Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What I Played: Firewatch

I heard a lot of chatter about Firewatch, partially because it was selected as the Indie Game Gang's Game of the Month earlier this year, and so when JV gave me some Steam store credit for my birthday, I picked it right up.

First of all, I am so far behind on my Steam library. There are games I got for my birthday last year that I haven't even touched yet. #NegligentGamer Unfortunately, now that I'm starting an advanced Swedish course on Monday, finishing off those games is going to have to wait until next year. Or maybe in three years, after I'm done with teacher school. If I still even want to go to teacher school? Ahh!

Anyway, on to Firewatch. It's a short little game about being a firewatch in Wyoming. Can I just say that I want that job? Well, kind of. I love being by myself and I like being close to nature, but I'm definitely not much of a hiker or a wilderness expert. Henry does a lot of hiking and climbing and rappelling, more than I could probably handle in a day.

An actual firewatch station. Your digs are much more comfortable. // Image courtesy Peripitus.
Henry's taken this job because he's had to put his wife in terminal care for early-onset dementia, so he's got a lot of shit to sort out while he's kicking it in his little watch tower.

The only person Henry has contact with for the summer is Delilah, his supervisor. She's a mountain away, so their only communication is via radio. She's essentially Henry's boss and periodically sends him out to check on people using fireworks, bear sightings, etc.

After a bit of a slow burn (heh), things get real creepy. I honestly haven't been this freaked out by a story in a long time. It's not a ghosts-and-monsters creepy; it's very a much a thriller kind of creepy.

The gameplay mostly consists of you walking around in a first-person perspective, the typical WASD-and-mouse layout. Periodically there are items you can interact with or radio Delilah about. There are dialogue trees, mostly with Delilah. The biggest challenge in the game (for me) was navigating the territory. You have a map of your sector of the park, and a calendar, and that's how you get everywhere. No fast travel, no helpful in-game marker pointing you in the right direction. I still have no idea if the map was huge or small or in-between; it felt kind of huge because I had a tendency to get lost or to not see tiny little breaks in the brush to continue through. (In particular I had the WORST time trying to get back to my watchtower from Jonesy Lake the first time I had to go that way, holy shit.)

So that's the game, for those of you who haven't played it. Overall, I enjoyed it, and I would recommend it for anyone who likes mysteries and thrillers. Go play it!

 Everything after this point, including the comments, comes with a huge SPOILER WARNING for everything after the break there. And while generally I don't care much about spoilers—sometimes spoiling a story for yourself makes it more enjoyable—I think this is a situation where the spoiling takes away from it.

I'm not a fan of horror or thriller movies or books, in general. I don't find them engaging the same way I find other kinds of stories. That said, I think video games are the perfect medium for thrillers—because a game is interactive, you are way more invested in the protagonist's success (or just plain survival) than you would be otherwise, and that investment is a really great way to leverage people's fear and discomfort. My blood was definitely pumping on more than a few occasions. Was someone going to jump out from the woods and ax murder me? Was someone going to come back and find me poking around their stuff? I don't think this story would have been as engaging if it had been a movie or a novel.

But my favorite part is a little harder to explain. For a while, neither you nor Delilah have any idea what's going on. Your working theory is that there's some kind of fucked up human psychology experiment going on with you two as the subjects. On the face of it, that sounds ridiculous, but when you're in the game and you find transcripts someone's taken of all of your radio conversations and a mysterious fenced-off area and you have no other way to contact anyone (this is the 80s; no Internet, no cell phones, and the phone lines don't reach that far into the park wilderness). it makes total sense.

And that's what's so realistic about the game: how the most banal events and coincidences can inspire completely over-the-top paranoid delusions even in reasonable individuals of sound mind. That's how it happens in real life. We've all done it; some people just take it a further, unhealthier extreme than others. I think that's the greatest strength of Firewatch.

I also appreciate their attention to detail (as much as possible). The extras, like the notes between previous firewatches, or little Turt Reynolds, make it extra immersive. It reminds me of Fallout in that respect: there are just so many tin cans and rolls of duct tape and things around, exactly how it would be after an actual nuclear apocalypse.

After a lot of thought and reading, my only question left is: why did no one come to look for Ned or Brian? I played the game over the course of weeks, so there might have been something Delilah said about the two of them early on in the game that I subsequently forgot (like that they had no family or friends), but I don't think so. Ned and his son have been missing for years and no one's come calling to the park to ask if they know anything about it? Whaaaaaaat?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Talky Tuesday: Yoga

Since the topic came up in my last Talky Tuesday post, and since Natalie has been blogging about it as well, I figured I might as well get around to spilling my thoughts on yoga. Honestly, this was a topic I wanted to cover pretty early on when I came up with my Talky Tuesday idea but other, slightly more urgent things always seemed to take precedence. Now those are all out of my system (mostly) so I can finally put my thoughts on yoga out there.

My (Brief) History With Yoga

I first became aware that there was this thing called yoga at some point in high school. I picked up Teach Yourself Yoga at some point—I have a memory of it being in a gift shop at EPCOT, of all places—and made a few efforts to read up on the beginner asanas included in there, and to follow the recommended routine at the back. That didn't really pan out.

It wasn't until my junior year of college that I actually took a class. While I was still curious about yoga, at this point I just wanted the lowest-impact phys ed class possible (and I had already taken golf). Hah! Even though I had the world's gentlest, most mellow instructor—a beefy woman's lacrosse coach who practiced for the "chill out" benefits rather than the "sick flexibility gains" benefits—there were days when it kicked my ass. Nonetheless, it was a positive and encouraging experience, and I kept with it afterwards. I have yet to attend another class, though; I just practice on my own.

If you're a yoga nerd and would like me to be specific, by the way, the class was just typical hatha yoga.

My (Also Brief) History With Rinzai Zen Meditation

A couple of years after that yoga class, I graduated college. (Woohoo!) In the weird in-between time I spent at home, wondering what to do next, I stumbled across a meditation Meetup organized by a local Rinzai Zen Zendo. I continued to sit with them as long as I was home, returning when I could in between stints overseas.

How These Two Are Related

Image courtesy Jonathan Natiuk
Buddhism, or more specifically Zen meditation, has been the hip thing in the US since (arguably) the 1960s, thanks to beatniks and Shunryu Suzuki. Since then, meditation (Zen or otherwise) has gained a small foothold in both medicine and psychology as treatment option with a surprisingly high level of applicability. (Though of course there has also been a fair amount of skepticism and controversy. But that's another post. For now, I refer you to Jo Marchant's Cure, particularly Chapter 9: "Enjoy the Moment.")

Essential to both practices, at least how I learned them, is the concept of breath. In yoga, you attend to your breath, moving from one asana to another on inhales or exhales. In mindfulness meditation, you draw your attention to the here and now by focusing on your breathing. The method I was taught was to simply count my breaths backwards from 10, over and over.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how the two practices can be merged. Ever since my experience with Zen meditation, I have tried to apply the principles of focused breathing during my yoga sessions. When you live in close quarters with another human, it can be a little weird to announce, "Okay, I'm going to sit on the edge of the bed and do nothing for five minutes, please don't disturb me." But there's nothing weird about saying, "Hey, I'm going to do a bit of yoga now."

My Subsequent Yoga Philosophy

People have all kinds of reasons for starting a yoga program. Everyone's reasons are their own, and they're equally valid, but given the way yoga is marketed and promoted, I think it's easy to miss the point.

When YouTube channel after YouTube channel and class after class features lithe, flexible young women, we get an idea about what yoga can do and also who yoga is for. The same goes for images of yoginis maintaining asanas that require an incredible amount of body strength.

"Wow," we think. "I want to be able to do that."

And I get it. If I can engage in gender stereotypes for a second, yoga is a really attractive way to get women who would otherwise be intimidated by strength training interested in...well, strength training. Not to mention that yoga helps with flexibility and balance—two skills we have heard again and again that we will lose in our old age (if we're not careful).

In all of this, yoga is a tool to change (or at least maintain) the body. We want to be stronger. We want to be more flexible. Brutal honesty time: we want to be thinner. (Isn't that what "stronger" and "more flexible" are often code words for? #realtalk) Whatever it is, we want to transform our body, whether in terms of appearance or ability. We also (again, #realtalk) want to cheat death and prolong the inevitable as much as we can. The longer we stay fit and flexible, the longer we have on this Earth, right?

These are admirable goals, I think. To the extent that they don't become a competition with yourself, anyway. Increasing my own level of aerobic fitness and learning to master and enjoy an activity I thought was not for me is certainly part of my own motivation behind my running while fat plan, after all.

Maybe it's because I'm pursuing those goals elsewhere that I have an entirely different take on yoga. Of course part of my yoga practice is centered around what I can do to support my new running habit (lots of tree pose), but the reason I keep coming back to the mat is that I just want to chill the fuck out. I don't go to any great lengths to push myself (which is why you'll never see me holding a plank for 10 minutes at a go) and I don't particularly care if I never truly master some asanas. I just want to spend some time in my head, without stimulation, and breathe for a little bit. When I carve out this time for myself, I benefit. My mood improves and I can come back to my work (writing, editing, lesson planning, promoting, crafting) with fresh eyes. Once in a while, ideas that have been percolating for years suddenly all come together in one eureka moment after another.

I'm not entirely on track with my 101 in 1001 goal of "1001 sun salutations." Like I said, I have my ups and downs. But even if I were, I can't imagine that I would be anywhere near capable of performing fantastic yogini feats. My yoga victories, such as they are, are inconsequential. Teeny tiny. Maybe yoga on the daily for a whole week, or having a reeeaaaal niiiice streeeeetch in pigeon pose before I go out running. (Oh, and by the way: my ass hovers quite a few inches off the floor in pigeon pose.) That's okay! It's okay to be team Tiny Yoga Victories. I'm right there with you.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday 5: French Kissing

What’s your favorite kind of French fry?

Image courtesy Dodgerton Skillhause
Is there more than one kind of French fry? :O I guess there's waffle fries, curly fries, etc. And potato wedges? Do they count? Well, I guess my favorite is the typical julienne fries, a la McDonald's.

Where can you get really good French toast?

Image courtesy Laura Musikanski
I have no idea. There's a cafe in Old Town called "B.A.D. (Breakfast All Day) Cafe"; they might be the ticket. But any time I have to go to Old Town, it's always after they've closed.

What are your feelings about French salad dressing?

Image courtesy Domas on Morguefile
I've never had it. As a kid I was all about dat ranch, 'bout dat ranch. Now that I'm a grown-up, I'm happy with just olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Even then not much, and I prefer the olive oil to the balsamic vinegar. (JV prefers the balsamic vinegar, so when we make salad for dinner we have to add the oil and vinegar to our respective dishes.)

What’s something you know how to say in French?

Quel'que chose je sais comment dire en français. :P I had to dig way too hard for that, and I'm not even sure I got it right. Ouch.

What French films have you seen?

At first I thought this was really great cosplay. Then I noticed the advertisement in the back. //
Image courtesy Thibaud Van Rillas.
Amelie, The Triplets of Belleville, Le Grand Bleu, and Léon. I'm trying my best with my 101 in 1001 goal about foreign movies, but those foreign movies are rarely French. Oops.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What I'm Watching: Booktube

Somehow I've become caught up in the community that is Booktube. BookTube? I don't know. I guess "caught up" is a misnomer because I don't participate myself and I rarely even comment, but I enjoy watching people talk about books—more than I would have guessed, especially considering that everyone's favorite books are YA and Harry Potter.

In no particular order:

1. Memento Mori

Why I like the channel: Adam focuses almost exclusively on serious, meaty books. I'm all for YA cheese once in a while but I have zero interest in discussing it (unless it's terrible, then I love being a snarky bitch) and also I hate all your faves. What I do care about is 1) finding out about new, less splashy and bestseller-y literary fiction and 2) hearing people's thinky thoughts on serious fiction.

Recent video I liked: His review of Kafka on the Shore. "White people love Murakami," hahah. He ain't lyin'. I feel him; I think I want to like Murakami more than I actually like him and I feel like everyone "gets" him except me.

Twitter: MementoMoriAdam

GoodReads: AdamDurand

2. Manda the Glittery Nerd

Why I like the channel: First of all, I always like seeing people who look like me on YouTube. There are lots of reasons I would never start any kind of YouTube channel, but putting myself out there is at the top of the list. So many YouTubers are thin and cute and that's not me. (I'm cute, arguably, but definitely not thin.) While Manda does have more of a YA focus than I would like, she's still a really fun, expressive, and energetic person to watch and makes me think that maybe I could have a channel, too?

Recent video I liked: Her recent reads: books 9 - 13. The screen grab for this one is adorable, but I also appreciate her being honest about Zenith. What happens when a couple of BookTubers put out a book? BookTube loves it, or maybe more accurate BookTube feels obligated to say nice things about it. Anyone who has qualms about something popular is aces in my book.

Twitter: TheGlitteryNerd

GoodReads: Manda the Glittery Nerd

3. The Secret Stacks

Why I like the channel: I think it's important to have people in your life who are different from you. Of course "have in your life" is a bit of an overstatement when it comes to a random BookTuber I don't actually know, but you know what I mean. Being an athletic track and field kid who attended a Quaker boarding school, RJ has a different experience than someone like me (unathletic nerd who basically came out of the womb reading), and that means I get to hear about books I wouldn't otherwise know about. Also, it's good to see the Philly metro repped on ye olde BookTube. SEPA 'till I die, etc.

Recent video I liked: 50 Facts About Me (With Embarrassing Pictures). I like seeing people's awkward early years photos, what can I say?

Twitter: TheSecretStacks

GoodReads: RJ

4. Squibbles Reads

Why I like the channel: Squibbles Reads is probably the most productive BookTube channel I follow, so I always fall behind quickly, but she tackles thinky-thinky issues about books in addition to just reviews. Reviews have their place, and it makes me happy to see people be happy about books (or to watch people really rip into a book they hated), but reviews don't tell me a whole lot about you as a person and that's the most interesting book of all!!!

Recent video I liked: Why I DNF'ed Booktubeathon. I dig people being honest about their real lives and their struggles.

Twitter: SquibblesReads

GoodReads: SquibblesReads

5. Books Are My Social Life

Why I like the channel: Saajid is bubbly and charming. Of course I'm interested in all of the Booktubers I mentioned here, but when I get the little alert that Books Are My Social Life has a new video I probably prioritize that more than the other channels, because his videos (including the snarky commentary he includes in comments or the edits) cheer me up.

Recent video I liked: FIRST SENTENCE CHALLENGE! feat. Sabirah. Saajid and Sabirah are both adorable together. I basically want to adopt them. The challenge is also an interesting one: how many books can you recognize by their first sentence?

Twitter: Books_Social

GoodReads: n/a

Do you Booktube? Anyone you want to recommend?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Newly Listed: Avogadro Cuff

After a long, long crafty hibernation, ALL OF THE INSPIRATION hit me ALL AT ONCE. Unfortunately, the inspiration chose a bad time, as I've just started a new part-time job and am due to start studying full-time in September. Oops! Also, the ideas I've had require a few more supplies than I have on hand, but I'm not really ~~feeling going shopping.

First world problems, y'all.

Anyway, the first new item I have to share with you guys isn't really that revolutionary or cool. It's an Avogadro bracelet like any other Avogadro bracelet I've done, except that I've decided to represent the digits in length (in inches) rather than by number of beads.

Sciart jewelry bracelet chemistry Avogadro black blue Swarovski bracelet
Avogadro's Number in black Czech glass with Swarovski accents by Kokoba

If that was a confusing explanation, you can read about it in more detail on my freshly updated "Where are the numbers?" page.

One of the things that's tricky with physical constants rather than irrational numbers is that you're limited in terms of styles that work. All the rest of my memory wire cuffs, for example, are irrational numbers (usually pi). With irrational numbers, there's always another digit you can tack on if a bracelet isn't long enough. With the physical constants, things eventually run out.

Sciart jewelry bracelet chemistry Avogadro black blue Swarovski bracelet

But I really like the look of those memory wire cuffs: understated, stackable, mix 'n' match. Why should the chemists and physicists and the biologists be left out?

I have a few other ideas coming down the pipeline: some Viking knit, maybe some maille, and some more bead ideas. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Friday 5: Down the Rabbit Hole

What was the subject of one of your memorable YouTube holes?

I am averse to Internet video like no one else. If you embed or share a video, I'm probably not going to watch it. I deliberately seek out videos on YouTube (and have recently become enamored with BookTube!), but I rarely binge watch anything or watch anything spontaneously. I guess it's a combination of having the s-l-o-w-e-s-t dial-up in the world growing up and reading faster than people can (reasonably) talk: I'd rather read what you think than hear what you think. If the BookTubers I follow all decided to start blogs instead of make videos, I switch over in an instant.

The only genre of video I can get somewhat sucked into are jewelry tutorials. Even then, I often skip ahead to the part that's the most confusing/that I forgot/that I was wondering about.

What was your most recent Wikipedia hole like?

It was probably related to research for a birthstones post. I need to keep going with those.

What’s a recipe you got from the internet and actually prepared? How did it turn out?

Shakshuka by Calliopejen1
Image courtesy Calliopejen1
I can't stand Pinterest anymore because it's full of hyper-Christian* soccer moms (a sign that I need to really just destroy my "following" list and start over), but it was worth it just to stumble across shakshuka. I prefer to make mine with a couple tablespoons of gochujang rather than tomato paste, because otherwise the dish is a bit bland (even with the bell peppers), but this has become one of my go-to recipes.

What apparently little-known website do you enjoy?

Hm, "apparently"? I can't think of any. I'm not much of an Internet hipster. I'm still on LiveJournal; does that count?

What apparently popular website can you just not get into?

Pottermore (at this point I think I'm stuck getting inundated with ~~~new~~ Harry Potter stuff basically for the rest of my life).

Most social media except Facebook and Twitter.

*There are chill, progressive, and philosophical Christians in the world, and I have no beef with them. But they do not seem to be the kind of Christians taking to Pinterest, to put it diplomatically.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What I Read: Nimona

Holy MOSES apparently I finished Nimona without talking about it?!
Image courtesy Noelle Stevenson/HarperCollins

I think the most interesting thing for me is: why did I love Nimona but loathe Fangirl? Rainbow Rowell and Noelle Stevenson seem to exist in a sort of mutual fannishness: they like each other's stories, and people who like the one usually like the other.

Except me. If I had read Fangirl before I read Nimona, the quote from Rowell right on the goddamn cover would have put me off. I don't think I would have avoided the boook; I probably would have enjoyed it even more, actually, because praise from Rowell would have lowered my expectations considerably. (So, um, maybe I should have read Fangirl first?) The more I think about Fangirl, the more I kind of really hate it and it's actually sadly put me off Rainbow Rowell forever. YOU DONE GOOFED.

So, since it's been a couple months since I finished Nimona and all of the thoughts and feelings I had immediately upon finishing it have been dimmed by time, I'll be comparing it with Fangirl as a way of focusing and recollecting my thoughts. Also, I am fueled by rage.

First of all, they are different mediums. Media? Nimona is a graphic novel and Fangirl is a traditional novel. While I don't think a visual medium would have smoothed over Fangirl's many, many flaws, there is the possibility that I enjoyed Nimona-as-graphic novel more, even much more, than I would have enjoyed Nimona-as-traditional novel. I think the story of Nimona is great, but Stevenson is maybe not a wordsmith; I can see how subpar writing would have ruined the story for me. (I'm not trying to imply that Stevenson can't write; I'm just saying I don't know if she's a good writer or not.) So Nimona goes into this with some advantage there.

Some reviews on GoodReads have been honest about Stevenson's art style not being for them, and I get that, but I quite liked it. My only beef is the lettering. Having read my fair share of comics and "classic" graphic novels (and also having kind of shitty eyesight), I do have kind of stuffy, traditionalist opinions about lettering. But I like Stevenson's quirky, doodle-y art style a lot, enough that I could work through the spidery handwriting of her lettering.

Second of all, Nimona is not a doorstopper paean to fanfiction and arrested development.

Third of all, Nimona has stakes. I get that not every story can or even should be about saving the world, but those also aren't the only stakes in Nimona. There's Nimona's relationship with Ballister, there's Ballister's relationship with Goldenloin, and there's Nimona and Ballister trying to figure out where they belong in the world, and there's Goldenloin questioning everything he's been taught as a hero. Even if you take out the "saving the kingdom" element of Nimona, there's a lot going on. The actual, interesting issues that Cath has—anxiety, inability to cope with her mother's departure, the stresses of being raised by a single, bipolar father, weird codependent relationship with her sister—aren't really explored so much as strategically deployed by Rowell to give a shallow, boring story about a shallow, boring person more gravitas.

And finally, Nimona doesn't have a neat and tidy ending. Kind of ironic that the fantasy story takes the gritty, realistic ending, while the realistic fiction story takes the deus ex machina "everything is magically better!" ending.

Moving on to more general thoughts now that I've warmed up:

Going back and reading other people's reviews to jog my memory, I've learned that 1) other people were seeing a queer subtext with Goldenloin/Ballister that I was not and 2) that this subtext is actually the Word of God and that Stevenson regrets not being more clear with it. On the one hand, queer representation is good, but on the other hand I never read Goldenloin/Ballister as gay; instead I thought it was nice to see The Power of Friendship between two men.

I think we need more models for close and emotionally vulnerable male friendships. Emotional vulnerability is always skirted around in those kinds of relationships—usually male friendship gets coded as snarky, ironic banter. (I guess here I'm thinking specifically of Clerks because that's my go-to male best buddies model.) But anytime a male friendship approaches something like serious feelings, it immediately gets read as some kind of homosexual subtext (and the shippers go CRAZY). And I don't know—I do think that men should stop worrying about being perceived as gay or effeminate or weak, absolutely, but I think we need to give men in media more space to be emotionally vulnerable to other men (who are not their father or brother figures) without making it a question of their sexuality. Anything else kind of reinforces the idea that default straight male is stoic and tough and "not in touch with their feelings" and that is bad news for everyone.

My other, final thought is that the physics and logic in Nimona's world was a little goofy. This is going to be super spoiler-y, so you have been warned! I'm not quibbling over the mass issues that come with shapeshifting—it's a goddamn fantasy story, Elsa that shit and let it go—but the whole last scene where Nimona's been split in two? And Ballister uses the doc's energy experiment to save/stop her? I feel like there was a lot going on there that I didn't understand. Sometimes you read a story and a character says, "Okay, we need to do this to stop the thing!" and you're like, "Yeah, that makes sense!"; sometimes a character says, "Okay, we need to do this to stop the thing!" and instead you're like, "Um, if you say so, I guess." That's how it felt for me. Maybe it's just a question of re-reading things.

End spoilers!

Overall I loved this little book and I'm glad I picked it up on a whim. I need to double check, but this might also count towards my 101 in 1001 list—I bought it long before I read it, but maybe not a whole year. Since Nimona is no longer available online, you'll have to get it in this dead tree version if you want to read it. But it's worth it, I promise! (Praise from Caesar is praise indeed.)