The ‘Amanda’ Story

MiddleSchoolThe following is a story I wrote, in high school, about the last Amanda mentioned in my post about Relating to Girls.It takes place in middle school.

There I was in the middle of the hallway. I felt an utter loneliness that I had not known before this point. All I remember thinking was, “I didn’t even get to ask her.” Still stunted, in complete shock over what just happened. I wanted so much to be able to come back with some witty remark, I wanted to be able to play it off, I wanted to be in a hole somewhere just like felt I was. But I wasn’t in a hole, I was standing in the hallway with all my friends staring or at least that’s how it felt. In reality only one or two people seemed to under stand the shock I felt: Christian, my best friend, and maybe Mike. But that was it the rest of my “friends” seemed to accept this crushing blow to me with the greatest of ease.

I had taken a risk, I went out on a limb for the first time and, it broke. I didn’t think it would be like that somehow I expected happier feelings, but it hurt. I almost asked my first girl out and she said no before I ever got a chance. Even now I’m dumbfounded I had never considered a preemptive rejection I thought for sure that I would at least be able to get the words out. And the way she came at me “NOOOO!” almost at the top of her lungs, it echoes in my mind just like did in that hallway.

It had all started so innocently. Sitting next to Christian in history class and asking for his advice while trying to dodge looks from the teacher. He thought I should just “go for it” and then in French class going to Sally, the trader, what she thought. I still regret those few simple words: “Christian thinks I should go for” if only I had made it more clear, if only I made sure she understood what I meant, if… if she could have kept her mouth shut. She didn’t have an answer she just said that I should “do what I want.” If only it had been that simple. After hearing Sarah’s useless advice I decided that I would do it, “today”, I thought, “no waiting, no chance for me to lose nerve. Right after class, I’m going to ask Amanda Greene out”

I liked Amanda, she was easily liked, and I realize now that every boy she met probably liked her. I was one of many to fall victim to the siren. The tease with her amber streaked hair and her sparkly personality, and the way her nose wrinkled when she laughed or when she would dance for no reason in the hallway on her way to class. I used to love her freckles that gave a kind of off pretty-ness about her, I remember teasing her when I found out she would freak out if you sneaked up behind her and say “penis” or “vagina”. The enthusiasm she would put into certain things, the same enthusiasm that put into crushing me that day.

Sarah in her infinite wisdom decided that what I meant by “Christian thinks I should go for” was that Christian in fact dared me to ask Amanda out. So before I got a chance to make a move Sarah found Amanda at her locker and told her that what I was about to do was actually a dare. “NOOOO!” she yield… no. She didn’t want me to ask her out because it was inconvenient, she was expecting one of my friends, Jose, to ask her out and if I approached her then she would have to choose and that was too much for her, not because she wouldn’t know who to choose the choice for her was obvious; Jose. But because she didn’t want to have to turn me down.

Behind her sweet and playful exterior was a shallow ditz who was afraid to take responsibility for her own actions. Still, it would be a long time before I realized this. Her outward attractiveness and the illusion of depth that she put on were still clouding my judgment. One thing that was very interesting was that she never seemed to notice just how many guys around her fell for her. Now maybe it was an act to maintain the look of innocence but something in the back of my head wants it to be genuine, maybe then I won’t feel so stupid for falling for it.

But it was always little things that I was sure I only noticed that made me convince myself that she was right for me, in my mind I was the only one who appreciated her, but that’s not true. Like I said almost every boy around her felt the same way. Unless they had already run into their own “Amanda”. and seen through this one’s the appearance of perfection.

I’ve talked to a lot of guys that knew her since then and they all have the same story as me, even the lucky, and not so lucky, ones that she actually decided to give a chance. You see her, now, ex-boyfriends came to find out was has taken me nearly four years to figure out and that is that when you first meet her you can’t help but like her, that’s the face puts on; the girl everyone likes.
After dealing with Amanda Greene I would never approach a girl with the same assuredness… ever. And something as screwed up, as that will almost definitely happen again sometime I don’t know when but it will. That’s just one of the things you have to adjust to when you’re here among the human race not everyone will respond to you the way you think they will. One the worst thing in life is rejection I think worse than death, I think, since I believe there is an afterlife. And definitely worse than pain because you can at least use pain as a motivation. Reject is worst than those things because you have no control over it, it’s simply another person’s choice it’s literally out of your hands. There is no changing what they think without compromising yourself, there is no “what if?” its unavoidable.

So what is there to do about it? Up until now I did nothing I let it sit there and get in the way of me meeting new people; getting to know another person in a deeper sense than just acquaintances. So much so that even some of my best friends, male and female alike, don’t know who I really am. Because of all the “Amandas” in my life I have put a wall between me a those who would accept me for who I am if I only let them. This is true for everyone, we’ve all encountered those people, and for every female “Amanda” there is a male counterpart doing damage to girls in the same way. I used to have this image in my head of this perfect girl, she was popular, but not a snob, she was funny and pretty, and just great. But now I see that that image can’t be real because we’re all messed up.

Along with rejection there are other unavoidable aspects of life that we will all have to endure, even the “Amandas”, but we’re all capable of enduring, and that’s the point. Everything will work itself out because there is no other result. The Earth continues to turn and the human race endures.

So the was me in High school, the only edits I made were for grammar, spelling and names, and that last line about the earth turning. This was a very traumatic event in my life, that I have more or less moved on from, after writing this story I got my first girlfriend, we broke up. Then I went to college and many a number of other lovely women, and then finally my fiancee. And while I still real a little bit at the insensitivity that that young girl showed to a young boy with a crush that day. I am also surprised at how glum I was in high school, it is interesting to know now that I will get over this event in time, I was right after all, I endured, there was no other result.

And that’s my new take on the Amanda Story.

CG Yoda

CGYodaThe other day I was listening to the Nerdist Podcast, which I highly recommend if you like the area where nerdiness meets hilarity  and they were talking with a guest about the Star Wars series, and someone posed the question: CG Yoda or Muppet Yoda? Now the context of this was, I believe, for which they would prefer to be used in the upcoming films by J J Abrams. But, one of the co hosts, Jonah ray had a not so surprising response of disgust with the CG Yoda from the new saga. I say not surprising, but I did find it strange that now one in that room had thought about this, so I thought that maybe there were other folks who hadn’t seen what I has seen.

Jonah’s response was a common one, most people who grew up with the muppet Yoda did not appreciate the appearance of the CG Yoda, especially since he did show up until Attack of the Clones. But what I saw when I watched this new surprisingly ninja-like, spring footed, CG Yoda was a progression being established. A progression from an aged but still very active and honed warrior this is Yoda, at his prime, as head of the Jedi Council. To a half crazy isolated old hermit that was introduced in the original saga.

This is a discussion that I have had with a few of my friends before, after having sat through a marathon done Chronologically. What you are shown by having this new vital and lethal version of Yoda in the new saga is the effects of the eighteen or so years he spent in near complete isolation on Dagobah. Another difference that you see is the range of his ability to sense thing with the force. He seems to be able to sense the events of the entire galaxy though the task is made difficult by the presence of the dark side.

At any rate, in light of this insight I have maintained that both versions of Yoda are necessary to communicate the events of Yoda experiences in the Star Wars sagas.

And that’s my take on the CG Yoda.

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Minecraft

MinecraftI am a recovering game addict… that a huge exaggeration but it does feel that way sometimes. I have always enjoyed video games and whenever I could afford them I would buy them, usually this meant second hand or on sale. And Minecraft was no exception, I bought the game half off when it was in the alpha phase, and it was fun then. Since buying the game, the development team has entered the Beta phase and have added all sorts of cool features. But the most intriguing aspect of the game is actually its lack of features.

So some of you may know about this game, from playing it or from random videos on YouTube, or from friends who play. But for those of you who do not know about Minecraft let me briefly describe it. Minecraft, as the name suggests revolves around two key elements, Crafting items and tools, and Mining Ores and Materials. You begin the game alone, washed up on the shores of a strange land, made of cubes; blocks. You are surrounded by an untamed landscape of 90 degree angles. That’s it. No instructions, no tutorial, no weird old man who seems hopelessly intent on telling you about every aspect of the world. You just go. It’s the first true sandbox game I have ever played that did not feel like an exercise in math.

And that is the real beauty of this game, the rules are simple and nearly identical to those of reality; gravity, friction, health, night, day, rain, sunshine. Your task: To tame the wilderness in any way you see fit. You can destroy and replace any block you wish in any way you wish. Some build sprawling metropolises, other go underground and tunnel a network of antechambers, still others play the game as nomads searching the near infinite landscape for interesting features. I say near infinite, because you are limited by the amount of hard drive space and memory available on your computer, but the game uses an algorithm to produce the landscape as you play, so the longer you walk the more “world” you have to play in.

Now a game without conflict would get old fast so there are “bad guys”. When night falls the Monsters come out; Archer skeletons, zombies, giant spiders and more. These beasts swarm over your location and try there best to destroy you and any structures you might have made.
But while this is an entertaining aspect of the game it is not what makes the game unique among many. As I said earlier, what I find to be the defining element of this game is the lack of conventions. This is not just an open ended RPG or a free roaming adventure game. This game becomes whatever you want it to be, and with a huge community of programmers being involved in playing as well as development there are even a near unlimited number of Mods and skins to give the game any extra layers of depth you may desire.

Community is another element of Minecraft that makes it so amazing. In addition to the surprisingly diverse number of online servers that can be played on, there is also a growing community of You Tubers that has sprung up in the wake of the great game, people sharing videos about tricks they learned as well as simply showing off their creations.

I personally have spent many hours, probably in the hundreds, playing this game with our ever getting bored. I fact I have to actively resist playing the game, in pursuit of more productive takes. That’s another surprising aspect of this game’s depth, even though there is no specific end to the game, when you play you don’t feel like you’ve wasted your time. At the end of even gaming session you can look at what you’ve done and see the progress that you have made. This effect is even stronger if you are apart of a community in the game, whether that be  simply playing on a multiplayer serve or recording your game play to show other players what you’ve made and what you learned about the game.

So, while I do admit that I have spent entirely too much time playing this silly game I can also confidently say that it is the game and not my personality that is the source of the addictive quality.

And that’s my take on Minecraft.

Being Fantasy Prone

FantasyProneI am what the folks over at The Skeptics Guide to the Universe or SGU,(a podcast that I highly recommend to anyone who related to my post on Science)  call a fantasy prone personality. Basically what this means is that, left to my own devices, I am pretty susceptible to suggestion and inclined to believe the fantastic. Now under the influence of Bill Nye and Beakman I grew a deep affection for science, and the more I learned the more I realized how wonky most of my beliefs were. These realizations, as there were several, lead me to develop a “thicker skin” you might say around what I let in as truth, in order to prevent my world view from being shattered anymore. In line with that goal in mind I made my world view much more flexible, holding only the most seasoned of facts as something to count on, the rest was up for debate, and did I ever grow an affinity for debate, and argument in general.

It is a constant struggle for me to keep myself from buying into fantastic theories of how the world works and forming my own strange conspiracy theories. I will catch myself, willing the elevator door to open as a display of some latent telekinetic power, and have to snap myself out of it before I start acting anything out. The one allowance I afford myself is when watching movies or television shows, especially when they are convincing or at least consistent. When I am watching a fiction, I am there, it is real. This is why I can right so ‘matter of factly’ about the goings on of the Star Trek Universe or The Star Wars Universe; in a small part of my mind (and it probably bigger than I care to admit) these worlds really do exist to me. I allow myself this indulgence because its is easy for me to compartmentalize these worlds, when the credits role I am reminded that that was a different world, with different physics in a different universe.. oh and fictional, yeah its definitely made up.

This is what I mean, even the language that I instinctively use when talking about fiction has a flare of hippy headed disillusion. Truthfully there is always a part of me the feels justified in talking about these fictional worlds as though they were factual.. somewhere. I have reasoned that since String Theory provides for alternate realities where every permutation is played out, that it is just as likely that these fictional worlds exist as our own. While this notion does not impact my daily life it does provide some comfort to that part of my brain that yearns to believe in the impossible and crazy.

Despite this aspect of my personality, if you talk to the majority of my friends, family, and co-workers, they would probably characterize me as a cynic and a stick-in-the-mud. I do not tend to indulge that part of my personality when examining and discussing the real world. I do not believe in ghosts. I do not believe in magic. I do not believe in angels or demons. I do not believe in UFOs. Though I do believe that aliens are out there in the universe, and as likely as it is that we will never actually make contact, I just can’t convince myself to let go of the possibility that we may find signs of intelligent life next week. But most of I believe in the abilities of the human race to image the impossible and then engineer it into the possible.

I am often reminded, when thinking about science and the supernatural, of the Arthur C. Clarke quote and third of his three laws of prediction “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. This is often cited as an argument that aliens have visited earth and that their technology would explain all of the “miraculous” event in our history, a la Stargate. I however tend to think of it in another context, this quote usually reminds me that we as human being are capable of performing magic, and not only that but we are jaded to its existence and treat it like there is nothing to marvel at. In the ancient days a person who was capable of communicating with any other person on the globe with the touch of a button would be heralded as a wizard for that one ability alone. My point is that as technology progresses so too will our definition of what is miraculous and impossible, and that is an awesome prospect.

I guess I can thank my fantasy prone personality for this ability to see the extraordinary in the everyday, but it is important not to let it get carried away as I so often see. That is why I am very grateful for my equal passion for science, because with the knowledge it provides I am able to harness that wild desire to believe in the fantastic into an optimism and a fiery desire to believe in something much more powerful than the fictional creatures in movies and books; the human spirit.

And that’s my take on being fantasy prone.

Working at the Library

LibraryI work at a library. I first got this job in December of 2010 they had just lost a worker and needed someone to fill in over the holidays so it worked out pretty well. The first time I ever worked at a library was in college, I worked in the Children’s Department over the summer at a public library, through work-study. The job mostly concerned babysitting all of the kids coming in to participate in the summer programming, but was all-in-all a pretty fun summer job. The next library job I had was in my college’s library, which seemed to be a very different environment. The librarians that work at public libraries, tend(and this is, admittedly, a pretty sweeping generalization) to be, for a lack of a better word, slackers. Most have elected to work as librarians because it tends to be a fairly low pressure environment. What this means is that on the rare occasion that things to become more hectic, they are overwhelmed by the situation and are pretty ineffectual.

College libraries, on the other hand, attract academics, people who have a natural curiosity across many diverse areas of study. People with a passion for learning, and sharing knowledge. Working in a college library was a very different  experience than working in the public system. I really enjoyed working at my college library and was sad about having to leave when I graduated. The next job in that field that I got was a seasonal position working at the local college bookstore, at the start of the fall semester.

I really love working with books, and my job at the bookstore was really great. Everyone I worked with was really nice and I clearly have impressed them, it seemed like every other time I finish a task they are shocked by how fast I did it. Working in a bookstore is great it has the perfect balance of physical labor and intellectual stimulation. Not like some other jobs I’ve had where I could easily be replaced by a sign. On the second day working there my manager offered up his reference for future applications. This was a great experience and I ended up working there during the winter season as well. Which was when I was offered my current position at the library, working in the reference department.

The main duties of a library worker vary depending on which department you work in and how big your library is. The front line of any library is the Circulation Department, these are the folks that check out your books and take care of any issues you might be having with your account (late fees usually). If you are working in a very small library this might be the only department, in which case you will be expected to do everything from checking in returned materials to repairing older items in the collection, if its a really small library this “department” might be one or two people.

The Reference Department is mostly concerned with helping patrons find the materials that you need, whether that is a book you heard about or if you just know that you need “something about Egypt  any decent reference library should be able to point you in the right direction and get you what you’ll need. Another responsibility that sometimes falls to the reference department, but more often is shared by the whole library, is shelve reading. Shelf reading is the practice of walking down the aisle and carefully scanning the call numbers on the spins of the books to make sure that that are all in order. This can be a tedious process, but with the addition of music or a good audiobook can be quite nice, and there nothing like seeing a neat and squared off (that’s when all the books are lined up along the edge of the shelf) aisle of books.

The bigger a library gets the more granular the departments get, there might be a department just for processing new items, a department for repairing old books, a department just to handle audio/visual materials. Whenever possible the library will try to consolidate these departments down, since the overhead for an individual employee is the highest expense that a library is likely to have, barring renovations.

One major perk/downside of working in a library is that you end up finding and reading a lot more then working at a regular store or office. The fact is that you are around books all day, you start to get a sense for what is popular and what people like the most, I say down side because invariably you accumulate more books that you want to read than it is actually possible to read in the time that it take to find yet another new book you want to read. Although, as far as downsides go that is a pretty easy one to deal with, a much more annoying downside is the number of times you interact with a person that clearly does know how to use a library, does know what book they want and very possibly doesn’t even know how to read, or spell their own name. These interactions happen on more than a weekly basis, but this is a feature of most customer service positions and is usually much more severe.

For anyone who is looking to get a job at a library, my best advice is to go down to the library of your choice and start volunteering. Volunteering is a great way to introduce yourself to the staff there and find out how often the hire new people. It also give them an opportunity to see that you are a nice person, and that you care about books. The best part is that most libraries depend on volunteer work to help cover the more menial tasks without adding extra cost to their budget, so you will probably have no problem getting at least a few hours of face time a week.All in all I have really enjoyed working in libraries and bookstores, though as a career I think I prefer to move on to something more creative.

And that’s my take on working at the library.

The Internet

InternetIt is not an uncommon opinion that things are worse than it ever been, people committing atrocities against each other and there is such a lack of sympathy for our fellow man that there is probably no saving us as a species.

I think this is bullshit. The fact of the matter is that while there may be less sympathy than ever I would argue that there is more empathy than there has ever been for the rest of the world. Empathy in my opinion is a more more powerful motivator for helping other than sympathy could ever be. Sympathy is the act of feeling for someone else’s plight, while empathy is the act of actually feeling someone elses pain. With empathy you are not only helping someone through their struggle you are helping yourself. There is one major contributor to this newly found empathy of the world that I think has brought us the farthest in terms of caring for one another. The factor is the Internet.

Since the popularization of the internet we have found and continues to find new ways of communicating with each other across all media platforms. We were, not so long ago, a sprawling behemoth that was too big to manage, like a person Gigantism whose heart struggles to pump blood to everywhere that needs it. Now we have an ever improving set of tools for finding information and collaborating with the rest of our world, and I for one am certain that a new cultural awakening is right around the corner, when we will stop thinking of ourselves as separate countries and nations, and begin seeing ourselves as one species.

The internet is truly a miracle, and not just from a cultural perspective, it’s also just fun. giving the average person access to every form of entertainment from video games to e-books, from forum debate to porn, the internet has it all. It even does a decent job of providing for lots of utilitarian needs, like right now I am using Google Drive to write this, so that I don’t have to buy a copy of the exorbitantly expensive, Microsoft Office. I also use the internet form most of my other electronic interactions.

I use Magicjack instead of a land line, and we also don’t get cable, we now use a combination, of Hulu.com, YouTube.com, Netflix, and downloads to completely substitute TV in general, we don’t even watch public broadcast and I can’t tell you how nice it is to be so commercial free, even dealing with the new commercials in Youtube and Hulu is nothing compared to the practical onslaught of ads that cable companies and television networks make you sit through. I’m not the only one either, more and more people that I am talking to especial people my age are switch nearly completely to internet for all of their communication and entertainment needs.

It’s building to the point where someday in, maybe as soon as, a decade their maybe be a collapse in the television industry as we know it and will take some fancy footwork on the part of the television networks to survive the switch to ‘Internet Broadcast’ as I am calling it. Also I think the these new wireless internet companies are the first step in that direction, since the Internet will be available anywhere and will become a wireless net covering the globe, as reliable as cell phones and conventional television. Making it all the easier to use the internet for television and radio broadcasts, where the raw systems like Hulu and I ❤ Radio will evolve into sophisticated and complicated networks for a new kind of programming.

I for one am excited to see all the new ways in which the internet will be used and it is all bring us all that much closer to that utopian Star Trek world, that I would very much like to see before I die.

And that’s my take on the internet.

Addictive Games

AddictiveGamesThroughout my life I have always been fascinated by video games, the way they draw you in challenge your mind and your reflexes, it has always been a big part of my social life. I remember going to overnight parties where the basic idea was to stay up all night playing, 007: Golden Eye, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Tenchu: Stealth Assassin, and Halo. These were games that my friends owned, I was poor and was limited to the NES that my uncle had bought us for Christmas one year, the NES-101 or Top-loading model that came out in ‘93. Since the system was already old I could rely on the second hand Nintendo games I could find.

Since then this has always been more or less the way I have interacted with the gaming industry, and then the internet happened. All of a sudden the internet was not just a place where you could feel creepy in a chat room  or send and receive email. When I was in high school I discovered the wonderful world of online gaming.

I foolishly started playing a little game called Runescape, a highly addictive but free online RPG, where the goal is simply to level your character get involved in the online community and joy the witty humor of the various Quests. This is probably one of the contributing factors in my slacking off in my studies in high school and once more time in college. Nothing kills the spirit of creativity for me faster than an addictive RPG. So safe to say I have gone cold turkey on the Runescape And games like it in hopes of improving my life. Not that it ever really took up that much of my time.

I would now consider myself a casual gamer since I don’t have the kind of fanatic enthusiasm for video games that lead some to spend whole paychecks on them, but I do enjoy playing some of the free ones, so much so, that I have become something of a connoisseur of free games.
There are obviously many free games available for the cheap/poor gamer, in this age of the Internet. From the more simple and, in my opinion, easier to move on from games like Fruit Smash or Magic Pen, but there are also a host of Free RPGs like Puzzle Pirates or Kingdom of Loathing, and none of these RPGs are so contradictory in nature as Runescape. Runescape is a strange beast because while, like I say, the Writing for the quests are silly and fun and the graphics are always making strides. the game play is really “farmville-esque” a basic point and click game; click to go here click to fish click to attack, click to craft armor, etc. The game becomes unbelievably tedious and yet I am drawn in and compelled to keep playing, and I believe that it is a dangerous combination of my particular personality type and the basic psychological tricks the game uses to to keep you engaged.

I am what the folks over at The Skeptics Guide to the Universe or SGU,(a podcast that I highly recommend to anyone who related to my post on Science)  call a fantasy prone personality. Basically what this means is that, my first inclination in a situation is to believe the outlandish. While I consider this attribute to be an asset when watching movies since it is really easy to immerse myself, in many other situations it’s something that I struggle with. And specifically  in the case of video games it can be a really dangerous trait, since in a RPG the goal is immersion, and unlike a movie there are no credits for, as a minimum, one hundred hours.

The other half of this gaming cocktail I find myself having to resist is the subtle psychological tricks that almost all addictive games implement. First I want to mention, because it’s my favorite, is the Skinner Box effect otherwise known as Operant Conditioning. This the idea that the choices you make can be conditioned and influence toward a specific choice or behavior. In this case that specific choice is to keep playing. This effect can be achieved using a number of techniques.

The first and most obvious is random loot drops, basically if you want some specific piece of armor or weapon and the only way to get it is to fight baddies until it drops, that could potentially keep you playing for hours and hours, without ever seeing any new content; dramatically extending the life of a bit of coding. Especially when the game is offered for free, meaning the they are probably relying on either advertisements or micro payments the name of the game is keep the eye balls here. They want you playing as long as possible for each quest and map, because the higher the ratio the more money they are making.

Other tricks they use are thing like, experience points, so that you can see your progress and feel a sense of accomplishment. They will implement time sensitive rewards, like come back in one hour and you can receive X amount of gold, making sure that you begin to schedule gaming in advance instead of relying on you to decide to play when you feel like it. There are others I could describe but  the fact of the matter is just these few are enough to keep anyone playing longer than they intended to. I have found that the best way to help counteract these tricks and take back control of your time is to simply learn about them. If you can spot a psychological trick manipulating you, it drastically reduces its effectiveness. So that’s the general way I approach new games, carefully and keeping in mind what is more important to me, like my friends and family, work and project of mine like this blog.

There is nothing wrong with video games, as I said before, I love them. Video games can be fun, engaging, evocative, and compelling. But just like any other activity, if you give control of how you spend your time over to it, it will consume it all, at the cost of every other aspect of your life that you care about.

And that’s my take on addictive games.