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Mage Power (Denki/RoI)
It's time to close this journal. The Web has matured a lot in the six years since I wrote my first entry here, and so have I. If I could meet the person I was back then, I think we'd get along poorly. Fortunately, men are malleable, and no-one is stuck forever with the person they are.

Any long-form journaling I come up with these days gets posted on Google+. Quick links go on Twitter; news for the family goes up on Facebook. Feel free to follow me there.

I retain fond memories of the friendships I've formed here; this journal will remain online indefinitely, although I will unsubscribe from comment notifications due to all the spam LJ racks up. To all my faithful readers and friends: thanks for being at my side through this journey. Here's to the future, and the adventures it will bring.

Green Lantern

lightning redirection (Iroh/Avatar)
This weekend I watched Green Lantern at my local theater. It's not the movie to end all superhero movies, but it did a few things most reviews seemed to skip over, which I thought were worth pointing out.

I read several critical reviews before I saw this, which complained (among other things) that this was just like all of the other superhero movies we'd seen before: We get the introduction to Our Hero as a normal guy, we see his job and his prowess with the ladies, we see how he gets his powers and how he learns to use them, and things quickly build up to a boss fight with the fate of something important at stake. As a Troper, I know that Tropes Are Not Bad, so I will not be quick to criticize a movie for using a standard Three Act Structure. While the movie does use a standard superhero-film template, it does what it does well, I think.

Spoilers aheadCollapse )
Mage Power (Denki/RoI)
(Normally my book reviews are short and not worth cross-posting from Amazon to LiveJournal, but this one might spark some interesting discussions and might entertain those who've read the book. Enjoy!)

I really liked the premise behind Inkheart: the idea that certain people have the magical ability to read characters and objects out of well-loved books into the real world. There's a lot of potential in this idea. Unfortunately, I felt that the idea was wasted on the characters, who are almost completely ineffective against the villains fate has loosed upon them.

Let's start with the main POV character, Meggie. She's a bookish little girl who gets abruptly dragged into the world of the grownups when a fictional character knocks at her door one gloomy evening with news of dark import. Meggie is a quiet girl who spends most of the book wishing she could just go home and have everything be normal again. She is a person whom the events of the book happen to; almost never does she have a positive impact on the plot, with the exception of the climax, in which all she does is follow the instructions given her by adults. She is, however, often used by the antagonists as leverage against the good guys. In summary, Meggie is a boat anchor without whom everyone else in the book would be better off.

The rest of the protagonists are little better. Mo, Meggie's father, loves books and repairs them professionally; his is the magical ability to read things off the page. And that's about all he's good for. Mo loves his daughter very much and will do anything to ensure her safety; the bad guys find this a very convenient lever to manipulate him with, and he's basically powerless to resist. Dustfinger is the fictional character who wants to get back home; he can manipulate fire and has street smarts to spare, but his moral ambiguity and near total self-interest make him all but useless to anyone else. Eleanor is a flustery old lady who loves books, aaand that's about it. None of them have any skills that are useful against Capricorn, and none seem to have any interest in acquiring them. All of them spend most of the book wringing their hands and running for their lives.

Capricorn is the Big Bad of Inkheart. He's a psychopath who loves power and hates pretty much everything else. Basta is his sadistic, knife-loving flunky. There's really not much more that can be said about any of the characters; none of them have much depth. The only marginally interesting character [SPOILERS from this point out] is Fenoglio, who wrote the book that Capricorn and Dustfinger originate from; his glee at seeing his characters literally come to life even while they're threatening him with blunt objects is good for a laugh, and his eagerness to write a new ending for his stories is heart-warming. Unfortunately, he doesn't even appear until halfway through the book, and Capricorn immediately uses the same tactic of manipulation on him that worked so well on Mo.

The plot is nothing to write home about: The unhappy band of protagonists start out living in fear of Capricorn, are then captured by him, escape, flee, are recaptured, and finally confront him with the power of the written word. What really bothered me about this book was that none of the characters seemed capable of taking a stand against Capricorn, and there are obvious ways they could have done so. Leaving aside the possibility of getting Dustfinger to buy a gun and assassinate Capricorn (anticlimactic), the ability to pull anything you want out of a book is vastly under-utilized. My library is nowhere near the size of Eleanor's, and if you gave me 30 seconds to find you a hero to save the day I'd be able to get you five or six books to choose from. Honor Harrington, Luke Skywalker, freakin' King Arthur--any one of those could have easily handled Capricorn, who is crazy and evil but is actually not that great of a villain (he keeps having to shift his little base from town to town as the authorities catch on to what he's doing).

I think the reliance on Ms. Funke's original characters is actually the single greatest weakness of this book; she could have had opposing characters read in from half a dozen different universes, set them at each other's throats, with pitched warfare, sneaky backstabbing, and shifting alliances, and this would have been an awesome book. As it is, we get Tinkerbell and The Little Tin Soldier and that's it. Wasted opportunity, I say!

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Mage Power (Denki/RoI)
The semester has wrapped up, and let me tell you, it has been a ride. People are a trip. I like 'em. Lots getting done over here; I'm making excellent progress toward graduation, getting to know lots of people, and having some unforgettable experiences.

For example, right now I'm in California helping my grandparents move into a higher level of care in their retirement home. Their health has entered a rapid slide and my Dad needs help moving their stuff to their new residence in the Health Center. Dad and I originally planned to spend a week on this project; at the end of the week, he was unsatisfied with the state we were leaving then in and decided to stay behind a few more days. After some consideration, I elected to also change my tickets and stick with him. We leave tomorrow morning, and both of us are much more satisfied with the state of things and the level of comfort my grandparents will receive. It's not really how I planned to spend Spring Break, but it's the heroic thing to do, plus I get lots of quality time with Dad. I am looking forward to seeing Mom in Texas, though. :-)

Here's something unusual that happened: My final project for Visual Design 2 became insanely popular. Daily Deviation, mentioned on a high-profile blog, a rash of retweets, and eighty thousand views so far. I confess to being rather intimidated. I'm a first-year art student--how can I possibly live up to this with subsequent work? It also feels weird to have people offer to pay me for artwork; I've never received royalties for anything before. Negotiating with TVTropes about percentages, setting up a work for printmaking, taking care of self promotion--lots of new experiences. Opportunity has dropped in my lap when I wasn't really ready for it. A nice problem to have, I know!

The gaming world is as much fun as ever. The D&D game still runs, although I have only two players who I can count on to attend. Portal 2 is excellent, as anticipated. Anyone for co-op, hit me up! I've also been enjoying myself greatly with Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood multiplayer, popping out of haystacks to murder people with great delight. Very original, very enjoyable game. My Paladin in Rift is approaching level 30; it's a very well-made game, good use of story, and I love the Paladin's flying, shield-bashing combat style. Not sure if I'll stick with the game, though, since none of my friends play. We'll see.

This is a happy time for me. I have a goal, I'm making friends, and my stress level is manageable. Plus there's a lovely geek girl from my Visual Design class who takes good care of me. :-) Life is good.

From the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci

Mage Power (Denki/RoI)
A priest, making the rounds of his parish on Easter Eve, and sprinkling holy water in the houses as is customary, came to a painter's room, where he sprinkled the water on some of his pictures. The painter turned round, somewhat angered, and asked him why this sprinkling had been bestowed on his pictures; then said the priest that it was the custom and his duty to do so, and that he was doing good; and that he who did good might look for good in return, and, indeed, for better, since God had promised that every good deed that was done on earth should be rewarded a hundred-fold from above.

Then the painter, waiting till he went out, went to an upper window and flung a large pail of water on the priest's back, saying: "Here is the reward a hundred-fold from above, which you said you would come from the good you had done me with your holy water, by which you have damaged my pictures."
hello computer? (Scotty/Star Trek IV)
I'm presently watching "Dennou Coil", an anime about kids who live in a town where everyone wears augmented-reality glasses which allow them to interact with a virtual "space" laid over the physical one. It's a very unique premise for a TV show; as anime goes, this one's pretty good.

Anyway, in episode 12, [EPISODE SPOILERS FOLLOW] after rooting through a number of obsolete spaces, a few of the kids begin to grow virtual beards. Male and female, and age doesn't matter. They study the problem and realize that the beards are infectious, and sentient. Microscopic virtual civilizations begin to grow on people's faces. A communications protocol between the humans and the hairs is developed. This is initially rewarding for both, with the kids dispensing helpful advice to their hairs and the virtual hairs worshiping their hosts as deities of unknowable knowledge and power.

Just when you thought things couldn't get any sillier, war breaks out. Tiny virtual nukes fly from one of a girl's cheeks to the other. She tries to mediate the conflict, but is unsuccessful. The war quickly goes interplanetary and nearly results in the extinction of all hairkind, but at the last possible moment the hairs realize the fragility of life. "Isn't there anywhere we can go to be free from the horrors of war?" they ask. The kids/deities quickly discuss the matter, and a solution is found: colonists from all of the surviving faces are transplanted to the top of a bald man's head. The hairs praise their gods for the vast, virgin landscape, but wonder if there is a yet greater frontier for them to find.

Thus ends this charming allegory of the human condition, along with any doubt that if you ever think an idea is pretty friggin' strange, there's an anime out there somewhere which has outdone it by a factor of ten.

//

In other news, I've started playing Rift. It's a new MMO that lets you build your own class by combining three talent trees into one character. It'd be more fun if I had people to play it with, though! I'm Idea on Corthana Estrael server--send me a message and I'll be happy to group with you. :-)

Cooking with James

Lemony Fresh Victory (Zim)
Step 1: Resolve that this year, you're going to make use of the Crock-Pot you purchased on a whim when you moved into your apartment four months ago and which hasn't been so much as plugged in since.

Step 2: Find some Crock-Pot recipes online. Pick one that looks easy:

Ham and Potato Casserole
4 red potatoes, sliced
2 red onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds cubed ham
1 can condensed cream of celery soup, diluted according to can directions
2 tablespoons flour

Combine all of this into a crock pot. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn it on low and walk away for eight hours. Add a quarter of a cup of water for every additional two hours you intend to cook it.

Step 3: Go shopping for the ingredients. While you're shopping, ask on Facebook for more recipes. Receive several recipes, all of which look more better than the one you're currently working on.

Step 4: Procrastinate messing with the strange machine for two more weeks.

Step 5: Resolve to defeat the sinister appliance at the end of your four-day weekend. It's time to start cooking!

Step 6: Find a YouTube video on "How to Chop Onions." Watch at least twice to make sure you've got it.

Step 7: Realize that you own an art cutting board, but not one designed for kitchen use. Substitute napkins instead.

Step 8: Hesitantly begin to chop away at the red menace. Decide within 90 seconds that Soothing YouTube Narrator Lady is a filthy liar and that tears, in fact, should be expected.

Step 9: Search the house for eye protection from onion fumes. Find a set of goggles designed to keep paint splatters out of the eyes and settle on them as "good enough".

Step 10: Finish chopping the onion. Open balcony door to replace stinging oniony air with freezing outside air.

Step 11: Resolve to check the cat's medication. Drag-racing up and down the hallway cannot possibly be a normal feline reaction to onion fumes.

Step 12: Prep the potatoes. Realize you do not own a potato peeler. Substitute a steak knife.

Step 13: Chop the potatoes. Midway through, consider moving to a two-dimensional continuum so you wouldn't have to chop the potatoes so many ways.

Step 14: Add soup, water, and flour to the mix.

Step 15: Having added the onions, the potatoes, and the soup, realize that you still need to add a pound and a half of ham and that your small Crock-Pot will not hold the entire recipe.

Step 16: Briefly despair. Resolve to MAKE it fit. Determined not to let this cooking project get the best of you, remove a quantity of chopped ingredients into a Tupperware container in order to make way for the ham, with the intention of cramming it back in later. Somehow.

Step 17: Chop a pound and a half of ham three different ways. Midway, return to the computer to check the weather in Flatland this time of year and the costs associated with traveling there.

Step 18: Realize that your Crock-Pot is too small for this endeavor by a factor of roughly 30%. Remove an equivalent quantity of ham to the amount of other ingredients you have set aside. Label this project "James' Special Blend."

Step 19: Having completed ingredient prep, plug in the Crock-Pot, set it on Low, and realize that the Playskool Junior Crockpot you purchased el cheapo at Wal-Mart has no reassuring telltale to inform you whether the device is working or not. Check that it's plugged in next to something that is working, refrigerate the leftover ingredients, and clean up the kitchen mess.

Step 20: Retire to bed for the evening.

Step 21: Take off the dorky eye-protection you donned in step 9. Retry previous step.

Step 22: Eight hours later, scoop some of the mixture onto a plate. Add shredded mozarella. Admire the intense, tangy taste.

Step 23: Spill your new concoction onto the front of your favorite bathrobe. Declare victory anyway.

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Mage Power (Denki/RoI)
Those of you who aren't following me on dA or Twitter have likely been entirely unaware of how extraordinarily productive I've been over the last few months! This post should get you caught up. Cut for graphicsCollapse )

The only real writing I've done, aside from some interesting papers, is a review of "Inkheart" on Amazon, although I'm planning to author a mission for Star Trek Online as soon as the toolset moves out of beta (or if I get impatient). I've mostly been playing Team Fortress 2 and Mass Effect 2, although Poker Night is pretty darn cool. (I won the Heavy's minigun away from him at poker. Heheheheheh.) Very much looking forward to Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood; I'd like to buy it for PC so I can participate in multiplayer, but I'm not sure if I can wait that long.

I'm looking forward to Christmas vacation with my folks! They've recently moved from Georgia to Texas; I'm planning to drive down there as soon as the semester is over, with Strafe yowlingly in tow. Should be pretty awesome.

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Space Paladin (Mass Effect)
Life at college is good! I'm gradually making friends and avoiding the mistakes that I made the first time around. I'm starting a D&D group on campus this Saturday--extremely excited about that; will keep you apprised.

I'm on my third playthrough of Mass Effect 2, which is probably a record for any videogame. It's surprising how much depth this game has to it. Okay, that's enough filler to get the numbered list below the icon so it won't screw up the formatting. Here's the meat of this post:

  1. Paragon Points are valuable. There are a limited number of opportunities out there to do good. Each time you make a difference for good, doing so becomes easier, and greater deeds come into reach. (The opposite is also true.) Take those opportunities. Search them out. Even doing a tiny little positive deed that no-one will ever notice will make you that much a better person. You get XP for everything.

  2. The world is dark for a reason. One of the great questions that Christians have struggled with for such a long time is "if God is all-powerful, why does he allow evil?" I've thought about it a lot and I think I've come up with a viable answer. The world is dark to give us the opportunity to do good.

    There wouldn't be a story about Commander Shepard if the galaxy wasn't under threat. The threat he faces is too big for him to solve on his own, but in cooperation with the right people, it can be overcome. The world is dark because it is in need of heroes; without that darkness, the heroes would have nothing to do.

  3. Carry a heavy pistol, a sniper rifle, and a grenade launcher with you every time you leave your home. I mean, that's just basic common sense. There could be space zombies--you never know.

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Fic: Sealed Memories [Mass Effect 2]

Space Paladin (Mass Effect)
For my second playthrough of the Mass Effect games, I created a female Shepard with the "Sole Survivor" background. While Sherp Shepard, my first character, is a straight avatar of me, for the new character I decided to come up with a firm background and psychology and try to role-play what she would do in each situation. And, wouldn't you know it, such a character is much more interesting to play and to write about.

The Kasumi character in this fic is from the "Stolen Memory" DLC, which I recommend. Enjoy!

Samantha Shepard has a tendency to see things in terms of black and white.Collapse )

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