spectator watches—a harmless watcher watching.
She clutches her television, Her gift and joy, Her smile splits shuddering sighs.
Her crew and She chatter and laugh as Spectator drifts away.

Curled, red hair covers pale, freckled skin under soft, brown blouse and ripped, blue jeans.
Her presence lingers where She does not.
Trucker Cap and Wife Beater dodge Spectator in the aisle.
Wife Beater points, She receives, He rages, She recoils.
He bludgeons the air with vicious swipes.
His knuckles crack, Spectator turns, Trucker Cap tries to still the waters.
Spectator watches—a puzzled stranger watching puzzle pieces fall.
Security trots past, toward Her screech and His voice, their eyes peeled wide.
Spectator disappears down the aisle, He and Them and They and She mixing in his mind.