Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Another Dream I Had

            Had a nap, and got one of the most awesome dreams I have ever had.

            I was dreaming that I was in a city of dreamers, populated by people who were in comas or just sleeping very deeply, but they moved through a city that was very strangely laid out; now that I sit here it was kind of reminiscent of a nearby district of Istanbul that I lived near when I was a Koc University.  It had a lot of open store front restaurants, but with a added things like a lot of neon lights and it was really ethnically diverse.

            I was sitting in a Thai or Chinese store front area eating with and talking to this really old man, he had been in a coma or something for a very long time and had aged in the dream city.  We were talking about how you could get a free commemorative cup from the restaurant if you asked them to serve you your drink (and this is hard to describe), if they would serve you your drink in the cup that was pictured behind the counter (like someone had taken a picture of the cup and had it framed and hung it up behind the counter), the server then reached into the frame and pulled out two commemorative cups for us.  Cause this was a dream.

            Now at some point I ended up having some kind of freak out, because sometimes when you are in a dream and you know you are dreaming your mind goes to the worst possible thing you can think of.  For some people it is being naked in public (which I never got, when I dream of being naked in public I mostly just go with it), for other people they start to remember bad things that happened to them, for me I just went full blown nightmare.  The old man said to me, "Careful, you're going to start lighting this place up".

            Then these things started to slowly appear as everything got really red, because the sky was raining blood (probably had something with me having just donated blood and it being on my mind).  The things that appeared were monsters and killers, and horrific things that lined the street shoulder to shoulder like they were waiting for a parade to go by.  Nothing was too out there, there were guys (covered in blood from the rain) wrapped in chains, others had sacks on their heads, other were covered in scars or tattoos.

            And they were all just comely standing out as the residents of the dream city just kept on about their lives, as if this happened all the time.  Kind of like the Dark World of "Silent Hill" when I think about it.

            And then the nightmare passed like a quick rain storm, the blood vanished, and I went back to exploring the dream city.  Later I went into a very pricy looking store that had very fancy escalators, and slides to get back down, but that is not as interesting.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Short Story, "You have to be There"

            "You have to be there," I said.  "It isn't about the ruins, it is about what happened in the ruins."
            "I understand you like history," Rae replied.  "But when you have seen one ruin you have seen them all."
            I sighed, and walked up behind her, and put my hands over her eyes.
            "This is a little invasive," Rae said.
            "Just be quite for a second and think with me," I said.  "Picture the ruins."
            "You covered my eyes so I could picture what was right in front of me."
            "Yes, smart ass, now do it."
            "Okay," she said.
            "Relax as we travel back through time a bit," I started.  "You are not from here, you don't speak the language outside of the words for inn or food, you use your fingers to show how much you are willing to pay for something and you are surrounded by people who all dress, eat, talk, and think different from you.
            "You lead a pack animal, he is smaller than the one you started with who died at a pit stop and you sold for meat, along with a good bit of what it had been carrying for a stunted profit, all in hopes of lightening the load, all they had were smaller animals."
            "Why did you stop?" Rae asked.
            "Let me show you," I moved my hands from her eyes.
            "Oh, my God," she leaned back into me and gazed around, shades of old merchants and soldiers walked around us, see through, but still having the color of their skin and clothing, a shine to their armor dulled by the haze of time being looked back through.  "What is this?"
            "You have to be there."  And so we walked through the ruins of this long ago world, through the shades of those who had gone before, seeing the stories of those whose names had been forgotten, whose wares had been unsold, the few who had been robbed or who lived in poverty.  "Time may have passed, but it was, and in these places, time is, and that is why I like them."
            "Okay, this is less boring."
            "It was never boring," I replied.  "You were just bored."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Civilization V, pt3

            I would also like to see more wonders of the world, at launch the game only had 4 of the original 7, which is insulting as they later sold them as a mini game booster along with the Korean Civilization.  But if I had to suggest a couple I would suggest first, Burj Khalifa, the worlds half mile tall sky scrapper in Dubai, it appears for construction when you research the Mass Market I mentioned last blog; I think it could give a bonus to nearly any stat but I think the best thing it could do is boost trade benefits from international partners, granting extra happiness and money from each deal with a City State, since in real life the thing was intended to bring international attention and investment to the country.  I also think that since some wonders, like Machu Picchu require proximity to mountains that a really good mountain proximity wonder would be Mount Rushmore; it would appear for construction when you get Dynamite; the best bonus would be to generating Great Persons (special historical figures like Thomas Edison or Patton who do different things in the game), they have a wonder that does it currently the Hagia Sophia, so this would be an even bigger bonus being much later in the game.

A picture of me in front of the Hagia Sophia.
             More Wonders, the Hoover Dam, comes when you get electricity, and can only be built in the city is on a river it will grant a bonus to Production (another resource used to build buildings an units like soldiers), or a bonus to production in all cities and a free Hydro Electric dam in the city it is actually built in.  I also like the Panama Canal, it would be unique in that you would have to build it in two coastal cities that are only a certain distance apart, it would allow you to transport a naval unit between the two cities as if it had been led down the Canal.  And the Golden Gate Bridge would be another one, researched with Metallurgy (right now the only thing you get with Metallurgy is a shitty mounted unit) the Bridge would have to be over a lagoon type area on a coast, and it would grant a small bonus to units moving along roads.

            The Ancient Cities of Petra (an ancient city in Syria that is carved into a canyon wall and served as a place to get water and safe passage through the desert) and Timbuktu (a wealthy African capital city) that could also be added.  Petra comes with Engineering, gives the city a free Aqueduct with its construction granting a bonus to city growth on top of the Aqueduct.  Timbuktu would appear with Theology (as it was an important Islamic center), only be buildable on a river and grant a bonus to developing a religion.

The Oracle, a Wonder of the Ancient World... Kinda.
            Another could be the Las Vegas Strip (a massive expenditure of electricity and hub of money for the United States), have it appear with Electricity and have whatever city building it get a free Casino (a new building I think should be added), it would generate two Great Merchants, like the Louvre generates two Great Artists.  Probably the best one would be The Internet, you get it researching Computers and it should give a bonus to spies in enemy countries (like the Arab Spring in real life) and at the same time give you a bonus to pretty much everything.

            Really, I am hooked, and whatever they throw out there I will devour, I just hope it is good.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Civilization V, pt2

            There are things missing from the game that I don't really lament, but find odd.  For instance when you build the legendary wonder of the world "The Great Library (of Alexandria)" you get a free Library in the city as one of the benefits, cause that is common sense.  So when "The Louvre" one of the largest museums in the world becomes a buildable Wonder of the World later in the game you would think that as part of building it a free Museum would be one of the benefits, that is not the case.  On the topic of Museums, there is only one type, it grants a bonus to Culture (a resource used to buy policies in the game like Liberty or Patriarchy), that makes some sense, museums should provide a cultural benefit, but what about Science museums?  Why can't there be 2 types of museum, one that gives a big Culture benefit, and another that gives a smaller culture boost, but also gives a small science boost, and maybe a boost to your national happiness (another resource that builds up to a "Golden Age") if you are a country that is really focused on science?  Likewise, Libraries don't grant a bonus to culture (which, really the word "culture" is a stand in for philosophy in the early parts of the game, and Media in the late parts).

The Great Library.

            There are other things that could be added too.  Like for instance, there are 4 big buildings that grant happiness, Coliseums, Circuses (if you have horses or elephants), Theaters (which give no bonus to culture), and Stadiums.  Where are the amusement parks?  I know it is a little thing, but it would be a cool addition when you research railroads you get roller coaster parks that cities can build to increase Happiness.  For that matter, why are there no Zoos, Casinos or Breweries?  Currently the technology you start off with in the game is Agriculture, it costs nothing and allows you to build farms, but you can't build Granaries until you research Pottery, why not have Granaries come with agriculture and get Breweries when you research Pottery, the Brewery adds to Food production and some Happiness?  And Casinos could happen when you Research Electricity in the late game, have them give happiness and money.  Zoos would come with Biology, giving more of a happiness bonus.  Just make each structure cheaper to maintain, and have a lower overall bonus to happiness so you are not generating too much happiness and in doing so making it a nonfactor in the game play.

            I also think that researching Skyscrapers should be a technology that grants access to Apartment Complexes, which should give a bonus to city growth like the Aqueduct or Hospital.  Later they could have you research Mass Market, which would grant access to Grocery stores and allow Luxury items like gems and dyes to grant bigger bonuses to happiness (because it is making these items more available to you citizens.  They could also use Airports, which would allow you to fly a unit in a city to another city with an airport, and give a bonus to production.

            There is also the lack of alternative power, currently you can only get a Solar Power Plant for structures in the desert, and Hydro Electric Dams next to rivers, why not Wind Turbines as an upgrade to Windmills?  They could come along with the Solar Plants when researching Ecology in the late game.

This is the symbol for Ecology, a guy diving.  What do you get for researching Ecology?  Solar Plants, cause that is what you do to build Solar Plants in the desert, you go diving.

            So I guess there are a few things I would like them to add in the expansion, Amusement Parks, Breweries, Casinos, and different types of Museum.  What are some other things?  Well, since they are adding Religion as a new resource and mechanic then that means some culture buildings, Temples and Monasteries are going to have to change function.  So I guess new culture building will have to exist, maybe add Artist Communes (which existed in numerous ancient cultures) and maybe Academies (like the one Plato started in Greece), both of these could generate culture.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Civilization V, pt1

            Probably my favorite video game ever is "Civilization V".  At time of writing I have logged 1211 hours according to the online track keeping on the part of the Steam network.  I actually avoided buying the thing for a very long time because I knew, both from the advertising (which flat out stated that it would be the most addictive game ever made) and my own knowledge of my likes.  ("Age of Empires" anyone?)

Kind of a bland logo really.

            The game is turn based strategy, which means you get to move and use all of the pieces you control on a board at any given time then the other 'players' act one after another.  You are a historical ruler of a living or dead civilization, be it George Washington, Napoleon, or Otto Von Bismarck.  Over the course of a game you go from the dawn of civilization in which your whole world is a city and some club wielding warriors.  Eventually constructing fantastic monuments from through history, Big Ben, the Colossus of Rhodes, or the Great Wall.  You research bronze working, theology, and eventually space travel.  You can go to war.  Or you can become a mercantile leader of lesser nations.  You can win the game in a half dozen ways, most often for me this involves colonizing other planets.

            Soon an expansion to this game will hit the market and I will be buying it day of release because it will change the game in significant ways, it will increase the number of different world leaders by a third, will add in new systems for spying, make Naval units relevant (which might be the biggest problem mechanically with the unaltered original), and will most importantly allow the player to create religion as part of the game mechanics instead of religion just being something that gets researched as if it were a new type of mill or factory.

            I already know that they are changing combat significantly, like the previous mentioned Navies becoming relevant they are making it so all units have 100 Hit Points.  Currently each unit has 10 HP, and any attack action takes a minimum of one HP to do.  So you will sometimes be in a situation where an archer from the stone age is dealing damage to an Giant Death Robot from the year 2040.  With 100HP, the archers will still be able to deal 1 HP of damage but it won't be 10% of the robot's whole life.  In this regard I really don't have anything to complain about, this adds a lot of flexibility to how units work and I am really glad they added it.

Kind of an Ed-209 type thing, but with Uranium.
             If I were to add something to the combat units it would be to change some advancement.  Currently there is a unit called a Scout, it doesn't advance like other units it just looks around.  So in the late game you might have a half dozen scouts, who wouldn't put up much of a fight against Spearmen, but you are currently fighting Riflemen.  Why not have the Scout upgrade to an Archer?  This problem happens again later.  Archers turn into Crossbowmen, and they are both ranged units, able to fire over a space and not get hurt, but then they upgrade again into a melee unit, so they can't shoot over spaces again.  Why?  Why not have them turn into a new unit: Snipers?  They still shoot over spaces and continue to serve the same strategic function they always have.  Then in the even later game they could turn into Commandos which do the same but are Stealthy (a new ability that means a unit can't be seen until an enemy unit moves onto its space).  It is a hole in how things are that I think needs fixing.

One of the new societies.

This Past Week

            Things from my week.  I have discovered that the "Italian Style Favorite" DiGiorno pizza, Meatball Marinara and Chicken Parmesan are quite delicious.  But then so is a toasted whole wheat bagel with cream cheese, garlic salt, and a slice of tomato.  I started taking French, which when compared to Chinese is a chocolate cake walk.  I have managed to go to the gym 5 times, each day after class and have drastically changed the way I was going about getting fit.

            Really my whole routine has changed in that I have one, French is always the same time for the same period of time, it happens late enough in the morning that I have time to wake up, have breakfast, and do my homework before it begins which puts me in a state of mind to do French.  Afterword I read some, head to the gym, head home, and do more homework and read until bed.  It is relaxing to know what I am doing and to be able to do it without grinding my teeth.  But at the same time I feel busy and I do not think of myself as having a lot of flex time, I am in class effectively 10 hours each week not counting additional homework and studying, that is the equivalent to a full schedule, even if the work is a step down in difficulty and I think I could handle another course that was safely in my wheelhouse, like my terrorism or International trade course from this spring.

            As for working out changes I have decided to start grading myself each week to see if I have any improvement, a few small exercises that I can use to measure progress.  Along with my weight, blood pressure (averaged off of three measurements all taken in the same 5 minutes), and the amount of time I can hold my breath (again averaged off of three measurements all taken in the same 5 minutes).  Mostly the shift is to cardio, and I think that will be a good change of pace to help me lose weight, as I have hit a plateau with my current weight lifting efforts.

Blood Pressure: 137/81
Chin-ups: 4
Leg Extensions (70lbs): 26
Bench (95lbs): 16
Leg Lifts: 20
1.5 miles: 19minutes 29seconds (this needs a lot of work)
Curls (25lbs): 20
Fly Extensions (10lbs): 25
Hold Breath: 51 seconds
Weight: 216.25lbs

Friday, May 11, 2012

"Avengers" Review, No Spoilers

            I saw "The Avengers" a few days ago, and I loved it, what is more I still love it, I am looking back on it remembering scenes that were awesome, funny, exhilarating, or pathos inducing and wishing I were watching it again.  I have watched a good 8 episodes of the cartoon series (which is spectacular, go watch it on Netflix, I would say it is in many ways better than the "Justice League" cartoon from 10 years ago if for no other reason than the Avengers don't form for 7 episodes and an over arching plot is established in the first episode, basically it just has a more epic structure).  What I'm saying here is, I find myself saying over and over again, "AVENGERS ASSEMBLE" and picturing myself in the action alongside these characters helping to save the world.

This has so much fun in it.
             I am a huge comic book, and more specifically superhero fan.  My uncle John introduced them to me when I was a kid and grew up with the 90's X-Men and Spiderman cartoons alongside Batman and Superman, but the first comic book I ever bought was an issue of Thor, and I had a subscription to Captain America (comics I read so many times that they literally fell apart, something I really regret because I had the first appearance of the super villain, Superia who has become really important in the Avengers recently and the comic probably would have been valuable).  There is an underlying nostalgia in this movie that, to a degree colors my ability to evaluate it, but even when I turn that part of my brain off, I still love the movie.

            It might seem insane to say this, but the greatest strength of "The Avengers" is the structure.  It should go without saying that movies should have foreshadowing, effective pacing, character interactions, action beats, and awareness of plot elements, but many movies don't have those basic elements, and few movies can claim to do it as well as "The Avengers" do it here.  There is punctuation to scenes, small jokes, visuals, little elements that makes everything transition on a high note.  Like a comedian telling an effective joke, each seen has set up, the meat of why the scene exists, and then a mini pay off which makes an impression on you so that when they reference the scene later you can easily remember it.  This ties things together better.

            There is even good camera work.  There is a shot in which two characters, Bruce Banner (the Hulk) and Tony Stark (Iron Man) are talking as Bruce and Tony, and they are each explaining how neither of them asked to be a hero.  Bruce getting his powers through a lab accident while trying to recreate the Captain America program, and Tony having to build a mechanical heart for himself because terrorists used his conventional weapons against him.  Bruce and Tony's development mirror each other as Tony stops manufacturing weapons for use by anyone other than himself as Iron Man, and Bruce literally has to run from the military to keep them from using the Hulk as a weapon.  This conversation happens on either side of a clear glass screen, so that Tony's reflection on the glass overlays Bruce, and in the reverse shot Bruce's reflection overlay's Tony, the glass screen serves as a literal frame around each of them.

Seriously, these two have great chemistry on screen and do a lot to sell the movie.

            And what is the screen between Tony and Bruce?  It is a stylish computer monitor that is busy processing two different functions.  They are looking for the bad guy, Loki and they are hacking into SHIELD computers because they don't entirely trust who they are working for.  In others words, they are both weapon makers, hunting down a guy who would use weapons to inflict evil on the world, and while doing that they are making sure they are not going to just turn this weapon in to a group who would use it for evil, and they are doing this because both characters have been burned in the past.  This is a flawless visual metaphor.  It is a perfect scene in a movie, and in addition to all it tells you about the characters through their great dialogue, it also tells you huge amounts with just the visuals about how these two see each other.  And the movie is loaded with that type of scene.  Beautiful.

            For the sake of criticism here is my biggest complaint: Captain America's mask was not quite as cool as it was in his own movie "Captain America: The First Avenger".  That is it, and that is me at my most nit-picky.

Then again, he doesn't really wear it that much, and he doesn't need to.

            If you have not seen "The Avengers", go watch it.  The previous films are not required viewing to enjoy it, but it will add to your appreciation.  And if you have already seen it and liked it, I hope my analysis of that one particular scene between Tony and Bruce helped you to appreciate the movie on another level.

            I think I will end up seeing it again at a matinee.

Poem, "Tiny Dreams"

            I unbuttoned the top of my head the other day, like a cloth bag my scalp was flopped open and my thoughts and dreams were left to float around the room, or walk, slither, or even scurry as they saw fit.  The first that really pulled my eye were the moths made out of prism glass and crystal, rather than casting shadows of themselves in the light of the talking candle sticks, they instead cast rainbows.

            There were spiders, their bodies were old rotary phone cradles and they dragged the receiver behind them like a tail, the stretchy cord getting pulled long then the receiver jumping up and hitting the spider in the butt, spitting out the same message, "Your call could not be completed as dialed."

            There is a monkey, there always seems to be.  This one is purple, but since I don't like defining people by their race I have decided that this is a monkey who happens to be purple, rather than a purple monkey.  then again I don't know any stereotypes assigned to either monkeys or the color purple, so I don't think either thing was hurt by the association.

            A lizard playing chess with a ball of light while a ware-wolf, that is to say a wolf that stores and sells various wares, sits and watches while eating canned tuna.  It is the only board game I see and that disappoints me, I find chess boring.

            There is a palm reader, who has a book made our of skin taken from the palms of dead people.  Not very useful for telling the future of those who died, maybe the answers are written in the back of the book so she can evaluate and then check her work.  Maybe it is a menu.

            Soon my head is empty and I have shrunk down so that I am now the size of a doll, the dreams I have let loose to wander and explore like a village of building blocks, toys, and sadly only that one board game, maybe the chess board flips over and there is Chinese checkers underneath, at least then someone else could play.  Since I shrank I have to find new cloths, and maybe a hat to hide the fact that the top of my head is gone.

            I find a mish mash of wardrobe, I manage to buy on credit most of what I need from a man made out of gold and am walking around dressed in a manner reserved for magicians who perform exclusively in space stations.  To put it another way, a lot of silver.  Makes me think that the gold man might have stolen the cloths.

            So for a while I wandered my dreams as they made themselves at home in my living room, climbing the couch and watching television, strangely not noticing that watching TV made them melt, probably some subconscious social commentary in there.  You might wonder how I wrote this shrunk, or how I managed to get back to my normal size, I didn't, I just found a tiny computer that hook into my wi-fi, though the tiny computer appeared to be made out of melon skin.  So here I am, tiny and living with my dreams.