Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Vampires, the Fascination

Okay, so first thing to get out of the way. Its been a long time since I put up a blog post; apparently I skipped all of 2009. So yeah, I've been busy. Or lazy, whatever. I hope no one minds too much; since I think I have no comments and virtually no readers, it shouldn't be a problem. In reality, I've been in a creative slump for a while, and haven't felt like doing a lot of writing. Its been coming back, though, and as a matter of fact that's not just why I'm actually writing a post here, its in a way the subject of the post.

To get to the meat of the matter, I've noticed for some time now that one of the big phenomena in the entertainment world today is vampires. Every time I walk through a book store, I see vampire fiction taking up more space. Its to the point that its crossing numerous genres; no longer are vampire stories merely classic horror literature, they've worked their way into romance, mystery/crime/detective stories, and teen fiction, not to mention the books from my childhood. Feel free to explore, you'll find vast examples of varying quality. The Twilight series is now, of course, being made into a ridiculously popular series of movies, much to the dismay of the series' critics. Some people might simply notice the trend, others might be pleased or displeased at the wealth of material. I see an opportunity.

I've read a lot of these books; Twilight, Anita Blake, The Diaries of the Family Dracul, etc. They range from quite good to moderately entertaining to wall banger. I've in the past been accounted a fairly competent writer, able to devise enthralling D&D campaigns and skillfully woven creative writing essays. If I combine the popularity of vampire fiction, my own familiarity with it, and my own writing skills, I have a fairly simple process:
  1. Read vampire novels
  2. Realize vampire novels make lots of money
  3. Write a vampire novel
  4. Profit!
So, I'm actually doing it. I'm writing a novel. I will be liberally referencing history, other vampire fiction, and of course tvtropes.org. I probably won't go into details on the book in this blog, but I'll try to put forth some of the trials and tribulations of writing a book. I'll also try to get posts in here about my other thoughts. The world deserves to know what I have to say; isn't that the narcissistic point of most blogging?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Science and Technology, the Politics

So recently I've been reading articles from Discovery News and Ars Technica that have a lot to do with politics. Not surprising here in America; we're all being inundated with campaign coverage thanks to the elections in November. I could likely say a lot about my opinions on that coverage, and how much I'm fed up with campaign commercials that don't really affect my opinion or likely anyone else's. But that's not what I'm up to here today.

To begin with, for those of you who are as interested in science and technology as myself, take a look at ScienceDebate 2008, where the US Presidential candidates were asked fourteen very pertinent questions about where we're headed on actual issues. I was pointed this direction from Deep Sea News, a Discovery blog. The obvious questions are near the top of the list; energy, national security, climate change, education. These are positions that will be talked about much more widely, but which have clear scientific and technological ties. Its good to see the candidates actually talking about these, and I'm looking forward to the upcoming formal debates for more details. However, the items that I find more interesting are in more specific fields; ocean health, genetics and stem cell research, scientific integrity, basic research funding, and of course space. That the candidates had answers for these at all was somewhat encouraging; I'll get to which answers were more appealing in a moment. The best part about it is that the questions got me thinking about the topics, and how important so many of these things are. Like many people, I think I get lost in the news coverage, campaign commercials, and oft-repeated talking points like taxes, jobs, gas prices, and the like. Its always good to be reminded of other things that are important to me, like say the long-term future of the human race through space exploration.

My overall impression on the answers reinforced my opinions about the candidates. Barack Obama is intelligent, literate, and at the same time eloquent and somewhat inspiring. He references facts, states specific goals, and gets to the point while still being a good read. I don't agree with everything he has to say, which isn't surprising; he's a politician. In general, though, his policies jive more with my own views. John McCain, on the other hand, attempts eloquence but achieves long-winded pomposity, states goals that aren't very specific, and seems to back away from questions that are uncomfortable.

Lets do a quick comparison, on one of my own particular subjects of interest, space. Obama lays out the fact that our country needs to invest more into space exploration, and ties it to some of the other questions quite well, in just the first paragraph:
"As president, I will establish a robust and balanced civilian space program. Under my administration, NASA not only will inspire the world with both human and robotic space exploration, but also will again lead in confronting the challenges we face here on Earth, including global climate change, energy independence, and aeronautics research. In achieving this vision, I will reach out to include international partners and to engage the private sector to amplify NASA’s reach. I believe that a revitalized NASA can help America maintain its innovation edge and contribute to American economic growth. "
McCain's answer is four times as long as Obama's, but not because it has more content. As he's done elsewhere on other topics, he gives us a history lesson on the space program and how it affects us today. This would be great if he were teaching a class, or writing a book, but he's answering a question put to him by scientists. They know. When he does get to his bullet points, there's a theme:
"As President, I will --
• Ensure that space exploration is top priority and that the U.S. remains a leader;
• Commit to funding the NASA Constellation program to ensure it has the resources it needs to begin a new era of human space exploration.
• Review and explore all options to ensure U.S. access to space by minimizing the gap between the termination of the Space Shuttle and the availability of its replacement vehicle;
• Ensure the national space workforce is maintained and fully utilized; Complete construction of the ISS National Laboratory;
• Seek to maximize the research capability and commercialization possibilities of the ISS National Laboratory;
• Maintain infrastructure investments in Earth-monitoring satellites and support systems;
• Seek to maintain the nation's space infrastructure;
• Prevent wasteful earmarks from diverting precious resources from critical scientific research;
• and ensure adequate investments in aeronautics research."
The theme, as you may have noticed, is "maintain." I'm all for keeping what exists in good working order, but that's far from being enough. I want to see us push boundaries, not "maximize current capabilities."

There are plenty of additional items that I find interesting, but you can see for yourself. I'm normally not one to be incredibly political, but if you're able to affect this election (i.e. you're American), I urge you to learn about the candidates and the issues, and let yourself be heard. The third-party candidates aren't included here, but they're certainly worth watching as well.

From Ars Technica, I've been keeping an eye on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. Most recently, a number of groups have demanded to see the secret trade agreement, which may have wide-reaching effects on things from fake drugs to fair use. Ars Technica links their articles fairly extensively, so I suggest looking around, but here are some highlights:
  • The EU started talking about ACTA about a year ago, targeting things like "fake drugs, luxury rip-offs, and bogus cosmetics" along with digital distribution.
  • We can't really complain about it, since the negotiations are secret, so we don't know what its going to say. However, despite concerns about border guards searching your iPod for stolen music, the larger issues will be things like forcing ISPs to filter out "infringing content," and shut down the Internet access of "repeat infringers."
  • The RIAA submitted a wish list, including such things as ISP filtering and removal of the "safe harbor" provisions of the DMCA, when privacy rights groups have had no input at all.
The issues are of course worrisome for those of us who like to actually use the content we purchase, what little we're allowed here in America (backup a DVD? Watch a movie I own on DVD on my iPod? Its illegal, like more and more fair use). The treaty seems like it may be used as a back door around the actual voters, since these kinds of things would never get past the legislature; they've already tried and failed. One thing I'll have to research is if the candidates have expressed any views on intellectual property rights, fair use, etc. With the addition of things like the complaints about the DRM on Spore, it feels like we're gearing up for a major conflict between free-software, fair-use proponets and the microtransaction-driven mega-corps. I guess all we can do right now is stay informed and take what action we're allowed.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

del.icio.us, the Bookmarks

So, I'd been introduced to the del.icio.us concept several years ago, while still in college. I've finally gotten back into it, primarily as a means to easily keep my bookmarks in sync between computers. I'm going back and forth between it and Google Bookmarks; so far, I'm finding that I like the networking aspects and Firefox integration of del.icio.us. However, I've just learned that they're integrating with Google Notebook, so I'll have some re-evaluating to do.

This is a continuation of the social networking phenomenon that I discussed earlier in regards to things like Facebook and LinkedIn. I've surprisingly kept up with most of these items, including (occasionally) this blog. Granted, I don't think I have too many readers, as I don't have any comments on my posts, but that's fine. I've found myself surprised at the benefits of both putting my thoughts on virtual paper, and at keeping in touch with friends, even if it is infrequently and indirectly.

The concept of tags (which Gmail, and Blogger for that matter, calls labels) is one that I've found interesting. From an organization standpoint, it fits my own ideas, since it allows me to put things in more than one category. As you may have noticed, focus is not my strong suit. From the implementation in del.icio.us, and other networking sites with similar concepts such as flickr, I have the advantage of pulling other items on a topic I might be interested in. This lets me treat the web in general the way I often treat Wikipedia. For an example of this concept, see this comic from the amazing xkcd.

So, I've added a del.icio.us network badge to my blog; as you may have noticed, a number of new sideboard items have been added. Feel free to check them out. Who knows, maybe I'll start to get more readers, linking to me because I linked to them, or from del.icio.us itself. That reminds me, I need to go tag my blog.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

New Academia, the MiniCity

An interesting website I stumbled across, called MyMiniCity. You can add to my city's population by visiting New Academia. Apparently, there will be more functionality as the population grows.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Exercise, The Beginning

So my wife has decided on the course these things usually seem to take: she wants to lose weight, so we are going on a diet. What's interesting about it this time is that, while I'm not too keen on the food portion, I'm all for getting in shape via exercise (which she doesn't want to do at all). We're following the Body for Life program, which I am coming to enjoy and highly recommend. I've actually been doing it for about two weeks now, and its going well. I'm even following along with the meal guidelines pretty well. I'm breaking one rule that most people find important, as I haven't set a specific goal. My goal is to look good, not drop to a certain weight or lift a certain amount or run for a certain period of time. I just want to be able to wear a Superboy t-shirt and do it justice. :) I'm willing to take it day by day and just keep going.
What this has led me to is some musing on why I want to do this. I've long since decided that I don't really care what other people think of me personally, except my wife. I suppose in a way I'm doing this for her. I want to be healthy and strong so I can be there for her for a long time, and I want to look good so she'll enjoy looking at me. Of course, she says that's not a problem now, but that's because she loves me.
I think that in part I've been caught up in one of the trends of the nation. Despite all the talk about obesity being an "epidemic" and all the related things, there is a nearly opposite obsession with fitness and being thin (or muscular, depending). If we look at our celebrities, no matter what type they might be, they are almost all relatively fit. We can even look at how much publicity there is around the exercise programs of our Presidents. Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as being healthy is indeed something we should strive for. I just want to make sure I don't go as far as some would have me go. Like most things, I will attempt moderation. No bulging muscles, no ridiculously thin body, just looking good. I've tried before, with limited success. We'll see how this turns out; I think I've got more motivation and determination this time than ever before.

As a side note, I'm really hyped about D&D 4th Edition, and can't wait for June!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Games, The Attraction

Games can tell us a lot about culture, I think. From the time we are small, we play games. It starts with games we invent, coming up with the rules all on our own. Whatever name we give it, many of us have probably played Calvinball. Eventually, we settle down on rules, most of the time picking up organized sports like soccer, football, baseball, or whatever is commonly played by our friends. The modern age holds innumerable options beyond these, with board games, card games, and more recently video games. The question we have to ask is why games hold such an attraction for us.

I'm sure none of this is original, but what ever is? I think we enjoy games because we innately desire to compete. There is a drive within us that wants to test our own capabilities, see how we will perform in a tense situation. I can even propose that we are trying to determine how we will face the final test: the moment of our death. (For further reading pick up the Dune series, specifically God Emperor of Dune.) The output for these drives expresses itself in other ways, often violent ones such as waging war, but our society suppresses and redirects these drives to promote our own survival. We can see the violence in a number of the games and contests, though. There are any number of "contact sports" such as American football, rugby, etc. which show obvious battle overtones. Going even further, we see wrestling, boxing, and mixed martial arts showing continued popularity, and not just for spectators. There seems to be no shortage of volunteers for these activities, willing to put their bodies and even lives on the line.

Not all sports are violent, but most involve competition. Teams face off in basketball games, two tennis players battle for a win, sprinters try to outrun their competitors. Even in such athletic pursuits as we see in track and field events, like pole vaults, long jumps, and discus throws, the competition exists however indirectly. The participants still push themselves to be better than others who do the same. Of course, not all of us have the gift for athletic pursuits, but we find our own games. Card games (poker, gin, hearts) have long since been a competitive pursuit, and we can all recall any number of board games we've enjoyed. Interestingly, it is here that we see the roots coming out again. Risk, Axis and Allies, and any number of others are wargames, allowing us to try our hand at conquering the world, if not ruling it. Wargaming becomes even more detailed and allows even deeper strategies in such games as Chainmail and Warhammer. From these roots then evolved my own particular hobby, role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons. RPGs are rather interesting, in that the people you play the game with are not your opponents, but almost always teammates. Even the person running the game (be they DM, GM, Storyteller, or what have you) is more a guide and adjudicator than an adversary. Its a unique blend of competitive game and social gathering that I particularly enjoy.

Computers have ushered in a new era in playing games, since now we have a choice between facing a human or a computer-controlled opponent. RTS games let us work through battle tactics without turns, reacting as the combat flows. We slip into the roles of various characters in any number of first-person shooters, RPGs, and action titles. Racing in cars, boats, planes, on snowboards, skateboards; all of these are within our grasp and avoid all the old possibilities of injury. Soon, we'll even be able to play our good old D&D over the Internet with D&D Insider. There are those who worry about this medium of entertainment and competition, concerned that by simulating violent or dangerous situations, we'll slip into them in "real life." Personally, the pictures I can simulate in my head when reading a good book, or for that matter when I played pretend as a young child, are far more vivid than anything we can put on a computer screen. We've been simulating war and entertaining ourselves with violence for centuries, but some people don't want to admit the ancient drives that we're letting loose get their outlet in the Super Bowl.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Blogging, The Phenomenon

The Internet brings out the best and worst in a lot of people. But it also brings out the mediocre, the boring, and the strange. I've found myself recently caught up in the "social networking" phenomenon, and this appears to be yet another extension of it. I was finally drawn into Facebook a few months ago, purportedly to keep in touch with friends, then more recently into LinkedIn, ostensibly to help me advance my career. Now, with no other recourse for all the thoughts filling my head, I have begun a blog.

Oh, I can talk to people, certainly; I'm married, and I can easily talk to my wife. However, nothing seems to have the irresistible appeal of a blog when it comes to making your thoughts available. I believe that has something to do with the fact that I can actually complete my thoughts with no worry of interruption. I can easily be taken off on a tangent, and forget the point I was trying to make. Here, I can say whatever comes into my head, and while I will get responses, it will only be after I've made my case, and I can freely ignore any of them if I don't care to address it. We'll see how long this holds my attention. It is the Internet, you know. If social networking has taught me anything, its that my patience for these things wears thin after a while. I used to check Facebook every day; now, I only remember it if I get an e-mail for some reason. So, if posts get sporadic, and for some reason people begin following this blog, don't get discouraged. I'll get back to it. Someday, maybe.

Peace and love,