Saturday, February 28, 2015

Lego Elves

Lego Elves appears to be the third installment in Lego's unofficial Lego for Girls line of merchandise.  As with the first two installments (Lego Friends and Disney Princesses) there's nothing wrong with the line in itself, it's just that dividing Legos into Legos and Legos for Girls is wrong and fucked up and full of bad messages and so forth.

I've been watching the gradual unveiling of the line since I learned about it and the biggest surprise came when the "official trailer" turned out to be a full blown episode.  Apparently that was a mistake because what's now shown in that spot is in fact a trailer with a trailer appropriate length of a minute and 25 seconds.

The episode that they, apparently accidentally, released before was timed so that it would fill a half hour slot on TV which makes me wonder if it's going to be a TV show because it's kind of weird to cut precious minutes out of your show so that commercials can fit into it if you're not going to actually put commercials into it at some point.

On the other hand, I've never followed Lego's online animation, maybe that's just their standard practice whether or not there will ever be commercials.


Anyway, the site has already gone live and tomorrow you can start buying to your heart's content and the thing is ... Lego is really good at making pretty fucking cool things even when it's a part of their sexist bullshit overall strategy.

I give you the cheapest set in this new line: Aria the elf who thought jet-packs were too "meh" and so built a wing-pack with which to fly around.  Sure, she's not going to win any races against Falcon, but she looks at least 11 times as awesome as Falcon does in the only set he's in.  (Note that Hulk and Groot are the only ones who get quasi-realistic sculpting in the Marvel Heroes line, but everyone does in Friends-Princess-Elves continuum.)

It's hard not to like Aria with her wing-pack and really there's no point in trying because while Lego as a whole might be a sexist thing, their products have always been a great equalizer.  The munchkin-weasel who said "They have Lego Friends for the girls and regular Legos for the boys," wants me to buy her Elsa’s Sparkling Ice Castle and the Knowwhere Escape Mission because she has no idea about how lacking in money I generally am in spite of me telling her, multiple times, that I'm broke.

What do girls want in a Lego set?  "I am Groot" and "Let it go!"*

What are girls advertised in a Lego set?  Only the latter.

That's the problem: the marketing.  The sets themselves are fine.  I, for one, can't wait to see the Elsa and Groot team-up where she stands on his arm shooting ice magic at the interstellar bad guys as he plows through other bad guys.  (Why his arm and not his shoulder?  Because his shoulder doesn't have any studs for her to stand on where his arm is made with the intention, see the pictures, of someone, say a raccoon with a rocket launcher, standing on them.)

So, anyway, Lego Elves.

There are 25 regular lines of Legos that are marketed to boys, men and, notably, the boy-man unit that is a father and son.  When I say "regular" I mean that in spite of how they are marketed there's nothing about them that ought to be specifically male.  Munchkin-weasel loves her Groot and Rocket as much as the next person.

(The fact that the raccoon and space Ent are both male is Marvel's fault**, not Lego's.  The fact does not prevent the little weasel from liking them; strange that children should be so much more open minded in what they want to play with than advertising execs think they will be.)

Lego Elves brings the Lego lines marketed to girls up to three.  Since three girls lines are supposed to balance against 25 normal male people lines, it's worth taking a look at this newest line.

Like I said re:the wing-pack, it's not bad.

Lego may be horrible when it comes to how they present and market their products, but they're still very good at making the products.

Though there are some ... oddities.  Lego is marketing the entire line based around that episode they released and then apparently unreleased when they realized that instead of a trailer they'd put up the entire episode.

That episode goes like this:
Human character Emily is really broken down over her grandmother's death and her mother gives her a pendant that said-grandmother wanted her to have while suggesting that Emily might feel better in said-grandmother's garden.

Already I'm a bit confused because it seems to me, and I could be wrong, like going to the place where someone's absence is most strongly felt might make the pain of losing them worse.

Regardless Emily does so which allows her alone time where no one will notice her absence and she is promptly sucked into a magical portal.  (To the world of elves, of course.)

Here's where the odd bit comes in.  All of the sets are being marketed as get them so you can play through getting Emily back home.  Emily is only in one of the sets.  Somehow I don't think a lot of parents are going to start their kids on the most expensive set (fifty bucks.)  So how you're being told to play with them (which, why are you being told how to play with them?) is something you can't do.

Well, the first recommendation is something you can't do unless you pester your parents into getting you the most expensive set, because the first thing is:
In LEGO® Elves, teenager Emily Jones has been transported to a magical world. Children must help Emily find her way home
Not going to be easy to get her back home when you can't even afford a set with her in it.

The pitch does go on to say:
The rich LEGO Elves fantasy world also means childen[sic] can easily create their own epic quest with the elvish companions.

I hope so because, spoiler, Emily gets home with almost no effort expended in the first episode.  If the only playing you get to do is trying to get her back home you'll be done in twenty three minutes and forty seconds more or less.  Less if kids don't waste time on stilted dialogue, more if the kids make the quest actually interesting (which kids are, fortunately, likely to do) unlike how it was in the episode.

So that's one sort of weird thing.  The other is that lego seems to have, for some reason, gone out of their way to make their characters look unlike the mini-figures of their characters.  Naida, for example, has absurdly distinctive hair and given that elf-ears necessitated making a new mold for her hair piece it seemed vaguely plausible that the mini-figure might in some why approximate that.  Not so much.

That's the most obvious one, though one that gives me a slight case of WTF? is that Emily insists upon always wearing her ponytail in front, Elsa style.  If you look at the link to Elsa you'll see that not even Elsa gets to wear her hair Elsa style in Lego-land.  And, sure enough, neither does Emily.  It seems to me like if you can't or won't do a certain hairstyle you'd probably not want to make an original character that always has that hair style.

But, anyway, back to the non-oddities.  The sets look cool, seriously look at them, including a ship for epic adventures, a tree fort, and a bakery with a nice nearby lava-fall which doesn't cause you to die from the heat because, I assume, magic.

And, unlike the princess line (where Jasmine is exotic as compared to the other princesses royal, romantic, magical, creative, and sparkling adjectives), they appear to have avoided eating their foot via completely unnecessary bullshit with regards to naming.

I think that Lego's done a good job with these sets, I'd certainly think they look cool.


Now, back to the episode they mistakenly released, which I watched in large part because by the time I went, "Damn, this is a long trailer," I'd already gone far enough in to ... what's the non morbid equivalent of wanting to see a train wreck through because, what the hell, you've already started the process and is it really worth stopping if that might leave you wondering how this, of all things, ends?

It wasn't bad in the right way for me to watch it because it was bad, and it wasn't good enough for me to think "hooked" is the right term, and it wasn't wrong enough for me to describe it as "morbid curiosity" but something kept me watching.

I think part of it is the obvious room for comparison to the first episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  Both are pilot episodes of product shilling shows aimed at girls.

And both follow essentially the same plot: Stranger comes to down, makes friends, they work together to do something, and at the end the person who shows up to be antagonistic is converted via compassion from a family member.

The first episode of MLP wasn't the worst episode of the show, but damn did it fall below all expectations set by people talking about how good the show was.  It started on kind of a ... note that's sharp or flat by an amount smaller than a quarter-tone thus sounding completely off and annoying and not inspiring confidence in what is to follow.

The Elves episode did more or less the same thing for arguably the same reason: you can't pull that off in the allotted time.

In the first episode of MLP Twilight is supposed to form not one but five strong friendships and then each of those five friends is supposed to prove themselves the worthy inheritor of a key virtue of Equestria.  You could make ten full length movies out of that plot (one for each friendship forming, one for proving each virtue) and still not have covered any aspect in sufficient depth and you still wouldn't have reached the climax of the episode.

Elves has a somewhat smaller task in that Emily only has to make four friendships, and each of the friends merely has to use their elemental powers (Elves operates on the ancient Greek elemental system) but it's still completely rushed.  There's an exchange where someone goes from an attitude of, "I think I might possibly be able to do this ... maybe," to one of, "I am totally going to get this done; I give you my word and that means IT WILL HAPPEN," in the time it takes another character to ask her to clarify her first statement.  Totally believable character arc.

The standing down of Emily's great-aunt is done with all the grace of the redemption of Princess Luna.

All of that said, I have a feeling that while MLP vastly improved on its initial offering Elves is probably going to remain vapid and uninspiring.  But that doesn't really matter since the point of Legos (which would might surprise the aforementioned munchkin-weasel and her brother the ... other-weasel) is not to watch animated shows about them.

Even if the show continues to be the opposite of fun, kids are going to have awesome adventures with the ship and the tree fort and the lava bakery and the wing-pack.

If the show is meant to inspire a feeling of, "That's boring, give me the characters," (which means 'buy me the sets') "and I can totally do better with this premise," (which I highly doubt) it arguably succeeds.  I'm sure most children can come up with way cooler adventures that involve the basic outline of: Emily meets elves, they search for the magic keys, Emily is able to go home (with the option to come back at any time.)


A last thing that I'd like to point out is the weird inclusion of fantastic racism in the animated show.  Well, reverse fantastic racism since it's on the part of the elves toward the human.  It isn't the kind of racism that says, "You're lesser than me," it's the kind that says, "You're weird because you're different than me."

It makes a certain amount of sense, as Emily is presumably the only human the elves in question have ever seen, but it's dialed up to 11.  It's all about Emily's ears.  Made all the stranger because, as a Lego figure, Emily doesn't have ears.  The elves do as part of their hair pieces, but Emily doesn't because Lego humans don't have ears.  So every time someone takes a closer look at Emily's ears in the animation it's a scene that you can't come close to replicating with the figures because as a figure she has no ears.

Why you'd draw attention to a part of anatomy your product fails at is beyond me.

But, anyway, here's a quote:
I love meeting new-- whoa!  What is with those ears!?  Wow. *pause* That- that was rude.  Sorry.  But how did they get like that? *touches one without permission* Is it a costume? *steps back* Ugh.  I'm sorry.  Super inappropriate. *pause* But they're weird.
And so on.  It's finally cut off by the statement, "Little-ears-Emily needs our help," but it wasn't the first time the ears were brought up and it won't be the last.

"Not with those ears, no way!" *grabs half of face, without warning, to get a closer look* "Can you even hear?" stood out as another good example of how the characters treat Emily.


* Random note: Guardians of the Galaxy was a film with one female hero and four male (but one of the male ones was a tree who didn't say much) Frozen was a film with two female heroes and three male (but one of the male ones was a reindeer who didn't say much.)  A movie with exclusively original characters about a queen and a princess who are both good only does slightly better than a movie staring superheroes thought up in the seventies and (for Groot) sixties.

(Though note that heroes were assembled into a team in 2008 and the team had a ratio of 5 male to 3 female so in the winnowing process Marvel threw out two women and only one man.)

** Rocket is a character who was established as male before I was born so he was going to be male, I get that, but Groot is a plant.  Why was this the voice of Groot?  When they picked which characters were going to be in the movie one was definitely female and three were definitely male and Groot was Groot.

It's mentioned in the movie that Groot doesn't get gender, and that makes sense given the way plants tend to reproduce, but they still gave the role to male actor.  Why?  Groot is a plant, they could give the role to whoever they wanted and they were already male heavy.

Also, I'm impressed with Vin Diesel.  I didn't realize he was Groot's voice and I have to say he did it well.  Best acting he's done since Pitch Black.  Maybe the best acting of his career.

Although ... looking at his thing he did the Iron Giant too which I have not seen (well, I think I caught maybe a minute of it once) but have heard good things about.  Maybe voice acting is where his talent really lies.

And now it's too fucking hot

I kind of wanted to hold off on this until things were finally resolved, so I could make a, "Yay I'm not freezing," post unfettered by, "But things still aren't right," but as the day drags on I just want to have get an update out there.

Figuring out how to translate the money donated to me via paypal into heat in my home went from a very slow process to a very fast process so quickly that, "I can't find someone who'll accept a debit card," (you can have one that's hooked directly to your Paypal account thus saving you the need to be involved in tedious wire transfers) to, "Three places are tripping over each other to take my debit card," in the span of a day.

The one that I picked was the one who could deal with all of the various problems and do it very quickly.  (Once payment was sorted out the major problem was clearing my driveway of snow since, being carless, I have not shoveled the thing at all this winter.  An army of snow blowers got the job done.)

So last night I went to sleep with a new boiler all installed and working on the slow task of heating my house.

Actually that's not accurate.  Last night when I went to sleep there was already a problem becoming apparent.  Things were getting too hot.  The thermostat-boiler system was clearly messed up.  But it was night, i was tired, I had stayed up too late writing that post about Spock, and I needed to go to sleep.

I turned the thermostat as low as it would go and figured I'd deal with the problem, whatever it happened to be, in the morning.

In the morning when I got up it was 88 degrees F.  Apparently that's about 31 C if that means more to you.  The furnace was still trying to heat.

The thermostat was set such that it shouldn't have kicked in until the temperature dropped below 40 F (4 C.)  It wasn't that they weren't working together properly, it was that new heating system and the thermostat were completely ignoring each other.

So I manually turned it off, called the people who installed it, and spent a while hiding out in the basement where it happens to be cooler.

The temperature dropped to the low seventies (I know it got as low as 73 F, I don't know if that was the furthest it dropped) but it would seem that a fair component of the work done to make sure the thing properly turns off has to be done while it's on.  Until someone tells me otherwise my going assumption will be that if it isn't already on you can't tell if it will turn off.

Since they started working on the thing, the temperature has climbed back up to 78 F.


An interesting side note to this is that I had some pretty fucked up dreams last night, that usually only happens when I'm sick.  Maybe raising the temperature enough so that your body assumes you must have a fever because it's so damn hot can induce fever dreams in non-sick people.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most...vulcan.

So I want to talk about Spock as portrayed by Leonard Nimoy.

Mr. Nimoy died today of end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at the age of 83.  As a response a lot of people are quoting the eulogy Kirk gives Spock in the movie where Spock dies.

It's not a long speech.  It's quite short.  This is the full thing:
We are assembled here today to pay final respects to our honored dead. And yet it should be noted that in the midst of our sorrow, this death takes place in the shadow of new life, the sunrise of a new world; a world that our beloved comrade gave his life to protect and nourish. He did not feel this sacrifice a vain or empty one, and we will not debate his profound wisdom at these proceedings. Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most *voice breaks* human.
Of course in the next movie the new life and new world explode because Kirkson took shortcuts in his science while Spock's death would be undone (spoiler).  So pretty much all of that is invalidated, but that's not the point.

Anyway, people aren't quoting the whole thing, just the last line, often only part of the last line:
of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most ... human.
Lonespark noted that that's somewhat problematic.  (And by somewhat I mean ... more than somewhat.)

Here's why: He's not human.

Spock as portrayed by Nimoy was a complex character and great credit has to be given to Nimoy for crafting that character given that, especially in the beginning, the writing on Star Trek kind of ... sucked.  The layers to Spock (Vulcans are like onions) are due to two things.  First, the writing got a significant upgrade with The Wrath of Khan and while it never managed to sustain that upgrade (looking at you Star Trek IIIStar Trek V, Generations, Insurrection, X, and Nu-Trek not to mention various episodes from every series) it did keep on hitting some pretty good notes.

The second was Nimoy himself.  Even when he didn't have that much to work with he managed to put a lot into the character, and he worked with the writers when he thought the character wasn't being used well enough.  (Though not even he could prevent ... "Spock's Brain"† *horror movie music*)

As I said, Nimoy deserves enormous credit for what he did with his portrayal, I'm not going to do any more hammering of that point because I don't want this to be me pulling out a thesaurus for synonyms of "great" (tons of, huge, inestimable, unfathomable, ginormous, metric fucktons of, colossal, really fucking huge...) to put in front of "credit".

Other people will eulogize Nimoy better than I ever could, I want to talk about the character he played, so here we go:


Spock is half human but he identifies as Vulcan.  There's a tension in him where he has to biologically admit that he's part human, and he loves his mother (his human parent), but he always stays away from identifying as human.

Listen to Spock talk about himself and one could be forgiven for completely missing the fact that he's part human in the first place.  He is the anti-Star Lord.  Instead of being a half-alien who identifies as completely human he's a half-human who identifies as completely alien.

Part of this may be that he was raised on Vulcan where, presumably, other than his mother he didn't have many humans to emulate, but a lot of it has to be chalked up to personal choice.  Spock chooses to be a Vulcan.

[Added: Well, he chooses to identify himself as a Vulcan and I'll touch on the difference between the two things further down before retreating from the matter because I don't want to go down the rabbit hole of interpreting intentions behind expression of identity so much as point out the importance of respecting said expression.]

He could wear a headband that covered his ears and correct anyone who has the nerve to act like he isn't human, but he doesn't.  He is, by choice, a Vulcan first, foremost, and almost exclusively.

He is not someone who struggles with which part of his heritage to embrace, he's made his choice and he identifies as a Vulcan, not a Vulcan-Human or a Human-Vulcan.  The noun isn't hyphenated or split, it isn't watered down with the adjective "half".

In the original series†† Spock is on an almost exclusively human starship where even his closest friends make racist anti-Vulcan jokes at his expense.  In this environment he has every reason to run away from his non-human heritage but he does the opposite.  He embraces it.

Nimoy's portrayal gives you room to argue that he clings to being a Vulcan because other people think he should be ashamed of it, or that he owns the identity in spite of that, or even (and this is where I come down) a bit of both, but what it makes very, very clear is that --whether you view it as a response to or defiance of prejudice, whether you view it negatively or positively, whether you view it as weakness or strength (clinging and defiance are intentionally charged words)-- his identity is that he is a VULCAN.

Spock is half Vulcan half human by birth.  Spock is Vulcan by choice.

Literally the child of two worlds, he has chosen one of those worlds as the one he identifies with.

The movie that ends with Spock's soul being called the most human Kirk has ever encountered begins with this exchange (spoken in the Vulcan language):
Saavik: He's never what I expect, sir.
Spock: What surprises you, Lieutenant?
Saavik: He's so - human.
Spock: Nobody's perfect, Saavik.
Humans aren't the only ones who can be racist.  But the point here is not that Saavik and Spock are remarking on the strangeness of humans the way everyone else constantly remarks on the strangeness of Vulcans when discussing Spock.

The point is also not that Spock employs human expressions (something that will still be true eighty years later when he meets Data.)

The point is that Saavik comments on Kirk being so very human and Spock chalks it up to universal imperfection.  Being human is a flaw.

Some of the last words he says before sacrificing himself to save everyone still alive on the ship:
As you are so fond of observing, doctor, I am not human.
It takes dying, being resurrected, going through time, mixing brains with a cetacean, going through time again, and saving the earth just to get him to say a three word phrase acknowledging his humanity ("I feel fine") to his quite-human mother and even then he does it through the intermediary of his Vulcan father.  This in spite of the fact that rejecting his humanity carries with it connotations of rejecting his mother, whom he happens to love.

Spock is very much not on board with being human.  Don't get me wrong, he has no problem with it as a biological fact, but as an identity he's just not there.  He is, and always will be, a Vulcan.

Here's why this is important: this sort of thing doesn't just apply to people from other planets.  There are a lot of identities where this very sort of dynamic is at play.

Race, nationality, religion, all sorts of ethnicity, and so forth are identities embraced, ignored, or rejected by an individual.

Race is the one that comes to mind most quickly, and we just have to imagine someone saying that Obama possessed the most Caucasian soul they'd ever met to see where Kirk's line is a problem, but other things are just as important.

Race, in fact, only matters because in relatively recent times (some centuries, little more) we have imposed the idea of race so strongly upon ourselves and others as to turn race (a made up concept) into its own form of ethnicity.

With many things there are no visible markers.

Consider nationality.  If someone were born to an American father and a Russian mother, grew up in Russia, referred to zirself as Russian, became a national hero in Russia, became the face of Russia for those outside of Russia, and so forth, it would probably be somewhat less than ideal to eulogize them by saying they had the most American soul you'd ever encountered.

Obviously Kirk meant well and Spock would have understood that, but Kirk happens to be a racist (not that he usually notices this fact) and what he said was both appropriation (he was totally on team US) and erases Spock's chosen and maintained identity as a Vulcan.

Kirk happens to be under a great deal of emotional distress at the time and he can probably be given a pass.  Perhaps dying in winter in a place where the ground is too cold for grave digging is a good idea just so that your racist best friend will have time to to emotionally settle and thus deliver a eulogy that doesn't inadvertently trample on your identity.


Identity is multifaceted and continuous rather than discrete, so it's hard to say anything all encompassing about it.  This seriously fucks people up when they don't realize how varied it is and try to explain things to people who are not like them.

The examples that come most to mind are ones that involve sexuality and gender identity.

Some people pull out the line, "When did you choose to be straight?" only to be flabbergasted that the other person has an answer.  Just because something isn't a choice for you doesn't mean it isn't a choice for everyone.

People attempting to explain what it's like to be a trans man or woman (generally not the other types of trans people) often tell cis people to imagine their body was one of the opposite sex.  Which leads to them sometimes being floored when a cis person says in all sincerity that that wouldn't bother them in the least (depending on the exact scenario put forward there might be other things that would be disturbing.)  They've assumed that because this part of identity is important to them it's important to everybody.  In reality it seems that how much it matters varies and some people don't care in the least and are thus content to go with whatever their body seems to indicate.

I'm not sure precisely why those were the examples that came to mind, but they were.

Being Vulcan is important to Spock.  It's not just the shape of his ears, the location of his heart, and the color of his blood.  It's his culture, it's his heroes, it's his philosophy.  It's his him.

When discussing people it is important to remember that they have a say in who they are.  They aren't always the final word ("I'm not a crook," said Richard Nixon) but they've got a definite say in the matter.

Spock was a Vulcan.  He may have seen this as a choice, he may not have, but he was very much a Vulcan in terms of his identity.  Calling him the most human soul misses that fact and erases an important part of who he was.

This is not to say that having a human mother had no effect upon him.  I don't think he'd deny his human heritage, and while he has no regrets about pursuing being a Vulcan to the exclusion of being human he's still the kind of person who says, "No regrets," which is not a Vulcan expression.  (Thank you, Data, for picking up on that because otherwise we'd probably have assumed that Vulcans did have such an expression and it was just translated to the equivalent human expression.)

Humanity has left an imprint on him, to be sure, but at the end of the day if you're looking for a species to call him, he's a Vulcan.

For all of the emotional weight that Kirk's words have, they were extremely poorly chosen.

Not that I think Spock would object; as he says, "Nobody's perfect."  He's made peace with the fact that his closest friend happens to be a racist against his species.  As he's managed to do that, I think he'd take the words as intended, not as spoken.

Still, the words were bad.


The original crew of the Enterprise makes its exit thus:
Commander Uhura: Captain, I have orders from Starfleet Command. We're to put back to Spacedock immediately ... to be decommissioned.
Captain Spock: If I were human I believe my response would be, "Go to Hell." If I were human.
Commander Chekov: Course heading, Captain?
Captain Kirk: Second star to the right and straight on till morning.*
"If I were human."  Good use of the subjunctive there, Spock.

It's a brilliant bit of Spock's sense of humor because he's essentially doing, "I'm not saying, 'Go to Hell,' but: go to Hell," except flipping it inside out, but it's also clearly saying that he's not human.

It's using his claim of not being human to pull apophasis, basically, "Since I'm not human I won't say, 'Go to Hell.'" *pause as everyone looks at him* "I'm not saying it because I'm not human."

My point here is simply this: Spock ends with the same tune he's always played in the innumerable variations as delivered by the incomparable Leonard Nimoy: he's not human.  It's not really a question of biology, he's got as much claim to humanity as he has to Vulcanity, it's a question of identity.

Who he is (not what he is, though that too) is a Vulcan.


† Skipping straight to the dagger because having an asterisk footnote next to using asterisks for stage direction would be confusing.  Formatting notes aside, "Spock's Brain" is probably the "The Great Vegetable Rebellion" of The Original Series.

I will always remember hearing the story of "The Great Vegetable Rebellion"'s script being turned over by the writer.  He couldn't bring himself to hand the script to his boss.  Boss asks why he's standing there holding the script and not giving it.  The writer says because it's terrible.  Boss asks why he wrote it.  Writer responds that it's the only thing in his head.  Writer finally relinquishes script.  Thus there is a Lost In Space episode where the antagonist is a man in a carrot suit.

"Spock's Brain", the first episode to air after NBC grudgingly revived Star Trek (but with a slashed budget and in a bad time slot), tells the story of the Enterprise crew scrambling after Spock's brain is stolen.  Yeah, you heard me, the aliens of the week stole his brain.  Left the rest of his body intact and alive, but they took his fucking brain, man.

It was, if anything, worse than it sounds.  (And not just because of the aliens-of-the-week's fucked up gender roles.)

†† Not capitalized here because I'm emphasizing the originalness, not the brand-name-like tag.  The original series is, happily, called The Original Series, but it didn't have to be.  Surf II (the end of the trilogy) was not the second "Surf" movie and all sorts of things claim to be the beginning of this or that saga when they're made well after the fact.

My point in lowercasing it is to bring home the fact that this means "in the beginning" but not just in the beginning since the beginning in question lasted for three seasons.  In the beginning and onward.  My point in footnoting it is to bring that fact not just home but into the same room

* It's a sad and strange affair that Chris Pine as James T. Kirk would never be able to deliver this line properly but Chris Pine as Jack Frost would be able to sell the line so well it'd be sold out two months before an official announcement was made that it was going to go on sale.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A toast to tilting at windmills

I'm kind of divided over what to write here.

I don't want to write, "Nevermind, I'm back," because I'm not.  I don't magically have heat.  Things will not suddenly go back to normal.

But at the same time, the secular (done by people, not gods or angels) miracles in my life continue.  Twenty four hours ago, give or take depending on how long it took me to write that post, I was tearfully composing a goodbye while trying to communicate how much you, the readers, have meant to me.  I didn't think it was inconceivable that I might get donations that would mean I could afford to replace the boiler, for I know what that word means and can conceive quite a bit, but I did think that it was a completely unreasonable hope.

I mean, I remember a time when it seemed like I wouldn't be able to stay in my house because I couldn't afford heating oil.  It seemed like an impossible insurmountable problem.  Not even to fill the tank, just to afford the minimum the local companies would deliver.  The tank recently went empty (the accompanying cold is probably what broke the boiler though it took almost a month for the break to become apparent) and when I got oil I had the tank filled completely.

It cost $520.26.  Meaning you could fill the tank more than 11 and a half times (with oil to spare) for the $6,000, estimated, needed to replace the boiler.

My point is that this was and is on an entirely different scale than the problems I've faced before.  It didn't seem reasonable to expect that there was a solution.  Especially since every time that people have helped me before meant that those people, obviously, were out whatever money they used to help me.

So twenty four hours ago, again: give or take, it seemed like being forced from my home by being unable to replace the boiler was a foregone conclusion.

Now I have the money.  (Donated via Paypal.)  You're still my miracles, it would seem.

Of course the money is a first step.  Like I said, I don't magically have heat.  I'm probably going to have to spend several days shoveling some kind of path around the house.  Actually figuring out what model boiler will be installed by whom and when needs to happen.  Lots of stuff needs to happen.

As much as I'd like to, I can't say that I'm going to go right back to posting like I was before because that's not true.  Until this is sorted out I'm going to have less blogging related and more survival oriented thinking on my mind.

I don't know if that means intermittent posts or hiatus until normal posting can resume.

What I do know is that it means I was wrong.  It's not goodbye.

Myself, my cat, and my lizard will be able to stay in our home.  The fact that the boiler will be replaced makes stopgap measures feasible in the interim.

I'll be sleeping over an electrically heated ... thingy, for example.  My lizard's heat lamp will not be going off.  (It has a can it can go into to provide darkness.)  My cat has already decided that things have gotten cold enough that she wants to spend time in my vicinity a hell of a lot more than she would if temperatures were normal (my cat's affection is inversely proportional to the ambient temperature.)

Exactly what will happen when is uncertain, but that I won't have to leave has gone from an impossible dream to the default assumption.

So I'll be trying to keep on dreaming impossible dreams.  This blog has survived on unreason and a refusal to acknowledge when things were hopeless this long, and it looks like it'll keep on going.

I had to look up the plot of Man of La Mancha to understand the cuts in that video.

Less dropping dead and Spanish Inquisition, more reaching of the unreachable star.

Windmills are ravaging the country side, someone has to take a stand.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Just to end on a down note

I was supposed to deposit a check in the bank for my mother today.

Because heating system I couldn't do it in the morning.

I live on a hill.  An up side of this is that it's possible to move heavy things into my basement without using any stairs.  A down side of this is that the stairs therefore didn't need to be designed as a way to move stuff into the basement.  So repair guy wanted a look at where things could potentially be brought in.  This was pointless as it's the very back end of the house and there is no shoveled path to get there.

Anyway... to show him this meant walking through the giant puddle on the floor which left me with wet feet and wet pants.  (I was barefoot.)

After he left I talked to my mother and one of the things that I said was that, with heating stuff done for the day (and doom looming) I could bring the check to the bank.  It seemed a reasonable thing to say, all I had to do was change into dry clothes, put on shoes, put on socks, and walk to the bank.

It took me a while to get that sorted out.  Did I mention that in all the depressing news I forgot my medication? (and Lonespark reminded me and everything)  That tends to make it more difficult to accomplish stuff.

The house tends to freeze under, not over.  Feet in water on the basement's concrete floor are the coldest fucking thing in the house, as you might imagine.

So my smallest toes were going numb, as they are wont to do.

By the time I had shoes and socks on I'd forgotten about the check and the bank.

The bank is across the street from my street.  If you stand in my street and look straight down it you see the bank's parking lot.  My house is third from the corner (counting the house on the corner.)  All of this is to say that the bank is very easy to get to.

Give me five minutes and I'll have more than enough time to get there.

So, naturally, my mother didn't mention the check and the bank again until the bank had been closed for 40 minutes.

Which works out wonderfully because whenever I'm in a state of despair I always think, "You know what I could use right now?  A giant helping of guilt."

I can't deliver it tomorrow because I have to head out at 6-AM-ish to get to school on time and the bank doesn't open until 8:30 AM.


I'm currently in the process of draining water from the pipes of the house in hopes that they will not freeze and burst.

The furnace, for that is what I call it in spite of it being a boiler, is the lowest point of the water system in the house.

This leads to an interesting feature.

After the faucets were opened and allowed to run dry (itself taking place after the water into the house had been shut off) the easiest way to drain the water still in the pipes (that being the vast majority of the water) was/is through the furnace.

It can't hold enough water to safely heat the house.  It can still hold a shitload of water.

Draining it is no easy task.  Made all the more difficult by the fact that the only tools I have to use for the draining process (that is to say the only containers small enough to get to the bottom drain) are designed to hold two pounds of yogurt.   They're not very big.


Here's an added bit of fun:

I haven't paid for tuition yet.  I've always said that I was planning on handling it myself and I was confident that if financial catastrophes got the fuck out of my way I could manage it.

But if I don't have a house to live and work in that kind of fucks with my plans.

So $6,000 dollars to replace the boiler and be able to stay in my home.  But, if I don't manage to get that money fast enough (which assumes I get it at all and that is not, on the whole, likely) then I have absolutely no plans for paying for tuition (approximately $4,000) that involve "I can make this work while homeless" as a premise.  So round it off to a nice $10,000.

Remember what I said last post about the term for this situation?  Yeah.

Anyway, this looks to be near the last night I get to spend in my house, the heat already in here simply can't last more than a day or two given the cold outside, so tomorrow I'll head out before dawn, and I have no fucking clue what will become of me after that.  I'll go to classes, none of which I'll be prepared for (do you think I had any time to do school work today?) and when they end I don't know.  I'm lost.

There's some possibility I might be able to set up electric heaters and make some part of my house livable.  So maybe I can come back come nightfall.

Otherwise I have to go to stay with my father or my sister.  Neither of these things is good.  I've been bullied and mistreated a lot in my life, but the majority of the emotional scars I carry with me are from the abuse those two have heaped on me.  The infuriating part is that they don't even realize, and will not allow themselves to realize, that it is abuse.


Some part of me wants to believe that somehow I'll wake up to an email letting me know that a $6,000 dollar donation came in, I can replace the boiler, stay in my house, (away from my father and sister), escape the possibility of losing the house entirely, move on, and not be in fear of the future.

I know it's not going to happen, and what's more I know it's too much to ask.  The truth is that everything should have fallen apart ages ago.  Every time something went wrong and donations kept me going before was a miracle into itself.  That streak could never have hoped to continue regardless.

Even if this weren't the single biggest crisis to hit me since I started Stealing Commas, even if it weren't so much bigger than every one before in terms of dollar value and dead serious and immediate because the heat is going away in accordance with thermal dynamics and the house will stop being livable in a day or two with no debt-holder to negotiate wiggle room with, the end was going to come no matter what.

Mathematically I should have been able to make things work, but in the end I was always coming up short.  Part of it was the strain of tuition, but university was good for my mental health so I kept going.  Part of it was that I've never abandoned the hope that I'd be able to support myself and so I've invested in trying to make that happen (and always failed.)  But there also has to be the question of how long a streak of bad luck can go on before you have to stop calling it "bad luck" and just rename it "luck".

Hopes I had of keeping my house or being free from the more abusive members of my family have always been false hopes.  If it weren't the boiler breaking it would have been something else, because there never really was actual hope.  The constant parade of crises would have made that clear but I refused to admit that to myself because sometimes there's value in believing a lie.  No good would have come from acknowledging that there was never any hope to begin with.  So it was easier to pretend that hope existed.

I still want to pretend.  That's why part of me is trying to convince myself that some massive donation might yet come.

And that, I think, is the note that I want to end on.

So not actually a down note, in spite of the title I've given this post.

Why a donation?

Why not hope that some other thing will magically make everything all right?

Because I've had miracles before.  Once I paid money that I should have saved into tuition, and it left me without money for heating oil.  A donation from a reader gave me heat through the winter.

My computer died and it looked like I was going to have to give up Stealing Commas since I couldn't afford to replace it and I knew that I wouldn't be able to make it work if I didn't have a computer with internet access at my home.  Reader donations let me buy a new one.

And there's a bunch of cases like that.  I've never been long without something going very wrong in a way only money could solve.

And something started to happen.  When I kept on getting through in spite of there being no reasonable way it could be expected, because of reader help every time, the image of impossible hope started to change from something amorphous into something much clearer.

When the only way to make it through something was a miracle what that looked like, my personal vision of a miracle, started to be you: the readers.

That's what you've been for me.  My personal miracles.

If this is the last post here, I want that to be what you take away from it.  I should have lost my house a long time ago.  I shouldn't have been able to replace my computer.  I shouldn't be able to be writing this right now because I should be homeless and computerless.

The fact that I can even say this ought to be an impossibility.

But you, the readers, have done the impossible for me.  It's not just the donations.  You've given me hope when I had none, you've helped me through things just by being there, by being out there reading, by having an interest in what I had to say.

I don't want anyone to feel like they're less deserving or less important because they didn't click the donate button, that's not what I'm trying to get at here.

What I want to make clear is this: each and every person who is a reader of this blog has made a profound and important difference in my life.

My desire to keep my childhood home and to keep away from my less than stellar family members was doomed from the start, but for three and one third years I've been able to act like it wasn't.  For three and one third years I've been able to be a writer with a following.

That time wasn't wasted.  It was wonderful.  When I started this my depression wasn't even being treated.  This is where I started.  You've taken me from there to here.

Thank you all.

It got worse; possibly/probably goodbye

This morning, around 2 AM, I woke to the sound of steam.  It was coming out of two tiny holes in a joint in a copper pipe, with some indications there might be a third hole, coming out of my furnace.  I turned the thing off and set about contacting the heating guy.

He just left.  I may not have a place to live.


So apparently the whole thing with the loose valve was just a symptom of a larger problem anyway.  If I hadn't fucked up with turning the valve the wrong way maybe it would have taken longer for things to come to light, but the problem was already there since that's what let me know that there was something wrong which in turn led to me checking all of the valves and finding that one was loose.

It probably happened when I had no heat.  The thing probably froze.

Just took a while for it to show it was broken, is all.

Regardless, it needs to be replaced.

What needs to be replaced?  The heart of the system.  Technically the thing in my basement isn't known as a furnace, it's known as a boiler.  It's a confusing name because a part of the system is itself the boiler.  The boiler in the boiler.

The boiler is what broke and needs to be replaced.

Initial estimate: $6,000.

Of course that's an estimate from a repair guy who wasn't expecting to find that the most important part of the system, around which everything else is based, was broken.  He needs to contact his suppliers to get an exact cost.

He doesn't do financing options because his suppliers like to be paid in cashy-money


I have to suddenly pull 6,000 dollars out of thin air.
I have to find someone who installs boilers on the spur of the moment in this area who does do financing and has an open appointment before the heat already in the house goes away.  (And get a down payment somehow.)
I have to resign myself to not having a place to live while draining all of the pipes in my house because the place will freeze and that tends to burst pipes.

My mother is again talking about probably needing to sell the house.

I believe the appropriate term for what I am is "fucked".


Not that I'll be on the street.  In all likelihood I'll just have to take my cat and my lizard and move in with an abusive family member.


I think this is goodbye.  Hopefully just for now, not for good.  But I have no clue how long "For now" will be.

I have been so grateful to everyone who has read here.  Thanks.

Be well.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Need to replace my phone, my shower head, my peace of mind, and god knows what else

I found the charger to my phone today.  That's actually a bad thing.  It means that I didn't leave the phone charging in an odd spot.  Which means that, in all likelihood, the reason I couldn't find it before coming home was that it fell out of my pocket, and if it fell out of my pocket it is much more likely to have done so outside where it will never be seen again.

So, I probably need a new phone.


When I got home yesterday there was something wrong with my shower.  The water that came out of it was ... odd.  Dirty, strange.

I was able to, apparently correctly [see update], diagnose the problem as a valve being insufficiently tight on my furnace thus crossing the radiator water and the water-water.  (Hot water only, for whatever it's worth.)

I then did what I am always most likely to do in a case like that: I turned the valve the wrong way.

With no catastrophe obvious I promptly forgot about the whole thing except to wonder what it would cost to replace the furnace.

Today walking home it was cold.  Really, fucking cold.  I wasn't prepared for how cold it was.  The pain was horrific.  I really, truly, did not see that level of cold coming.  If I had I could have been prepared for it with additional layers and whatnot.

So I got home and wanted to take a warm shower to (carefully) stop my legs from falling off or otherwise succumbing to the painful, painful cold that had invaded them.

I turned on the hot water and waited to see if it was dirty.  It wasn't, which I thought meant I had turned the valve the correct way the night before.

Then it sped up.  Then it started to whistle and steam.

At this point I knew it had to be turned off, but I wasn't thinking the most clearly.  If I had been I could have realized that I could quickly switch from shower to bath with minimal risk and then it probably wouldn't have been too difficult to turn off the no-longer water.

The mostly-steam was coming out at an alarming rate with some bits of still-water spurting out erratically.  Now under pressure things can act strangely, but that wouldn't work in my favor here anyway, so we can just go with the rule of thumb: steam is hotter than boiling water.  Which means that any water in a water-steam mix is likely to be scary-hot.

Having not thought of the "switch from shower to bath" plan I was left trying to find an opportunity to reach in for long enough to turn the faucet enough to turn off the water.  Such an opportunity never came.

When the shower head broke apart, the largest part exploding outward and landing in the tub, that broke a mental block I was having (not the one mentioned above) and I realized how I could stop this steam machine.

I ran down stairs and pulled on a thingy.  Then I went up and checked if that did it.  All hot water was shut off.  Problem not solved, but deferred.

At that point, though, there was breathing room and I could turn the valve that had been loose before in the other direction, which seems to have fixed things.  Of course the exploding shower head didn't merely come apart.  There was a lot of steam, steam under pressure, going through it.  The heat warped the thing.

It can't be fixed, at least not easily.  No shower for me.


My peace of mind is lacking in peace.  In fact I'm not sure that there's even a piece of peace in my mind.  The furnace leads to thoughts of oil.  I was away for ten days.  I forgot to turn down the heat so instead of only using enough oil to keep the pipes from freezing it kept the empty house warm enough for human habitation.

The steam monstrosity of today couldn't possibly have been good from an oil conservation standpoint.

The $500+ I spent to put oil in the tank is still something that I don't know how to pay for.  The problem with paying for things with debt is that, sooner or later, debts come due.


I didn't sleep much last night.  Getting back to my own home and my own bed you'd think I'd sleep well, but I didn't.  I didn't eat for over 24 hours.  (I have since, though.)  Just sort of slipped my mind.  I fell on the way to school.  Before I was really able to assess the injury (it takes time) I was wondering if I could have gotten another concussion.  It was, as I recall, a year ago this month (or maybe early next month) that I got the concussion.

Good news is that there's no evidence of concussion.


I had a differential equations test this morning.


Please give me money, candy, steak dinner, hugs, a unicorn, or any combination of the previous.


There's a whole post worth of update, but the short version is this: the water getting mixed that led me to discover a valve was lose wasn't, or wasn't primarily, due to the loose valve.  It was instead a result of a crack in the boiler.  A crack that has since expanded.  Showers are the least of my worries now.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

World Where RTC Nightmares are True: Random Excerpt

Here’s the premise for a TV show: It’s all true. Everything Pat Robertson says is true. Everything that’s posted on Charismanews is true. All of it. All the writers need to do is conform the fictional reality of the show to the wild reality described every day by Robertson, et. al.

[If you'd like to read my piece in the context of the thread, go here, otherwise read on.]


Rookie: Werewolves?
Veteran: Not in these parts. There hasn't been a wolf, wer- or otherwise, in these parts in over a hundred years. This in spite of attempts to reintroduce both.
Rookie: Reintroduce werewolves?
Veteran: Werewolves are an important part of the ecosystem. Plus, they only ever target Christians.
Rookie: God --taken in vain of course because we government stooges do not, in fact, believe in God-- I hate Christians. Can you believe the way that last group were persecuting demons?
Veteran: Sadly, yes: I can believe it. They refuse to have even basic decency or tolerance towards those who are not like themselves. It's not demons' fault that they can only exist on earth if they inhabit the bodies of humans.
Rookie: I mean, I'd heard rumors, of course, but I've never before actually seen such hate directed living beings just because they're a little bit different.
Veteran: Oh, they hate everyone. Muslims, Papists, Abortionists, Satanists, Atheists, demons, imps, spirits, witches, warlocks, wizards, every cult and club. It's why we have to keep such a close eye on them.
Rookie: It just seems like we could do more.
Veteran: I know, but things always get bogged down. The "84" in "Rex-84" stands for 1984, which is when the test run was made. All reports are that it was a great success but we still haven't put it into practice.
*veteran sighs*
Veteran: I'm surprised that we managed to fluoridate the water. Needless to say, I don't exactly have high hopes for Agenda 21.
Rookie: But I heard that the Bilderbergs-
Veteran: Don't get your hopes up. If there's one thing that I've learned in my time on this job it's that big solutions never work. Those of us on the ground are the ones who make a difference. One case at a time.
Rookie: So where are we going next?
Veteran: There's a preacher who said that he won't marry a gay couple, we need to catch him and persuade him to change his tune.
Rookie: It'll be easy.
Veteran: It should be, but be prepared for anything. The higher ups want it done by Sunday School next week. They want to make sure that the lesson is that mixed marriages (ones between a man and a woman) are strange and wrong and only same sex marriages are moral.


[Edited because I misremembered RX-84 as RX-86.  But at least I remembered that people who take it seriously, instead of thinking of it as a bit of video-game back story, spell it "Rex" not "RX".]

Fictional Characters Explain Religion without trying: The barest hint of an idea

The idea, such as it exists, is that religious ideas are sometimes delivered by characters who aren't associated with them at all.  Sometimes in cool one liners.


The Man in Black: Life is pain highness, anyone who says differently is selling something.

Yoda: Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.

Jayne: What are you taking this so personal for? It ain't like I ratted you out to the feds!
Mal: Oh, but you did. You turn on any of my crew, you turn on me! But since that's a concept you can't seem to wrap your head around then you got no place here. You did it to me, Jayne, and that's a fact.

Like I said, only the barest hint of an idea.  I think I had more examples when I first thought of it, but I've forgotten.

Monday, February 16, 2015

February 2014

I like indices.  I like being able to find things.  There's an index overhaul in the near future where I'll be making sure the existing ones are up to date and hopefully making them easier to navigate (the original work index, in particular, is one that I've let get away from me to the point it's nearly two years out of date.)

The plan is to spend this year getting somewhat more caught up on things. Specifically:
On the first day of each month I'll post the index for two years ago if it hasn't been made yet.  On the 16th day I'll post the index for one year ago.
Movies, Games, and TV Shows
Movies that can't live up to their names: Wolf of Wallstreet - What a movie with that name should have been.  More werewolf and more justice.

Adding hypothetical options to Long Live the Queen - Given world enough and time, what I'd add to a Long Live the Queen

Long Live the Queen: A silly tangent - As it says, silly.  The hypothetical options above are serious things.  This is utter silliness.  It is a story that comes from thinking of what to do with a navy when you're opponents are landlocked, cases of putting highly valued things out of range (when the Nazi's took the Louvre they found it empty, all of the art had been evacuated) and generally piling the silly up higher and higher until I reached the end.

When did "badass" come to equal "evil"? (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) - It may very well be Sisko's darkest moment, some people have banished it from their personal canon, and yet some people think it's what makes him laudable.  The term "badass" was used. 

The obvious Frozen, Avatar (TV series), Rise of the Guardians crossover that 20,000 people have probably already suggested - Elsa is an ice-bender, which is a subset of waterbending.  Clearly what she needs is a mentor: I nominate Jack Frost.

By Special Request: Star Trek Open Thread - The request came as a result of the DS9 post above.

General Stories/Ideas for Stories:
The narrative power of a missing apostrophe: Devils Due - The possibilities are so much more interesting than, "Devil's Due."

Snarky Twilight:
Snarky Bella summarizes canon Twilight through chapter 15 - Exactly what it sounds like.

Me Stuff:
And I made another T-Shirt (that no one will buy): Rules for dating my child - In response to the "Rules for dating my daughter" T-shirt which was, basically, everything wrong with ideas of fatherhood.

The world at large stuff:
On the infamous Whedon Tweet of Whedonocity (trans*phobia and gender esentialism) - I discuss the tweet and why it was a problem.

Epistemological Synecdoche - Is it possible to know something without knowing all of it?  Can just one piece (if it's the right piece) be enough to understand the whole?  I argue: yes.

Quick and silly on what locusts should be called - The name "locust" is neither ominous nor silly enough.

Windows 8 - It's fucked up.  But a year later I'm used to it.

Blog stuff:
I may have to just give up - There was a time when the future of this blog looked to be in definite peril.  I suppose I should be happy that I'm not making posts like this at the moment, but a year later I still have things that make me worry it could all fall apart.
The day may come when Stealing Commas ends, but it is not this day - People donated and I was able to replace my computer, which allowed me to keep the blog going.

God I hate making posts about money. - I really do.  This was a thing when fucking stuff up because medication acquisition problem left me with problems.

Why I'm probably not going to be posting as much as any of us want - Even though I got the new computer, mood related things were keeping me from being as productive as I had hoped.  Even though computer and money problems continue to plague me, it's a lot better this February than it was when I wrote this post a year ago.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Lonespark don't read this, anyone else: Venting you probably don't care about and commentary on the Legend of Korra

Fiction gets to me.  Cringe comedy is the worst, but "Everyone is as dysfunctional as possible and let's eat popcorn while we watch the friction ignite sparks and the sparks burn down lives," is up there too.

At its worst it can physically hurt.

As a child I had no choice in the matter.  My family watched what my family watched and the house was so far from sound proof that there was, at most, one spot you could go to where you wouldn't hear the sound of the TV.  I know, I tried every spot in the house.  Whether or not that spot worked depended mostly on whether or not I could convince whoever was watching to keep the volume down, but also on the ambient noise in the room.

I have a lot of experience being alone in a room while the noise of a TV invades your space and there is precisely zip you can do to escape it, is what I'm getting at.

I don't necessarily like being on my own hiding from a TV show or movie while other people enjoy a shared experience bonding to something they all like without me, but it's kind of unavoidable.  Not everyone shares the same tastes.


Legend of Korra is not something that causes me any great discomfort, but I have to fall into the old routines for a different reason.

The Avatar series seems to be kyptonite for Lonespark and me.

From my point of view I approach it the same way I approach everything.  Criticisms I make of it are no different than ones I make of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or any other random thing.

Her point of view is different.  I worry that I'll summarize it badly and in doing so make it look like she's wrong and I'm right and the thing is ... I don't know that.

Maybe I am being different with respect to Avatar without noticing it.  Maybe I do cross the line from poking something to tearing it down and tearing down those who enjoy it in the process.  But I don't feel like I'm doing that.

The only solution that doesn't end in tears, literal fucking tears, is for me to keep my mouth shut.  For me not to talk about it at all.  Because if I do I never know what will make things go from watching a cartoon to hurting someone that I care about.

No one else has that problem though.  Other people in the room can say what they feel.  Lonespark herself called out something yesterday so memorably that a munchkin decided to randomly quote Lonespark's takedown, word for word, out of nowhere, more than 24 hours later.

Then again the same munchkin said, "They got my dick message," out of nowhere after about a month of not having seen Guardians of the Galaxy and not quoting that line.

Anyway, either I'm the only one in the room who can't speak (self censorship, you understand, it's not like anyone is telling me I'm not allowed to speak) or I risk causing a crying breakdown.

So I try to stay out of the room.

But, the thing is, I don't, fundamentally, dislike The Legend of Korra.  I don't particularly like Korra, but the show isn't usually one that causes me to want to hide.  So hearing it playing tends to draw me out of the room, and the thing about self censorship is that I suck at it.  I once ended up with a short write up of me in the university paper for an article on valentine's day not because I particularly wanted to be involved in such a thing or even felt like I had much to say on the subject, but because I couldn't keep my damn mouth shut.


And this time it went as shitty as it ever has.  Lonespark left and when she did everything seemed fine to me.  (There are plenty of not-awful reasons to leave a room, after all.)  When she came back she was in tears.  Because of what I had said.

All other things being dealt with and healed to the best of our abilities [added: see addendum at bottom], there becomes a question of whether or not I have any outlet.  Lonespark reads Stealing Commas of course.  I did in fact consider the possibility of a post with the disclaimer, "Lonespark don't read this," before she independently suggested it.

So here's a massive mind dump on Avatar: The Legend of Korra


First off, the cast of Avatar: The Last Air Bender would eventually have the titular air bender, the water bender who narrated the opening credits, the blind earth bender, and the fire-bender who spent much of the series as a bad guy who refused the redemption that was staring him in the face.

The Legend of Korra shows us what became of them.  I haven't seen enough of the episodes with Zuko in them to judge our redeemed Firebender, but the others didn't turn out very well.

Aang turned out to be a horrible father.

Remember that moment in Frozen when your heart went out to Prince Hans?
ANNA: Okay wait, wait. So you have how many brothers?
HANS: Twelve older brothers. Three of them pretended I was invisible... literally...for two years.
That's how Aang treated two of his children in favor of his air bending son Tenzin and Tenzin learned the lesson so well that he treated his own children the same way.  The children all knew that Ikki was the one he cared about least leading to her being bullied by them until she finally ran the fuck away.

At which point Tenzin's own siblings pointed out that, you know, this was exactly what papa-Aang had done to with them.

Tenzin counters that Aang actually treated them all fairly and equally which is when the bullshit hammer drops.

Tenzin and Aang frequently took excursions around the world.  Tenzin remembers them vividly.  Tenzin thought that his siblings were there too.  They weren't.

Tenzin took so little notice of his siblings that he seriously couldn't tell the difference between when they were standing beside him and when they were halfway around the world.  (All the way around the world is, obviously, the same as right beside him.)

Aang cultivated in him a disinterest in his siblings so severe that Tenzin cannot tell the difference between memories they are in and memories they are not in because, apparently, they feature just as prominently in both.

But, what about the other parent?  What about Katara?  I don't know.

I do know that Kya turned out to be a bigot and the only thing that could bridge the gap between her and Tenzin was not a relative in mortal peril but instead the two of them teaming up to shit on Bumi for being mundane.  When they're going full on fantastic racism on his ass (fantasy: where you can be racist against your own sibling) they are positively in sync with each other.

But we can't really use that to extrapolate about Katara.  Tenzin seems to have turned out to be a much better father than Aang (not that he's a good father, mind you), maybe Kya turned out to be a worse person than Katara.

But that brings us to the earth bender.

Toph became a corrupt police chief.  She had two daughters.  One a criminal, the other a cop.  She got angry at the cop for arresting the criminal.  Why?  One wants to think that it was because she didn't want either of her daughters in jail.

No such luck.  Toph was angry because of appearances.  She practically quoted Mitt Romney.  Except instead of, "I'm running for office," it was, "I am chief of police."  She couldn't have a daughter in jail.  No love.  No emotion.  No redeeming hint of doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.

She destroyed the police report, gave the criminal safe passage out of city, and set the criminal up with a place to stay.  Not because the criminal was her daughter and she wanted her daughter to be free and safe, but instead because the criminal was publicly her daughter and she didn't think a chief of police ought to have a daughter in jail.

It was cold, it was calculating, it was callous, it was other things that start with the letter "c".  On the up side, she did feel guilty about it afterward.

Oh, and who was the criminal in question running with?  A triad.  Not some friends who were on the wrong side of the law because they were involved in petty theft or something, organized crime.  If the world of Avatar were based on Italian motifs it would have been the mafia, but if you want to evoke that kind of fraud, death, theft, and more murder in a fictional China-equivalent you go with a triad.

If Toph had helped her daughter escape justice (and she did escape, never being held accountable for so much as one of her many crimes) out of love or even some belief that the daughter of the police chief didn't know what the fuck a triad was and therefore the punishment would be too severe on the naive criminal we could get with that, play it right and we could cheer Toph on for disgracing the office of police chief and using the law as toilet paper.

But with a few carefully chosen words we're told in no uncertain terms that she did it for herself.  "I'm the Chief of Police. I can't have a daughter in jail."

And I bash my head into a wall.  Avatar: There are no heroes, only people who have yet to go bad.


Most of my problems with it are far smaller.

For example, I don't like that they think that by putting, "Our heroes learned [X]," into the opening narration means that the heroes suddenly know X when in point of fact the heroes have not learned that and thought something completely different.

I especially don't like it when it serves no fucking purpose.

Like how an episode ended with the heroes thinking that someone had been abducted to be experimented on when in fact he'd been abducted to be conscripted into the army and then in the next episode in spite of precisely zero time passing the heroes suddenly had detailed knowledge of the operation to conscript such people into the army even though, if they'd still been under the mistaken impression he'd been abducted to be experimented on, NOTHING IN THE EPISODE WOULD HAVE CHANGED.

What the fuck?

Or the fact that character growth seems to happen when you blink.

Same episode as above.  Team Avatar has been fighting the infernal forces of Team Edward   getting a better name trying to convince people that they have no choice and must drop everything to become air nomads because I said so, that's why (Tenzin) even though it would mean leaving the life they know (along with their home, their loved ones, and every-fucking-thing else) behind or just trying to kidnap the people outright (Korra) but then, suddenly, at the end of the episode they're all about personal choice and the importance of each person deciding for themselves.

Was there a deleted scene that took place on the road to Damascus?

Did they realize that their plan was exactly the same as that of the villain and thus reevaluate its morality?  What the fuck happened?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the nominal heroes not traveling the world with intent to kidnap, so I like that switch, but it happened so fast it gives whiplash.


Honestly, I think I have a lot of Korra to get out of my system, but I should be asleep in bed.


Two important things.

First, I suck at reading people.  I thought that things had been dealt with and we were just both bummed out because that's pretty lousy way to end a day.  It turned out that Lonespark didn't know how I felt and was left in emotional limbo for hours.  Which is terrible.  I definitely need to be clearer at expressing my feelings, but it's hard because when talking can exacerbate the problem, I kind of want to ... you know: not do that.

Second, it's never really about the cartoon.

Being poor, amoung other things, there are constant stressors on both of us.  I think Lonespark does a much better job of dealing with them in general than I do.  Especially commendable since she has more of them than I do.

Somehow it seems to be my criticisms of the cartoon that bring about a breaking point where the other stresses break through.

And Lonespark reminded me that while I feel like I act the same way as with other things, the Marvel Cinematic Universe being the example I used, we have once had a similar problem regarding Deep Space Nine.  That just doesn't come up as often because there is not currently DS9 watching going on.

I guess that was three things.

[/ added]

Monthly Reminder that I have a donate button

People really helped me out not too long ago, so I don't really expect anyone to donate now.  I haven't heard back about whether I'll keep aid or not.  If not I'm more or less screwed.

Probably on the more side instead of the less side.

If I do keep it then the problems are reduced to two:
1 $520.26 was paid for heat but it was out of money that was already owed to someone else, I need to find a way to cover that cost.
2 I don't know whether all of this scrambling has derailed my plans to get the $3,948.00 I need to pay for this semester's tuition by semester's end.

So... that's nice.

Anyway, if you feel like helping me with my perennial problems with money there is a donate button in the upper right corner of the blog.


I generally also talk about the month, so here goes.

The Roman calendar originally had ten months and a period of "no month here" that was otherwise known as "winter".

Numa, who may or may not have actually existed at some point, took one day from each of the 30 day months so that the remaining months were either 31 days or 29 days.

The unallocated days, plus the six days taken from April, June, Sextilis (August), September, November, and December added up to 57.  Numa broke this in just about half thus making a 29 day month and a 28 day month.

These he put on the front of the year (which is why the number months are off by two) instead of the end of the year, for reasons that I don't know.

February was named after Februalia, a ritual purification.  The word was believed, by Ovid, to come from an Etruscan word.  Ancient sources on etymology are often laughably wrong, but as we don't know a damn thing about the Etruscan language (except for some areas where we know, "It's not like this thing we understand, it's not like that thing we understand,") we can't really confirm or deny Ovid on this one.

Lupercalia absorbed Februalia but February kept the name.

Julius Caesar gave the months their modern number of days, which didn't change the standard February, but added a leap day every four years.  The Gregorian calendar subtracted a leap day every hundred years, but skipped a subtraction every four hundredth year.  Which is where things stand at the moment.

Today is ante diem XVI Kalendas Martias.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

I think I'd like to see a boom bust survival mechanic in games.

It's not economics, it's population growth.

When you model population you're generally not going for perfection over the long term.  So you make comparatively simple assumptions that you know will break down.

The simplest assumption would be linear growth.  Get two points, make a line, congratulations you have a useless prediction.

Unfettered growth tends to depend upon how much you have.  If you have a lot, they breed a lot, and thus there is a lot of growth.  This leads to an exponential curve and is known as the Malthusian model.

Growth, however, tends to be fettered.  Any finite environment can only hold so much.  Maybe it's a question of living space, or waste disposal, or resources, but at some point the growth starts to slacken.

What we tend to find is a carrying capacity.  If you start below it the population rises to reach it, if you start below it the population falls to meet it.  Assuming you start below the carrying capacity, growth when the population is low looks fairly exponential, but then it hits and inflection point and the population slowly begins to level off.

This is called the logistic model.

But this model would imply that if you had one person eventually the population would grow to reach the carrying capacity.  Really?  And this person is going to produce new people how?  And there's not going to be detrimental effects due to a very shallow gene pool why?

Thus we come to the idea of a minimum viable population.  It turns out that changing a single sign in the equation of the logistic model will yield a pretty good short term minimum viable population model.

In the long term successful populations will go off exponential like to infinity which isn't realistic, as discussed.

This model is the boom or bust model.  If you start below the minimum viable population you decay away to nothing, above it and you shoot off to infinity.

So where does gaming come in?

Let me go of on another tangent.


The movie The Core is about a six person team sent to save the world.

Two of them make it out alive.

The first person to die was taken out by a random (unpredictable thus unavoidable) accident from an in universe perspective and because PLOT and CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT from the perspective of the succession of writers who made the movie, all of them doing their best to turn the piece of crap into something fun in spite of ridiculous restraints.

The second person died for no good reason whatsoever.  It was supposed to be a character defining moment where the person thrust into the command chair was forced to make the heartbreaking call to save everyone at the expense of one character, but it was so ineptly handled that it turned out to be killing that character basically for shits and giggles.  (In isolation the scene could have worked, but in context it utterly failed because context demonstrated two or three times over that everyone could in fact live if the character in the cockpit would just push the fucking button.)

This is where it gets interesting.

At this point there are four people and they come up with a plan.  One person needs to pilot the ship.  Two people need to move heavy objects, one person needs to do something that's going to be certain death if done by a single person.

Because there are only four people left, and three of them need to be alive and unharmed to complete the plan, the fourth person needs to die.  They can't, for example, break the task into stages so that it won't be deadly but instead just harmful.  It has to be suicide because there are only four people.  If there were five there's a good chance they could have made it through without anyone dying here.

Now there are three.

Once again: one person to pilot the ship, two people to move heavy things.

One of the heavy things ends up on top of the leg of one of the two people.  The pilot can't help, the thing is too heavy for one person to lift.  Thus that person has to be abandoned and therefore dies,

Since there were only three people the person died.  If there were four, that person would have lived.

So think about what that means.

If the second person hadn't died then possibly they could have saved the third and definitely they could have saved the fourth.

Saving that one character would change the survival rate from 33% to either 66% or 83%.

Save one person early on and the number of survivors at the end either doubles or more than doubles.  Hell, if you start counting after the first death, when they're suddenly a group without a leader, which is something games like to have a lot, saving that one person could potentially change things from, "60% died," to "Everybody Lives!"


So now games.  For a long time its been common in games to have a character that you have to escort.  Keeping them alive was necessary and, quite frankly, annoying.  It's becoming more common to have allied characters who can actually, you know, be helpful.  They can watch your back, bring their firepower, whatever.

But what I don't think I've seen is a mechanic based on the fact that if there are two of you trying to save someone, you're probably more likely to do it.

I've played a lot of games set in a city that's falling apart at the seams (zombie outbreak, Pandora's literal box has been opened, so forth) or in a situation where there are groups of survivors (Half-Life comes to mind as a foundational example) and yet the games always seem to run away from the idea that there's safety in numbers, that teamwork might work, or so forth.

Technical limitations are a big reason for this.  "Why does your leader always go off alone?" because it's hard to make realistic small group tactics.

But things have improved, a lot, and also even when you the player are off alone, the plot that's moving when you're not looking might want to take into account that if you left a group of several survivors who were mostly uninjured, they'll probably be better able to fight off [evil enemy of this game] than if you left one or two in a state of barely alive.


If you picture a FPS then you can see how with a population of one things tend to go toward extinction.  Everything is trying to kill you.  If it succeeds, bust.

If you save one person, unless that person can keep up with you then it's probably going to be hard to keep them alive.  Bring them into combat and they might die, leave them behind and you leave them unguarded.  You're still tending toward extinction.

If you can have four people that can break into two teams of two then no one ever needs to be left to fend for themselves and you can have the weaker party stay behind where it's slightly safer while the stronger party scouts ahead.  Maybe that's the break point.  Maybe not.

But you can see where the thinking leads, the more people who are able to survive long enough to join your group, the more people your group is likely able to save and absorb and support.  The fewer people in the group, the more tendency it'll have for members to be picked off one by one until you're on your own again.

Resident Evil 2 is what got me thinking about this.  There's a scene of death by cutscene in it early on.  I hate death by cutscene.  I don't mean that I hate cutscenes where people die, though I'm no great fan of them, I mean I hate it when someone dies in a cutscene because it is a cutscene.

In this particular scene your character gets to a spot where someone is trying to wave down a rescue helicopter.  Your character stops and does nothing.  Zombies approach the person from behind.  Your character continues to do nothing.  Zombies attack, your character does nothing.  The attack causes the victim to accidentally fire his weapon wildly as he is dying thus hitting the helicopter.  Your character does nothing.  The helicopter crashes.  Your character does nothing.

The cutscene ends, now your character can do stuff.

(I wouldn't have nearly as much of a problem if the doomed character died in a cutscene where you were running up the stairs and so there was nothing you could have done, but instead it's a scene where your character could have saved him, if not for authorial fiat.)

Resident Evil 2 is an old game, but death by cutscene exists to this day.  Tomb Raider (2013), a very modern game in a lot of ways, has a cutscene where you stand and do nothing in spite of being armed, having the element of surprise, and having clear shots at the unarmored parts of the murderers.  You just stand there while they advance on a hapless character and kill him.  You totally could have saved him if you'd had control over your character.

Anyway, Resident Evil 2.  Save that guy and you save the helicopter pilot too.  You also stop the helicopter crash which prevented you from accessing part of the station where someone is alive right now but will be dead by the time you finally manage to clear the wreckage and get to her.

In addition, if you had the person you saved on your side, you might be able to talk another person into coming with you instead of waiting in a place he erroneously thinks is safe and thus dying.

Save one person and you can in turn save at least two, maybe three, others.

The game as it is shows a downward spiral.  People die, their deaths set up even more people to die, and in the end there are only three known survivors (five if you count the two unknown survivors who were corporate spies.)  There could have been as many as 8 known ones + the two corporate spies and maybe you could even have managed to save one of the antagonists too (the other two antagonists were beyond all help for various reasons.)

There's nothing wrong with that.  Downward spiral is part of the boom or bust model I'm talking about.

But what about a corresponding upward spiral if you work your ass off to make things go well?

It should be fairly straightforward to adjust game mechanics so that extra people doesn't make things easy.  For one thing some of them would be the annoying as hell ones you have to escort and keep safe.  For another, in a game like Resident Evil getting any quantity of people in one place is probably like ringing the dinner bell for zombies, so even if you get more people with guns on your side, it could probably be leveled out by making that lead more enemies to you.


Short version: games have a long history of isolating the protagonist and showing a downward spiral toward (but, assuming you don't lose, stopping just short of) oblivion, but they don't seem to have the possibility of a corresponding upward tendency where, just as deaths lead to more deaths, keeping people alive leads to keeping more people alive.

I'd like it if they did.  Well, if at least some did.

Maybe you could measure success not by, "I made it out alive," but by how many people you managed to bring out (likewise alive, no need to drag dead bodies) with you.