The content on this blog is my personal opinion and does not reflect the views of the Department of Defense or the US Navy in any way.

Monday, November 3, 2014

National Novel Writing Month... again

Here we go again.

The last two years have been pretty bad for NaNoWriMo. I know it's possible to do it despite the pressures of a military career, but somehow I've never quite gotten an idea good enough to make me spend my (suddenly much more limited) free time on it.

Hopefully this will be the year that changes that. I wouldn't say I've got a good idea this year (it's a variation on the old fantasy classic of "group of heroes gets summoned into alternate universe") but so far it's been compelling enough to keep me writing through the first few days.

Some of what I'm trying is not new. (Like the general idea for my plot.) Or like the chapter titles which are all references to another field yet still make sense as descriptions of what's going on in the plot. I did that last time I won NaNoWriMo, using chapter titles based on computer science; this year it's navigation.

Other tricks I'm trying are new - like making a whole bunch of little text files (each about 600 words or so) and using each one for an individual scene in each chapter. This way, if I don't feel like writing a particular scene, I can just skip it and go to the next one. Or the wide variety of reference files (that I still haven't put anything in beyond names) that should have descriptions of all the people and places I've come up with.

It's probably going to need a lot of editing come December, but that's always the way that NaNoWriMo works, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Anime Review: Aldnoah.Zero

I will attempt to make this mostly spoiler free, but I may end up leaving a couple hints about events in later episodes. The last paragraph in particular (starting with "finally", appropriately) will have some hints about the ending.

Essentially, Aldnoah.Zero is a science fiction anime focusing on ground combat. Simply watching various giant mecha, ships, and scenery get blown up in various ways is worth a bit of entertainment, as always, and this anime doesn't disappoint in that regard.

Mostly, though, I ended up thinking about the military and about war while I was watching it.

Part of that has to do with the massive technology imbalance. The Versian (hereafter "Martian", since Vers is just the name of the government formed by the colony on Mars) forces have technology literally generations ahead of the Earth forces. If I were drawing comparisons using modern technology, I would probably compare it to a modern armored cavalry unit attacking a trench line in WWI. On paper, there's absolutely no reason to believe the Earth forces should be able to pose any threat at all, let alone win.

Yet they do, and it's actually not horribly contrived, mostly because the Martian forces barely deserve to be called a military at all. The anime creates a picture of an almost feudal society based on the right to use their advanced technology, and the "knights" that that society produces hate working together, see each other as their primary competition, and trust far too much in their advanced technology... and they still inflict incredible casualties on the Earth forces in exchange for each knight the Earth mecha manage to take down. The Earth forces use good intelligence and quick thinking to find and exploit weaknesses in their enemies' advanced tech, but still have to take extreme risks to win and still have to retreat often when their enemies' weaknesses aren't known or can't be exploited. It seems rather realistic to me, inasmuch as that term can be applied at all to soft science fiction.

Which isn't to say I don't have problems... the most serious of which is that the Martian forces shouldn't need to come to Earth's surface at all in order to eliminate strong points. They're clearly capable of bombarding the surface from orbit, Earth just as clearly doesn't have any good weapons to take out orbital targets, yet the Martians never seem to notice or use that advantage at all. Given all the stupid things the Martian forces do in the course of this anime, though, that one is rather easily ignored.

As for some of the other details... well, I can't decide if it's a problem or simply an unwelcome reflection on the ability of military organizations to react quickly. The Earth forces, for all that they are much better organized than the Martians, don't seem to have the faintest clue what the Martians are capable of or how they should fight at the beginning of the anime. A lot of the redshirts that make up those incredible casualties I talked about simply charge into battle, guns blazing, trusting that AP bullets and HE grenades will work against gravity manipulation, plasma weapons, and advanced sensors and jamming capabilities. The good intelligence the Earth forces manage to get all too often comes at the cost of those lives... and I can't quite decide whether the anime is painting an overly negative picture of a military's ability to adapt to a previously unknown threat, or exactly the right picture.

For that matter, many of the pilots continue to charge ahead, even after they've had the chance to realize what the Martians were capable of. Some of it can be attributed to trust that the veterans among them will be able to figure out the enemy's weakness quickly, but some of it is just as pointless as it was the last time they tried it. I suppose that is the nature of the risk they're taking in order to win, even if I'd like to think that they should be trying for better intelligence.

I will take a moment here to note one more flaw - apparently the main character, a high school student, is a better pilot than almost all of the trained military pilots in this entire anime. Granted their alternate history has military training in high school after the first Martian war, so he's not completely untrained, and granted that his trainer has less armor and is theoretically more maneuverable than the actual combat model, but still, that's a little jarring. That he can also apparently think quicker and more creatively than most of those pilots is less surprising, since that ability relies less on training, but his ability to notice and exploit weaknesses, which absolutely none of these trained pilots seem to have, is still a little too impressive.

Finally, a significant portion of the anime ends up as a reflection on why wars start, what reasons people have for starting them, and how they can be ended. Both sides fumble around a bit, without seeming to have a way (or a desire) to strike at the other side's center of gravity (that term refers to something without which a country cannot make war). There are a few dramatic gestures and attempts to end the war by clearing up the confusion that shrouded the start of the war... but no, I'm not going to turn these hints into overt spoilers by saying how that turns out. Overall, I found the ending rather unsatisfying, although once again, it may be that the message the anime is trying to send isn't what I want to hear. I suppose I'll have to wait and see if the planned second season clears things up a bit, or merely weakens the themes of the first with a needless extension.

Either way, I highly recommend this anime - partly for the action sequences, and partly because I found it very thought-provoking.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

GamerGate and Representation

I was very interested in GamerGate when it first popped up. I... well, not "enjoyed" Depression Quest, given the subject matter, but I did find it to be a very powerful story, even if it's not perfect, and I was a little taken aback by the fury directed at Zoe Quinn. Saying that I was one of her defenders is probably incorrect, since I haven't really posted anything on this topic before, but if I were picking sides, it would be that one.

Nowadays my attitude is part bemusement and part exasperation. I don't know how or why people can justify defending that particular banner anymore, given how nobody has really found anything significantly corrupt about Quinn and any game journalism outlet, and watching them try to find more post hoc rationalizations is frankly rather irritating. Even if they do manage to come up with some potentially problematic issues to worry about. Especially if they try to justify the crap that was originally directed at people like Zoe Quinn or Anita Sarkeesian by pointing to legitimate problems.

Of course, even if I don't care enough to follow the whole issue closely anymore, I still happen upon references from time to time (and that usually spawns a bit of a tab explosion as I start clicking through to other new references). Such as this analogy I found on Memebase.

It did make me stop and think for a moment, even if I don't agree with the point of this particular post. So I thought I'd share what I came up with.

Mostly, that has to do with the comparison between the past's concerns about satanic messages, and the present's concern with sexism, racism, or homophobia. How the present concern is portrayed, though, is at best incomplete, and at worst deceptive. I think there's a difference between active discrimination and poor representation, and that most of the problem we have is with the latter. The former is fixed by eliminating discriminatory stereotypes; the latter is fixed by adding more stories about different kinds of people to the ones we're already telling.

Basically, I'm not trying to argue that modern games are all sexist. I do think they reflect society's prejudices (as does almost every other form of media; video games are by far not the only medium struggling with this issue right now) and that we should try and tell more stories than just "prince (or plumber) saves princess"... but that doesn't mean we'll never tell that one again.

That doesn't mean we have no problem at all with discrimination; there are still some tropes that need to go away and never be heard from again. And just because we can still tell stories about the princes of the world is no reason to make every princess in those stories a complete idiot (which is really just me restating the discrimination point more dramatically). Nor do I expect the defenders of the current status quo to be placated by the fact that many people are more interested in expanding the scope of gaming and gamers than they are with limiting what we currently have.

But it's worth pointing out that GamerGate's detractors don't really want to destroy video games or denounce everything we currently have as unacceptable. We really just want to make room for everyone here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book Report: The Handmaid's Tale

... in which I just finished reading a book: The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. It's a dystopian story centered around the US as a totalitarian, patriarchal Christian theocracy - but that much you can get from Wikipedia.

As with a lot of dystopian fiction, it is not meant to be a comfortable read. Even though I'm probably not who this book is aimed at, since I'm already doing what I can (inasmuch as I am involved in political activism at all) to see that such things never come to pass in the US, it's still the sort of thing that makes one think.

In particular, I end up thinking about what my political opponents - the Christian organizations standing up to see their morals enshrined in the public square - really want, and how much this dystopia really matches their end goal.

Some of it probably does match. It doesn't take much imagination or effort to find those who think abortion doctors, gay or lesbian people, or rival religious adherents should be executed, as the Republic of Gilead in the book does. It certainly doesn't take any effort at all to find those (and not all religious people, at that) who think we need to enforce a more moral society.

But I also think of the Christians I know personally, and their ideals, and I know that they would recoil from the idea of enforcing adherence to their beliefs and moral restrictions with secret police and public executions. They just want what's best for everyone... their definition of "best" varies somewhat from mine, but I'm still confident they would not want to hurt that many people and destroy our freedom to see it happen.

I question how else they could ever get the widespread adherence to their beliefs and morals that they seem to want - or fear what they might do if or when they eventually come to believe that themselves - though. And while I don't want to say that the best intentions in the world aren't a valid defense, they're still only a valid defense if one can legitimately say that any harm that resulted was sufficiently unforeseen. I question whether that's the case when the damage done to people's lives is the intended mechanism to force them to change themselves.

In the end, there seems to be no answer but to proceed carefully and question the possible negative consequences of our own goals. We certainly don't seem capable of listening to our opponents when they point out those negative consequences.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Here we go again

I was expecting something like the last two months to happen. Namely, when my ship pulled back in and my home Internet connection once again became available, my interest in writing hit a brick wall as all of my free time went back to computer and arcade games.

Of course, now we're going underway again, so there should be more to see on my blog for a while.

... I can't promise it will last beyond my next return to home port, unfortunately.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Entertainment as a Duty

Like clockwork, here comes another Steam sale. Their summer sale might be bigger than most of the little deals (almost every single game on my wishlist is discounted to some degree), but it's still just the same marketing tactic that every gamer I know alternately loves and hates.

Of course, thinking about all the games I want to buy so I can play them inevitably reminds me of the games I've bought and haven't played yet.

I don't, entirely, blame Steam or successful marketing for the fact that I have a backlog. (And not all of the entertainment I have in my backlog is Steam games anyway; the list of anime I want to watch and non-Steam visual novels to finish is rather long too.) Some of that convinces me to buy things I don't want or need, but some of it is simply informing me about things I'll find entertaining.

For that matter, that same psychology that marketers play on can also help me make time to relax with my games. If I've spent money on something, I'm going to feel like I had better get my money's worth out of it. Not strictly logical - there is a reason it's called the sunk cost fallacy - but I don't have all that many qualms about letting it work for me.

The problem is that it usually goes too far, and I find myself dealing with a rather paradoxical stressor. I can't use my leisure time to relax, because there is too much that I need to enjoy doing, or else...

In my rational moments, it's easy to note that there is no sensible end to that "or else". I've already spent money on these things, in most cases. At that point, it doesn't really matter how much or how little fun I get out of it, except inasmuch as I can use it to help decide what I should and should not buy next time. And feeling guilty about doing something else I enjoy because I'm not playing a game or watching an anime that I don't enjoy as much... well, I did use the word "paradoxical" up there.

Unfortunately, getting that logic through my head when I'm not in a mood to listen to anything sensible isn't always that easy.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Steam and Gaming Notes

Yes, at this point I'm just trying to come up with excuses to write more posts about my personal life.

So, first item: I play lots of computer games, and I'm spending increasing amounts of time using Steam as a social networking platform as well as its original function as a games library and distribution system. So half of the excuse for writing this post is to provide a link to my profile, in the unlikely event that someone reading this is not already friends with me on Steam.

The other point is that I'm considering trying to write posts about the games I play on my blog. I think that idea is probably going to be sitting on the back burner for a while, but we'll see.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Engines of (Musical) Creation

So about a month ago, right before we left on our current patrol, I decided that I didn't have enough random bits and pieces of computer software. So I decided to add an music/audio editor and synthesizer to the list of software tools I possess.

Specifically: Vocaloid, version 3, code 01: Miku Hatsune. (And I got the version with an English voice library.)

What's unique about this is that the Vocaloid software is designed to synthesize vocal tracks. Essentially, what I paid for was the database containing each of the sounds that a vocalist might make while singing (ideally) any song that one could imagine. Then I use the included editor to designate pitches and timing intervals, and the program takes those sounds out of the database and plays them back at the right pitches in the right sequence.

While it might not seem possible, I can assure you (having listened to a lot of Japanese Vocaloids music) that the result is surprisingly realistic. There's something slightly off about it, something that generally makes it possible for the listener to tell that they're listening to something artificial, but it's still very, very close to the real thing.

Of course, there's only one possible use to which I could put such a thing: write music.

Unfortunately, I'm not quite there yet. Frankly, even after a month of toying with this in my spare time, I'm still trying to get the editors it came with to work properly. Getting Miku to sing some of the old chorus warm-up exercises I remember from high school was rather fun and amusing. Getting the results to sound as realistic as possible will take longer.

And writing an actual song of my own will take a level of musical theory knowledge that I don't think I ever possessed, even when I was practicing on the piano every day and taking chorus classes. (Incidentally, misreading a key signature and the notes on a staff when I tried to get Miku to sing Irish Folktale was... not exactly one of my prouder moments. As good as my memory is, dredging up details I haven't used in six years isn't the easiest thing in the world.) I'll get there... eventually... if I stick with this... but I'm not there yet.

So where am I going to go from here? Well, I already have some things I can use to get some practice. The audition music from high school (the aforementioned Irish Folktale) is both readily available and relatively simple, yet adding flourishes to it will still serve as a good learning experience. And if I get bored with that, well, I managed to find some sheet music for Frozen in a bookstore in Kuala Lumpur, so I can always have Miku sing that as well.

For that matter... I've found some pretty good instrumental music (mostly connected with Internet games I play) on the audio section of a website called Newgrounds, and the Creative Commons license it's released under means I can do whatever I want with it so long as I don't try to sell it. So maybe adding lyrics to some of that would be worth a try.

Not sure where I'm going to post whatever I come up with, though. I suppose that will be more important when I actually have something to share, though.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Fanfiction Notes: A Song for a Starlight Miracle

One of the things that dropped off the radar last year when my interest in blogging waned was the announcement that I actually do have a complete (albeit very short) piece of creative writing posted on the Internet: one of my fanfiction pieces, set in the web novel City of Angles. It's called A Song for a Starlight Miracle. In addition to using my blog to announce that, I was going to post author's notes, so that I could explain how I came up with the story, what I liked about it, and what I didn't.

I briefly considered trying to write those author's notes now that I'm back, but with a year's separation in between me and writing that story, I didn't think I remembered enough about the writing process to capture everything I'd wanted to. Then I found a file on my hard drive... I'd thought that I hadn't written anything since there wasn't anything in my draft post list, but apparently I did. I touched it up a bit to reflect the time that's passed between when it was written and now, but it really didn't need that much editing. So:

First off, a couple quick acknowledgements for the songs I quoted in the story (all of them are real songs, but all of them are also originally in Japanese; I’m fairly certain I didn’t screw up too badly but I can’t vouch 100% for the accuracy of my translations)
Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari (anime: Bakemonogatari, artist: supercell)
Kitto Koi wo Shite'iru (anime: Dog Days. artist: Yui Horie)
Philosophyz (game: Rewrite, artist: Runa Mizutani)
Shinkai Shoujo (Vocaloids, artist: yuuyu )
Hidamari Basket (game: Hidamari Basket, artist: Yoshino Nanjo)
telepath ~hikari no tou~ (movie: A Certain Magical Index, artist: Sachika Misawa)
With that said. The rest can be read now or after you read the story, depending on whether you want to see the story or my thoughts about it first. Also, there will be unmarked spoilers for details from chapters of City of Angles through //008: Heart of the City below, so you might want to read that first if you care about spoilers.

The plot is heavily inspired by the old computer game Planetarian – a kinetic novel created by the Japanese game company Key. Essentially, I took the plot of that game – repairing a damaged projector in a planetarium – and put it in the dream world of the City of Angles, where what was a metaphor for the change in the main character can have a very strong impact on the world. Not that I really needed to give that particular metaphor more strength… I just wanted to play a little with the notion of a world so strongly affected by the thoughts of its inhabitants.

Of course, my main character has her own major change, and where my story differs from that inspiration is that I spend much more time than Planetarian did describing how my character specifically got to the point where she needed a positive change. (Planetarian did describe the apocalypse that makes it a post-apocalyptic game in some detail, but spends little time on the Junker’s personal history.)

I’m not quite sure why I started using songs as a framing device for all of this and/or how well it works. Mostly, I wanted to write a music-based story – and to capture and pass along the emotions that some of my favorite songs make me feel. Which isn’t always happy, obviously, but there it is. (For that matter, I may have misrepresented some of them – I don’t actually know the plot of Bakemonogatari or the themes of Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari that well. I know I partly misrepresented Philosophyz; that’s part of the reason why I skipped some parts of it.) In the end, I’m not sure if trying to get an insert song (or songs) of sorts into a written story really works all that well. And in my case, since I was trying to fit a new story to established music, I had to adjust my own plot to compensate. (Not that I necessarily mind that.)

Also, a note on point of view: The third person POV is something which just sort of happened; it’s the POV I’m most comfortable writing, so I never really even considered trying anything else. It may make my descriptions of Melody’s feelings a little more awkward, but I think it still works anyway.

On that note, I’m actually fairly proud of Melody’s character. I think it turned out… about like an average teenager, perhaps, but with enough edges to put her a little past your typical teenage angst. I certainly hope it turned out that way, since that’s what I was aiming for. I’m not sure if I really managed the grief and loss in part three that well, but... I guess I have no choice but to trust the judgment of the people I had review it.

As usual when I start trying fanfic, I’m not sure about how well I use previously established characters. My representations of Bedlam, Echo, and Lucid are fairly one dimensional… which may be fine, given that their role in the story is to represent the choice that Melody goes through (and is fairly brief, as well), but I’m still not sure if I really should demote them like that. It certainly doesn’t make sense as I look back a year later; Bedlam and Echo now have much more characterization in the canon. (Although I suppose I can always say that my story is set before Penelope’s involvement forced them to change and grow.)

Of course, I kind of wish I could bring myself to read the story again. I went back to look at it in preparation to edit/publish this, but somehow I felt too embarrassed to read it. Not quite sure why.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Burdens of Proof and Minor Questions

This political post is a response to a National Review Online article about Benghazi.

I've briefly mentioned Benghazi before... almost a year and a half ago. I really don't want to give the impression that I'm trying to minimize this... but that's mostly because I think it will make people ignore my point, not because I believe it really is an important issue.

And the fact that I can say that, despite reading the list of questions in the article, probably makes my opinion of that article clear. I don't intend to write a blog post long enough to address all of these questions, so let's just hit the high points...
Were there political reasons why requests for additional security were ignored, suggesting that American lives were not as critical as President Obama’s reelection? 
Unlikely. To put it bluntly: I've never seen any reason to believe this isn't more of the same bureaucratic incompetence that we've never quite gotten rid of, no matter how we try. You can mention the upcoming election and President Obama's desire to proclaim that al-Qaeda was in retreat all you like - unfortunately, that does not constitute proof that he did withhold support for political reasons. And eventually, the continued failure of anyone to find that proof should be taken as an indication that it does not exist. Particularly when the State Department's reviews have found proof of that bureaucratic incompetence I mentioned. The President certainly is ultimately responsible for that, as well, but there's quite a bit of difference between that and intentional, self-serving malice.
At what time on the night of the attack did the president go to bed, and who made decisions not to order military assistance?
... The only times I've ever seen a question like "where were you when X happened?" asked (this one included, unless I'm mistaken), it's being used as a rhetorical question to claim that the person in question was neglecting his leadership responsibilities. Also, I don't give a single solitary damn what time someone goes to bed unless they are neglecting those responsibilities. So if you intend to make that point, make it, and stop pretending that your curiosity about petty little details constitutes a serious question. The POTUS is damn well capable of deciding his bedtime for himself.

The half of this question about decisions regarding military assistance is a little more serious. While my ability to speculate on decision-making at that level is limited, that decision would have depended on what we had available, what their chances of success were, and the risk we would be running by sending them. Someone decided that what was immediately available wasn't going to be good enough to justify the risk of sending them into a situation with so many unknowns - and make no mistake, whoever it was, the President and SecDef are responsible for that decision. I'm sure that whoever it was immediately started putting together something that could do the job... but the survivors, with some very overdue help from Libyan security, managed to get out of Benghazi before sending that group in proved necessary.
What exactly did top-ranking officials of the CIA initially testify about the attacks, and were their original statements contradicted by later assertions?...Why did our U.N. ambassador assert falsehoods, and why was she selected to be such a spokesman?
Inasmuch as this is a legitimate concern, it points to the often very uncertain nature of intelligence work. Figuring out who did what, for what reasons, is a little tricky, and rarely happens quickly. The administration didn't have complete information at the time, and they and the intelligence community knew that. Rather than say that, they chose to pick what they saw as part of the answer and present that. This turned out to be a mistake, as it resulted in some contradictory messages from the administration for two or three weeks, until all the information was in and analysis firmly pointed to "premeditated terrorism, using video-spawned unrest as cover".
Why were the real perpetrators never seriously pursued as promised?
Why don't you tell me why you think we didn't? I'm reasonably certain we care quite a bit about it, but that doesn't mean we're necessarily going to find everyone involved, or that it will be worth the trouble to do something about it if we do find them. 
Have all those who participated in the defense of the Benghazi facilities been fully heard from?
... This is the sort of question you can keep asking, no matter how many people testify. Again, if you have a point to make regarding who has and has not testified regarding that day, then make it and back it up. Trying to make it this way makes me think that you can't back it up and are trying to make it anyway - and whether or not you're trying to make a point you can't defend, you still aren't giving me any reason to believe that the reviews up to this point have all been incomplete.

I'll leave with one quote from the last section.
Until these questions are answered, we are left with the strong possibility...
Laundry list of potential crimes of the administration left out. Frankly? They don't matter. Until someone comes up with a better reason than this to believe that there's mountains of evidence that none of the previous investigations found, this isn't worth any more of my time.

(Okay, one last note: I usually try and cite sources in-line, with links to an appropriate article or document. Since I neglected to do that this time, I'll just include a quick list of links here, if you want to read more of the reporting which drives my opinion.)

NYT: A Deadly Mix in Benghazi
Vox Media cards about Benghazi
Snopes: Benghazi Bungle

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mental Math Algorithms

I prefer to write longer blog posts than this, but it was slightly too long for a Facebook status. So it goes here instead.

So I've been seeing posts (okay, two, but that's still plural) about the stupidity of the new Common Core methods for math education (example here, if you haven't seen them). Haven't said much, because I didn't really have any evidence to cite either way - both methods shown work, but I also couldn't come up with an argument for why the latter should be preferred.

Then what happens? I needed to figure out 3550 - 2680, didn't feel like pulling out a piece of paper or the computer's calculator, and caught myself doing the following in my head:

2680+20 = 2700
2700+800 = 3500
*800+20 = 820
3500+50 = 3550
*820+50 = 870

And then I realize I've been using this same method for mental math for years, because I find it easier to remember two running totals than trying to mentally run the traditional algorithm. Maybe there's something to the new method after all...

(More comprehensive response here... and from two months ago. Why are we still talking about this "problem"?)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Liberty Call

... so it's time to go hide in my stateroom and play computer games.

No, really. We're in Thailand and I couldn't care less. I'd rather explore my virtual worlds then go out to the beach. And I get a lot of questions about why that is.

Well... like the vast majority of the human race, I need to burn off stress every once in a while. And I prefer to do that by playing video games, just like everyone else has their own ways to relax. This is part of what makes me an introvert, as opposed to more extroverted people who can relax by going and hanging out with friends. I don't think that's always a bad thing, and I've been trying to stop feeling guilty about spending my time how I want to, even if it does mean I don't hang out with my friends all the time.

"But don't you want to pet a tiger/ride an elephant/eat some Thai food?" is usually the next thing I get asked.

No, I don't.

More specifically... I do enjoy new experiences, and I can be quite eager to seek them out. The problem is that, as a method to relax, it doesn't work very well. I need to find local money, find the places where I can do these things, make sure to avoid dangerous areas, and make sure I can get back to the ship before my liberty expires. I can try and get my friends to make all these plans instead, but finding a group of friends with a plan that I'm willing to go along with can be a very long struggle all by itself. And worrying about all those things is a source of more stress, not less. So getting those new experiences occasionally has been, and sometimes will be, subordinated to my desire to relax by doing nothing stressful.

Do I worry too much? For that matter, is it sometimes worth it? Probably, and yes. Things rarely actually go as bad as my cynicism says they will, and I've had some evenings spent with my friends that were extremely enjoyable. But when my stress level has climbed high enough, and my ability to tell the worst voices in my head to shut up has gotten low enough, I'm not going to take that chance. I'm going to go with something that I know works. (Well. Has a much higher chance at working, at least...) Particularly since said inability to stop worrying about such things has, in the past, been what made the difference between a potentially fun evening and a late return home, in a very unsatisfied/depressed mood, with no time left to fix my mood and still get the amount of sleep I need.

 If anyone wants to call me boring because of that, then that's a problem with them, not me... Is what I'm getting better at telling myself. Still can't quite shake the feeling that I'm playing Elsa from Frozen with all this, though.

Political Awareness

I usually consider myself fairly well-informed about current events. It's one of the things I take a certain amount of pride in; while I try to avoid criticizing people too much for ignorance (this xkcd comic is a good explanation of why), I also prefer to avoid ignorance. (Or, if all else fails, to avoid admitting it until someone tells me what I'm missing or I get the chance to look it up, which is a less praiseworthy character trait.)

Which makes it all the more amusing that I had to look up information on the domestic political disputes in Thailand at the end of last week, barely a day's sail away from the coast of that same country. Somehow I never quite noticed it until then.

The problem with ignorance regarding political issues (and regarding some other types of knowledge, though not all) is that there's no way to know some details until you look for them, but no reason to look for details until you know that something unusual has happened. One has to have a sense of curiosity driving that search (which is probably one of the reasons why I consider less ignorance praiseworthy, since it can indicate that the person in question does have good curiosity), but even then, there can be problems.

Each news source I can use to feed my curiosity has its own sense of what is and is not newsworthy; each blog I read has its own ideas regarding which parts of the issue are important and which are not. I can skim as wide a variety of sources as possible, but then I have to start spending more time sorting out good information from biased or incomplete information. And no matter how much time I spend on this, there will always be some part of the world, or some level of detail, that simply wasn't important enough to spend time on... and so I'm still ignorant, in the end.

Part of the response is the same xkcd comic I linked above - sometimes it's best to just tell people what they don't know. Ignorance is hard to understand when you already know something, but that doesn't mean it has to be willful ignorance.

Part of it is being willing to listen when someone says you don't know something and suggests you learn about it. Insisting that you already know everything you need to is a good way to stay ignorant - and it quickly turns into willful ignorance, which is worthy of condemnation.

Yet another part of it is being capable of distinguishing good information from bad. Relying on incorrect information is another good way to not even realize that you don't know something you need to, although the degree to which it deserves criticism depends on the magnitude of the mistake involved.

And the last part is being confident enough in your own knowledge to spread it around when confronted with someone else who is ignorant. Even if that does require you to, however temporarily, ignore the possibility that you might need to learn more first.

Good luck sorting all that out, of course.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Restoral Priorities

One year since my last post to this blog, and with that last post itself being nothing but a short note that I was going to try to post more.

... Oops?

Well, let's go ahead and try this again.

Most of the points in that previous post remain true. I am going to try to post more "personal" items - fanfiction notes, music translations, and random details about my personal life that I feel like sharing. I am also still going to post about political and social issues - no, they still haven't gone away, oddly enough.  I'd like to make that weekly schedule I was trying to use last time, but I suppose we'll have to see about that.

Really, though, I just find remaining silent to be increasingly tiresome. I need somewhere I can feel comfortable speaking out; my Facebook page has already seen a bit of a revival (which means one post every few weeks instead of none for years, admittedly) and this blog is the other option I have. So above all else - I'll make posts when I feel I need to, and not feel guilty about not making posts when I don't feel like it. (Or try to, at least.)

As before, I hope my words are worth my readers' time. And for all the half-dozen of you that are still seeing this, thanks.