Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays!

I know it's been a ridiculously long time since I've done a post, and I'm sorry. I really wanted at the very least to post my manta ray video (from August...yeah) because I'd made such a big deal the previous summer when my camera broke so I couldn't get any pictures of them. I'll try to post that some time over this winter break to tie up that loose end.

I don't know if anyone checks this blog anymore, but in case anyone's still around, I want to wish you all a joyful, peaceful holiday season!

Silent Night
(Life Day, on Ilum)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Why Pandas?

I've had pandas on the mind for much of the past week. First there was the news of the baby panda born last week at the National Zoo in D.C., with live webcams streaming footage of the mother and tiny infant (did you know that newborn pandas are about the size of a stick of butter???). Then there was the devastating news of the baby panda's death early this week. The thought of the staff hearing the mother make a "distress vocalization", shutting off the cameras, the vets rushing in to do baby-panda CPR etc. but failing to revive tragic.

All the while, the websites I frequent are playing ads for Mists of Pandaria on 15-second loops. Not being a WoW player, I've mostly ignored the ads. Don't need to think about something that doesn't matter to me. But today I finally allowed myself to think about them long enough to come up with the obvious question that had been hanging hidden in the back of my mind: Why Pandas?

I dabbled in Warcraft II back in the day, and I know a bit about World of Warcraft, so I'm somewhat familiar with the races of that World: humans, elves (night and blood), orcs, dwarves, trolls...basically your typical fantasy fare. I don't recall hearing of any anthropomorphic Earth animals in World of Warcraft prior to this. So why the hell have kung fu pandas invaded WoW? Really, what went wrong? Why are WoW players being punished with fuzzy teddies?

Suddenly amused, mystified, but too lazy to put a lot of effort in finding the answer to my question, I headed over to Google to do a quick search. I thought about writing something clear and specific, like "why wow is introducing pandas in mists of pandaria". But then I thought, No, this is such an obvious question about such a famous internet sensation, I cannot be the first person wondering this, this is what I want to know and this search should work, and typed in simply
why pandas
Sure enough, the first hit I got was a very nice discussion of the topic at IGN. Question answered with minimal effort. I won't explain it here, so head over to that link if you're curious.

Having also been bombarded recently by ads for Bing claiming that people prefer Bing search results to Google 2:1, I tried doing the same search there, and was disappointed to find that none of the first page search results were related to Pandaria. Yes, it was a poor, lazy search, but Google knew what I was thinking. It can be kind of creepy, actually (like the time I typed in "What spe" and Google filled in the rest of my question: "What species is Yoda?" WTH you read my mind!).

I wasn't really going anywhere with this post, so I'll just leave you with a panda video. Why pandas? Because they're adorable! Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dragon Age III announced and other BioWare news

Yesterday in an open letter, Executive Producer Mark Darrah officially confirmed that BioWare is working on a Dragon Age sequel. We kinda already knew they were developing it, but at least now we have a title:
Dragon Age III: Inquisition
The title makes sense given the way Dragon Age II left off, and I'm pretty excited to see where that story will go. Unfortunately, Darrah gave few other details about the game, revealing nothing about the story other than what that single word in the title offers.

Kotaku has a good write up of what we do and don't know about Dragon Age III at this point. We do know that they heard player feedback from Dragon Age II and they will not be using recycled environments. Thank goodness. You can make us enter the cave from different corners and block off hallways, but it's still the same damn cave. What we don't know that I'm most anxious to learn is who the player character will be. The Hero of Ferelden? The Champion of Kirkwall? Someone else? Dragon Age: Origins seems to be the favored game, giving them reason to bring back the Grey Warden, but then not everyone's Warden is, uh, still around. If they bring in a new player character, it may make the series feel too disjointed, though if done right it could work. I wouldn't mind being Hawke again, but the lack of choice in her race and background makes her less unique than the Hero of Ferelden. The dilemma reminds me of how I felt after KotOR and KotOR 2, wondering which protagonist they'd have for KotOR 3. Well, we know the answer to that question, now.

In any case, Dragon Age III seems set up for some epic storytelling. The "Inquisition" title implies a focus on the chaos surrounding the Chantry following the events of Dragon Age II. But there's always Flemeth, and Morrigan with maybe a scary baby, lurking in the background.

In other BioWare news, BioWare co-founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk both announced their retirement from BioWare today. They're moving on to other projects in other fields (social impact entrepreneurship and craft beer, respectively), having achieved what they wanted in the gaming industry. They founded the company in 1995, and starting with Baldur's Gate they've been creating outstanding, beautiful games ever since. BioWare remains my favorite game developer, so I'm sorry to see them go. But I'm hopeful the BioWare team they've put together is strong enough to keep churning out great games that I'll enjoy for many years to come.

Lastly, BioWare general manager Aaryn Flynn announced that the BioWare team is working on a whole new fictional universe:
While Casey [Hudson, executive producer for Mass Effect] continues to oversee the development of our new Mass Effect project, he and his leads are putting together their vision for an all new game set in a fictional universe, built from the bottom-up with all new gaming technology.
I love the universes BioWare created in Dragon Age and Mass Effect. I can't wait to see what they come out with next.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Scary Smash" is hilarious!

You have to see this. I haven't laughed this hard in a long time. Funny for anyone who enjoys some adorable silliness, but especially hilarious for Joss Whedon fans.

So many things I love:
"There was a stream of milk to the ocean." How poetic and poignant.
Squatting, squatting, and more squatting.
Gerald being "fun"
The lip-syncing..."I need to go back to the station and get more stuff."
"And how did Gerald feel about [his people getting hurt]?" "He needs to hire more." "He needs to hire more men. Sure."

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fourth Blogiversary!

I think it was bad timing for me to start this blog the day after my birthday. Two celebrations back to back always seems excessive. Ah well, that's how it is. This blog has now been my home on the internet for four years. The same length of time that I was in college. Makes me feel old, as if that birthday yesterday wasn't enough.

My blogging frequency has dropped off considerably over the past year. My blog reading has also become a lot less frequent. Some of that is because many of the blogger friends I made at my blogging peak 2-3 years ago have been blogging a lot less, too, but it's also that I've found other ways to distract myself. Real life activities start to encroach on internet activities. Really, most of my blogging was done when I should have been working, so I guess I've just become a little better at doing what I'm supposed to (though this post itself proves there are exceptions).

I don't know how much longer I'll be able to keep this up, given changing priorities and new "distractions." I expect I'll keep on like this for a little while: dropping by once or twice a month to post about something that interests me or something fun I've done in Hawaii, and checking in on other blogs once in a while as well. I'll also be around Twitter, which is a bit easier to take because of the small dose size.

But I'm not willing to give up this online life of mine yet. The ability to find so many cool people with shared interests is one of the great things about the internet. In a way, I started this blog four years ago because I didn't feel like there were enough people like me, and I wanted to be recognized. But over the years I have found so many people like me. None exactly like me, but people with significant overlaps. I'm pleased and proud to find myself a member of such a community.

The relationships I've made online are also a special sort of relationship. People I know solely online can't know me in quite the same way people who know me in person do--how I sound carrying a conversation, or my immediate reaction to certain situations--but with the partial anonymity that the internet provides, I feel more free to share certain things here than I do in real life. People who have read this blog know some things about me no one I know in person knows. Maybe some day I'll meet a blog friend in real life. Not sure what would happen then.

Anyway, I'd better stop with all this sentimentality. In celebration of four years of blogging, I'm going to do something I haven't done on this blog before...

Me with an ancient Hawaiian petroglyph on the Big Island last year.
There. Sorry there's a hat. You know, it was actually quite hard to find an interesting photo of me without sunglasses. I do live in Hawaii, after all.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Three cubed

Today is my 27th birthday. I'd like to say "I've never felt this old before," but then--duh!--I've never been this old before. The same can be said for any person at any time. But I'm more averse to turning 27 than I have been to turning any previous age. Honestly, it's mainly because I'm kicking myself for never getting a certain vaccine that is only supposed to be given up to age 26 (not entirely my fault--I told my doctor I wanted it and she forgot, and I called her back once and she forgot again...but I still could have tried harder). Hopefully it will never matter, but just to have something like that which I am TOO OLD FOR NOW is kind of making me depressed. I'm over the hill. Also some of the depression may be from the fact that my boyfriend isn't here, but my mom is (and starting to drive me nuts), and I have to work today. Plus, there's no way this birthday will be as amazing as last year's. I guess it's kind of hard to live up to diving with dolphins and manta rays.

Anyway, it's my birthday, and a friend gave me cupcakes at school which I went around and shared with other friends. My mom gave me a pair of earrings. And tonight I'm going to Town--that's the name of the restaurant. It's a nice restaurant that uses fresh, local, organic ingredients, and it's supposed to be really good. So I'm excited about that, at least.

My dad sent me an email this morning pointing out that it's been 19 years since my last birthday was a perfect cube, and it'll be 37 years until my next perfect-cube birthday. In honor of that mathematical trivia, here's a photo of me when I was 8 (not on my birthday, but the first day of 3rd grade :)

For the record my mom made me that dress, and I loved it. It had a swirly skirt. This is one of the photos where I think I look most like my mom, too.

And just for fun, here's another photo of me from about that age. You can't see it because of the poor angle, but that sweatshirt was my first article of clothing to have an otter on it. And I rocked that hat.

Here's to having more nice photos (or whatever they'll have--holos?) of me at 64!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Ding! 50!

It took me 6 months, but I have finally leveled a character in SWTOR to 50, the current max level. Here she is, my new level 50 Jedi Sage:

To commemorate this event, I thought I'd share some screen shots from my adventures (excuse the low quality video settings--my computer system isn't that great). Cue the nostalgic music...

Overlooking the sarlacc pit
Reenacting The Lion King. If only I could have zoomed out more, it would be clearer that I'm on a narrow rock outcropping.
Speeder surfing (a fun glitch I got once)
My pet orokeet races to keep up with my speeder, like in that imprinted duckling video
Tattooine's twin suns
I loved Alderaan, especially for those sweeping thranta rides.
Reclining in the Alderaan palace throne room. I could get used to this.
Upon reaching level 40 (and all levels other than 50), the achievement was greeted by droids carrying a banner that says "Congratulations" (in this shot, it actually says "tulations con", but just picture it scrolling). Not sure why they thought level 50 deserved less celebration.
Hoth: cold, but in some places strikingly beautiful.
Lightsabers are great, but sometimes you need a big gun.
Portrait shot of my Sage on the bridge of her ship, from the load screen
I still haven't finished my class storyline--two more planets to go, I think. Then there are all the hardmode flashpoints and operations to improve my gear and hone my skills. No rest for the Jedi. But it has been, and continues to be, a fun, exciting journey.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Finally Brave

Today marks the premiere of this year's Pixar offering: Brave. As many news articles and reviews have pointed out, Brave is notable as the first Pixar film to have a female protagonist. Sure, they've had a few important female characters in some of their movies--Helen, EVE, Jessie, Dory--but the main characters at the center of each of their first 12 films were all male. In fact, I'd say only two female characters in previous Pixar films have even held the distinction of playing the second lead role (The Incredibles, WALL-E).

I actually wrote about this problem three years ago, when DreamWorks Animation was releasing its first film with a female protagonist (Monsters vs. Aliens), after 11 male-led CG feature films. I figure I might as well update my lists for Pixar and DreamWorks films and their protagonists...

CG feature films (and main character, females in bold):

1. Toy Story (Woody)
2. A Bug's Life (Flik)
3. Toy Story 2 (Woody)
4. Monsters, Inc. (Sulley)
5. Finding Nemo (Marlin)
6. The Incredibles (Mr. Incredible)
7. Cars (Lightning McQueen)
8. Ratatoille (Remy)
9. Wall-E (Wall-E)
10. Up (Carl Fredricksen)
11. Toy Story 3 (Woody)
12. Cars 2 (Lightning McQueen)
13. Brave (Merida)

DreamWorks Animation
1. Antz (Z)
2. Shrek (Shrek)
3. Shrek 2 (Shrek)
4. Shark Tale (Oscar)
5. Madagascar (Alex)
6. Over the Hedge (RJ)
7. Flushed Away (Roddy)
8. Shrek the Third (Shrek)
9. Bee Movie (Barry)
10. Kung Fu Panda (Po)
11. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (Alex)
12. Monsters vs. Aliens (Susan)
13. How to Train Your Dragon (Hiccup)
14. Shrek Forever After (Shrek)
15. Megamind (Megamind)
16. Kung Fu Panda 2 (Po)
17. Puss in Boots (Puss)
18. Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (Alex)

DreamWorks may have beaten Pixar to the punch with its first female protagonist, but now they're tied again. Looking ahead, DreamWorks has seven films with estimated release dates (according to Wikipedia); the last one, scheduled for late 2014, appears to be the only one with a female protagonist. Pixar's next film will be a Monsters, Inc. sequel with the same old male protagonists. I can't determine any characters in The Good Dinosaur, though the following Pixar film, planned for 2015, will at least take place inside a girl's mind. I would hope mainly female characters populate a girl's mind...

So we have some female protagonists now in this highest echelon of children's animated movies (not that there aren't other great kids' films, but these studios are definitely the two powerhouses), though they are still few and far between. As I said in my old post, I understand that film studios and development teams are mostly composed of men, and people like to create stories about what they know and relate to. First of all, they should try to find more women. But in any case, we are not so different that good writers can't write for the opposite sex. Really, if you can get inside the head of a trash-compacting robot who lives with a cockroach on a long-abandoned Earth, you can probably get inside the head of a woman. We're not that mysterious.

I also understand that movies are a business, and if boys respond more negatively to female-led films than girls do to male-led films, that gives studios motivation to release only male-led movies. But as I argued before, if you always release male-led kids films, of course young boys aren't going to learn to appreciate films with female leads. It's basically a self-fulfilling prophesy. Girls deserve characters to look up to just as much as boys do. Girls don't have to be the best friend or the love interest--we can be heroes in our own right. Pixar and DreamWorks films are so popular and successful, I think they can stand to be put a little faith in their storytelling and their audience, be brave, and release more female-starring films. Help little girls dream bigger. This is a good start, but more often than once a decade would be preferable.

It seems preliminary reviews for Brave are positive but not ecstatic. Certainly better than last year's Cars 2, widely recognized as Pixar's worst, but not as magical as the great Pixar films. The primary criticism is that it seems too...Disneyfied. That is, it's a somewhat formulaic princess fairy tale. I have nothing against princess stories if the princess is as capable as Merida, but I do remember some people expressing disappointment upon learning that Pixar's first female-led movie would be about a princess. It seems they had a point.

I remain extremely excited and optimistic about Brave, and I hope it's a huge hit in theaters. I love bows and arrows, I love spunky young female protagonists, and I adore Scottish accents. I will see the movie this weekend, and in all likelihood I will love it. It doesn't matter if Merida is a princess--she's a master archer and a worthy hero for any kid to admire. Thanks, Pixar, just keep the female protagonists coming.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Ready for Prometheus

Ever since we saw its first trailer back in January, my boyfriend has been repeatedly asking me, "So when does Prometheus come out?" He has fond memories of Alien from his childhood and loves horror as well as sci-fi, so this is right up his alley. Now his wait is finally over.

Strangely enough, up until a month ago I had never seen any of the Alien movies. It has been a huge hole in my science fiction movie experience (remaining hole: I've never seen a Terminator movie, though I did watch the Sarah Connor Chronicles TV show). It's especially funny because, as my parents tell it, Sigourney Weaver was my idol when I was a small child. I have no memories of this--I was probably 3 at the time--but apparently we saw an exhibit about Aliens at the science museum, which inspired me to gallop around the house battling imaginary aliens and proclaiming "I'm Sigouwney Weava!"

Well, I've finally watched both Alien and Aliens (it is my understanding that the rest are mostly not worth the trouble). Alien was great, though also frustrating as horror movies tend to be when people are so obviously being stupid, stupid, stupid. At least the cat was saved. Aliens had more, well, aliens, but also a lot more guns, so it seemed a bit more fair, and thus more to my taste. And Bill Paxton--oh my gosh. Did people actually talk like that?! Not just ninja turtles?

Now that I'm all caught up on Alien(s), I'm ready to see Prometheus. Shame it won't have Sigourney Weaver. Over 20 years after I first came to admire her, that lady still kicks ass.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How the Dalai Lama is, and isn't, like Yoda

Last month, I was lucky enough to hear the Dalai Lama speak at the UH Manoa campus. He actually gave two talks that weekend, one open to the general public and one targeted toward students; I went to the student talk, "Educating the Heart".

My favorite part of the talk has to be when I realized that the Dalai Lama is Yoda:
I think among emotions and thoughts, the real destroyer of our inner peace is fear... Fear develop frustration. Frustration develop anger. Anger brings violence.
I know no one likes the Phantom Menace, but you have to know what I was thinking at this point:
Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. 
It's not exactly the same, but along with his grumbling voice, his not-quite-proper English, his sweet yet authoritative wise old man persona... He was Yoda. And I was delighted.

Unfortunately, he then proceeded to say how we shouldn't rely on the use of Force. Yes, it was a message of non-violence--talk it out instead of fighting. Still, it would have been that much sweeter to hear him tell us, "Use the Force."

Monday, May 14, 2012

The missing noble girls of Westeros

No spoilers for recent episodes (I mention last night's, but it's not new information). Only a slight spoiler if you're so far behind that you don't know that someone in Game of Thrones is guilty of incest.

In last night's episode of Game of Thrones, Tyrion tells Cersei that she "beat the odds" because two of her three children are sane (it was always said the Targaryen children of incest had a 50/50 chance of insanity). As I reflected on this exchange between brother and sister, it occurred to me that she beat another set of 50/50 odds by having two boys--it is best, after all, to have both an heir and a spare. Of course, she herself came from a family with two boys and one girl... And Catelyn and Ned Stark were similarly lucky, with three sons and two daughters. This set me off, tallying sons and daughters in the most powerful noble families of Westeros. Some I knew off the top of my head, but I was able to fill in gaps thanks to George R. R. Martin's comprehensive appendices on the noble families of Westeros. The results were quite surprising.

Here is my tally. I only looked at the most prominent families (sorry, Florents and Freys), and I included two generations where the information was accessible--in general, this came down to the children of the current (or recently deceased) lord of each great house, plus the children of that lord's father (including the current lord himself).

Stark (Eddard): 3 boys/2 girls;           Stark Sr.: 3 boys/1 girl
Lannister (Tywin): 2 boys/1 girl;       Lannister Sr.: 4 boys/1 girl
Tully (Hoster): 1 boy/2 girls;              Tully Sr.: 2 boys/0 girls
Targaryen (Aerys): 2 boys/1 girl
Baratheon (Robert...): 2 boys/1 girl;  Baratheon Sr.: 3 boys/0 girls;
Baratheon (Stannis): 0 boys/1 girl
Tyrell (Mace): 3 boys/1 girl;               Tyrell Sr.: 1 boy/2 girls
Martell (Doran): 2 boys/1 girl;           Martell Sr.: 2 boys/1 girl
Greyjoy (Balon): 3 boys/1 girl;           Greyjoy Sr.: 4 boys/0 girls
Arryn (Jon): 1 boy/0 girls

Total: 38 boys/16 girls

Wow. Yes. It would appear that the noble houses of Westeros produce more than twice as many boys as girls. Now it's possible that the appendices didn't bother to mention noble children who died very young, though that group should include approximately equal numbers of boys and girls. It is also possible that the appendices left out sisters who married less important families and thus don't matter much anymore, but overall the appendices are pretty good at reporting marriages as well as deaths (at most, I think there could be girls missing from the Tully Sr., Greyjoy Sr., and maybe Martell Sr. counts). If you see any errors above, please let me know. Still, I find it highly unlikely that any of these sources of error could account for 22 missing girls.

This statistic stands out to me because I was recently reading some articles about the disturbing gender imbalance in parts of Asia (largely in China, but also in India and some other countries) due to gender-selection abortions (one such article: Asia's 163 Million Missing Girls). The noble families of Westeros look like an extreme version of that. But even if the maesters of Westeros have some sort of potion to induce a safe abortion, I'm pretty sure they don't have ultrasound capabilities to allow the identification of an unborn baby's gender. Is it possible that the nobles of Westeros are killing off newborn daughters? Extremely unlikely. First of all, the scandal would surely have gotten out. Second, daughters are useful for forming alliances through marriage. Third, the great noble houses have plenty of money, resources, and household staff, so extra children would not be a burden. If you get a girl, just try again for a boy. Every healthy born baby is an asset.

So what then caused this gender imbalance? I can only think that it is divine providence. I don't mean that praying to the Seven, the Old Gods, the Lord of Light or the Drowned God will give you more sons than daughters (who knows, maybe it will). I'm talking about the god of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin himself. He may not have been aware of it, but as he made up characters for his books, he simply wrote a lot more men into the noble families of Westeros than women. I can guess how this could have happened unintentionally. Martin created a story with a great collection of outstanding female characters. They are particularly outstanding because they live in a society where women have to work hard for influence, so most women end up playing the meek wife. Such meek women are less useful for a narrative than a knight swearing fealty and going into battle. Marrying a daughter off seems less urgent than arranging for succession of a lordship. Not to mention, the men kill each other quickly enough that they need to have a few spares written into the series.

Nicholas Eberstadt, a demographer at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, said something for the article mentioned above that helps shed a little light on this situation of gender imbalance: The normal ratio should be 103 or 104 boys for every 100 girls. Over 107 starts to look suspicious, and over 130 is "sci-fi land".

So I guess that solves it. With an equivalent ratio of 237 boys for every 100 girls, we're in fantasy land.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Theme of the week: No evidence is evidence

Anyone else happen to have Fringe, Awake, and Grimm on their TV-viewing schedules? If so, you may have noticed a common thread in their most recent episodes: No evidence is evidence. Spoilers ahead.

Even though Awake airs first, Fringe was the first of the three that I watched. In Friday's episode, called "The Consultant", Walter helps Fauxlivia solve the mystery of the mole in Fringe Division when he tells her "No evidence is evidence." By that, he means that her being unable to find any trace of the mole implies that the mole must be someone high up, with the power to tamper with evidence and erase his tracks. Though she initially can't believe that Colonel Broyles would betray them, by the end of the episode, they have him in custody.

It's a shame Walter can't be in every show (really, he'd be an excellent addition to just about anything). In Thursday's episode of Awake, titled "Ricky's Tacos," Detective Britten's subconscious--or magic power or whatever--is telling him to look back at a case he was working on before his accident. He checks out a building related to the case, but finds nothing. When he tries to find the case file back at the station, it is missing. When he reports this to Captain Harper, rather than being concerned that a whole case file is gone, she questions why he's investigating the closed case in the first place. Britten is deflected. No evidence is evidence, Detective. Of course, we the audience know that the police chief is involved in...something...which requires her to cover up this case and keep Detective Britten distracted. In her position of power, it's not a difficult thing for her to do.

Then we come to Grimm. Friday's episode, "Love Sick," starts with police Captain Renard killing two men (who probably had it coming) in a parking garage. Don't mess with Sam Adama. He knows just what to do to make it look like the men killed each other, but he misses one thing: the guy's cell phone, which could reveal that its most recent call was made to the captain himself. After Nick collects the phone for evidence, Renard is able to replace its SIM card. So, when the lab reports their findings back to Nick, they reveal that the old phone has a completely clean, new SIM card. How odd. No evidence is evidence, Nick. It's time for Nick to figure out that something's up with Renard, because I'm dying to know who/what he is and what he's doing.

I couldn't help but be amused by this apparent theme of the week. I guess it says something about the kind of TV shows that I watch. By now we've learned this lesson very well: If you can't find evidence, or your evidence goes missing, your boss is probably conspiring against you.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Hunger Games, with Beanie Babies

If you're a fan of The Hunger Games and don't mind a bit of cuteness, I suggest you check out this retelling of the story with Beanie Babies. Surprisingly faithful to the source material, it's really very well done and had enough cleverness to win me over completely. And, in just 11 minutes, they managed to include some plot points that the movie had to leave out. I wish I could make home movies like this.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Game of Thrones, Season Two: A Clash of Kings

It's already aired in some of the world, but I am so excited to see the new season of HBO's Game of Thrones, which premieres tonight. One of my friends who watches the show just got HBO, so we'll be gathering at her house every Sunday for the next few months. I had grand plans to make lemon cakes for the premiere, but only got as far as buying lemons; Sunday laziness kicked in, and it didn't happen. Maybe some other week.

I've heard excellent things from the critics who I gather have been treated to the first four episodes of the season, so I have high hopes. I'm particularly looking forward to Arya and Dany's storylines in this season. And Tyrion's of course. The only trouble is that of the four of us who will be watching together, I'm the only one who's read the book Clash of Kings (I'm still in the middle of Storm of Swords). I'm pretty bad at keeping a straight face, so I don't know what I'm going to do when they turn to me and ask questions, or share their theories... One friend suggested "Put a paper bag over your head", but that's not very sustainable. Well, I'll just have to learn to deal with it.

If you're not watching Game of Thrones, I highly recommend you catch up quickly and jump on Season 2. It's going to be an exciting ride.

Friday, March 30, 2012

What I missed from the Hunger Games movie

On Wednesday, I went with some friends to the theater to see The Hunger Games. We skipped opening weekend to avoid the crowds, but it was still impressively crowded for a Wednesday night. I thought they did a great job with the movie--my boyfriend, who hadn't read the book, loved it as well and thought it all made sense--but I couldn't help but miss a lot of things from the book that got left out. I understand the necessity of cutting things down for a movie adaptation. Nothing that was in the movie stood out to me as unnecessary, and the movie is already 142 minutes long. I doubt it could have gotten away with a Lord-of-the-Rings runtime. But would it have hurt to flesh out just a few of these things?

Over on io9 they have a good post on Everything The Hunger Games Movie Left Out. They don't exactly get everything, and many of the things they mention I'm OK with being left out. Here I'll share the things that I really missed--the things I wanted to tell my boyfriend all about until he shut me up by saying he might still read the book. So, if like him you've only seen the movie but are considering reading the book, these might be considered slight SPOILERS. Really, if you liked the movie and haven't read the book, I highly recommend it. There's a lot you haven't seen that's worth seeing.

If you haven't read the books OR seen the movie, then these DEFINITELY contain SPOILERS.

Capitol living
In spite of the audience being treated to secret conversations between President Snow and head gamemaker Seneca Crane, I feel we get much less of a sense of what life is like for residents of the Capitol. Elizabeth Banks is great as Effie, but we could have used more of her. They could have added a couple lines here and there explaining how she feels about being the escort for District 12, rather than some nicer district that produces more victors. Not only would it have cleared up exactly what her role is for the District 12 tributes (not obvious in the movie), but it would have further highlighted how silly and self-centered most residents of the Capitol are. Giving Octavia, Flavius, and Venia just one short session with Katniss where they got to blab about their frivolous parties would have helped, too. Those characters get a little more to do in the next two books, so I wonder whether the movies are going to continue to leave them out entirely. If so, I'll definitely miss them.

Life in District 11 and Rue bonding time
They had to budget their runtime, but I still was disappointed by how brief the Rue alliance was in the movie. There was no time for them to discuss what life was like at home--how Rue worked in the orchards and could climb to the highest branches, and even though they grow the food they are just as starving as the residents of District 12. Panem keeps the districts completely isolated from each other, since it helps them maintain control, so this is really Katniss's first look into life in another district. It enriches her relationship with Rue, making it all the more poignant when Rue is killed, Katniss sings (because we know how Rue loves music), and she gets the bread. Yes, I missed the bread on a parachute, but I think they were right to cut it out. It would have required a random scene of Peeta explaining district bread types, and Katniss was still able to salute the people of District 11 without it.

Warming up to Cinna
Spending more time with Cinna, and the preparations before the games in general, would have slowed the movie down, but I still wished there were a little more with Cinna. Saying "I'm sorry" was enough to make Katniss like him? Really? I missed the scene where he acknowledges that Katniss must find them (in the Capitol) disgusting for having more food than they could ever need, while the outlying districts struggle to avoid starvation. It's through a series of similar interactions that he finally wins Katniss's appreciation. It was also his idea for Peeta and Katniss to hold hands in the chariot, which really paved the way to their success leading up to the Games.

It's complicated with Peeta
The Katniss-Peeta relationship is really important to this story. Not being able to read Katniss's thoughts made it much harder to explain, but it was also cut down a lot by time constraints of the movie. Haymitch made it very clear to Katniss that her best chance for sponsors was to play the Peeta romance angle. After a little peck in the cave, she is rewarded with hot broth (this happens in the movie). When she really opens up to Peeta, they get a feast (this is skipped). This progression is largely lost in the movie. The few days Katniss spends with Peeta hiding out in the cave are when the line starts to blur between what she's doing for the sponsors, for her district (if she lets Peeta die, they'll never forgive her), and for what might actually be genuine love for Peeta.

I was really bothered by the movie flashback scene in which Peeta throws the bread, because they seemed to change it, or at the very least left out a significant bit. In the movie, Peeta and Katniss don't look any younger (maybe just a problem with the medium), and he kind of callously tosses a burnt roll into a puddle for her. She's drenched, but it's not clear if she's starving or just sad. I wonder how someone who hasn't read the book interpreted this. In the book, they were only 11 at the time. It's after her father died, and she's absolutely starving. If she doesn't get something for her and her family to eat, they may die--today. She's rooting through the trash, and Peeta's mother tells her to get lost. Peeta purposely burns a couple loaves of bread, even though he knows it will mean a slap from his mother, so that he can go out to throw the bread "to the pigs". He really throws them to Katniss, who has collapsed from hunger and exhaustion. It's this renewed hope that Peeta brought that allows Katniss to turn her life around, start hunting in the woods and providing for her family. He didn't just feed her--he saved her life. How much of this came across in the movie?

Their decision not to have Peeta lose part of his leg certainly simplified things, but it also removed the urgency and drama from the end of the arena portion of the story. They need to get out of the arena FAST or Peeta will bleed out, leading to her rash decision with the berries. When they get lifted into the hovercraft (which I think are unseen in the arena in the movie), and they're separated as medics tend to Peeta, Katniss goes crazy. It's heart-wrenching and suspenseful, and I missed it. Lastly, they decided to leave out the bit where Haymitch tells Katniss that her feigned relationship with Peeta can't stop when they get back to District 12. This is a big plot point that is important for the second book. I guess they'll have to mention it at the beginning of the second movie, but I don't know why they didn't just stick in a line from Haymitch at the end of this one.

A couple other things
Did they ever explain what a mockingjay was? I don't know when they would have, but since it becomes such an important symbol, they'll have to explain it some time.

io9 makes a good point about the movie downplaying the hunger in the Hunger Games. You see how excited Katniss is when Gale pulls out a roll of bread, then you see all the pastries laid out on the train, but that's really all you have to go on to understand just how different the food situation is between the Capitol and the poorer districts. It's really important, and they could have done more here.

Those were the main things I felt I missed. All that said, there was one thing the movie included that was not in the book that I absolutely loved: The quick, wordless scene at the end with Seneca Crane. In the second book, we find out after the fact that Crane was executed (not clear how) due to his failure with the Games. In the movie, we see him escorted to then locked in a beautiful room with a beautiful bowl of beautiful purple berries. So. Perfect.

They got a lot right in the movie. I really enjoyed it, and they did as well as I had hoped. Their depiction of District 12 and the Capitol and the arena were great, and they got the essentials of the story across. But I'm still glad I read the book.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Happy Hunger Games!

The Hunger Games movie came out today, and I know it had great success with midnight showings, with the largest midnight debut for a non-sequel. The reviews have been overall extremely positive (currently 87% on Rotten Tomatoes). I'm so excited to see it, though I'm not sure which day I'll be going. I prefer to avoid large crowds on opening days.

If you haven't read the books, I highly recommend them--they're very quick reads that may make you reevaluate yourself in interesting and surprising ways. And if you don't want to read them, it seems the movie is indeed worth seeing. I hope it does really well at the box office so that the sequels will be made.

Happy Hunger Games! May the odds be ever in your favor!
(I had to do it.)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Reflections from The Hunger Games

Spoiler free!

With all the buzz and anticipation for the Hunger Games movie, which finally comes out tomorrow (midnight tonight!), I knew I'd have to read the book. A friend of mine lent it to me on her Kindle (my first time reading a book on an e-reader--I liked it a lot) a few weeks ago, and I devoured it. I had only planned on reading the first book now, just so I would know what was happening going into the movie, but how could I stop there? It ends on an emotionally unsatisfying note that begs for the sequel, which, being just a Kindle click away, I had to start immediately.

I'm glad I finished the trilogy because not only am I finally satiated, I'm also immune to any spoilers, so I can read any analysis of the movie and books fear free. I think the first book was my favorite--probably the best standalone story, except for the fact that, as I mentioned before, it left me needing more. Without any spoilers, the third book did leave me satisfied, though there were still a few unanswered questions I would have liked addressed.

My experience reading the books was slightly tainted by the fact that I already knew what actors were playing most of the main characters, so I couldn't help but picture them in their roles as I read. In a few cases, this actually created frustration due to the age difference between actor and character--Why is Katniss being so foolish? Oh, right, because she's 16, not a 21-year-old Jennifer Lawrence. I prefer to have a clean slate so my imagination can create its own renderings of the characters, but on the bright side, when I watch the movie, the characters will look exactly as I pictured them.

I have high praise for the Hunger Games trilogy. The story is great, with a reluctant, even resistant hero forced to be more than she ever wanted to be, who stepped up in every occasion because it was necessary. It examines bravery, kindness, sacrifice, trust, love, justice, selfishness, selflessness, conformity, rebellion, propaganda... It sent me through a wide range of emotions. But also, more than any other book, or even TV show or movie in recent memory (maybe BSG?), it challenged me to rethink myself and my society. And that challenge came as a surprise, seemingly out of nowhere, in this young adult book about a far off and foreign future.

The first thing that caught me was the obvious link between the horrible, televised Hunger Games (the "highlight" of Panem entertainment in which 24 children fight to the death until one victor survives) and the reality TV that we watch today. We obviously don't let people die in our reality entertainment, but we do enjoy seeing them get beaten up, sometimes physically but definitely emotionally. Now, I've never liked reality TV, except for some talent contests (So You Think You Can Dance is my favorite), so I could just place myself above it all. Still, I can't deny how fun it was to read about Katniss's trials in the arena. All her close calls, and her triumphs--they were so exciting! When a cannon would go off, and we'd learned that someone had died that she hadn't witnessed, I couldn't help but think, Aw, I want to know how he died! Was I really so bloodthirsty? Was I as bad as the people of the Capitol of Panem who actually enjoy watching the Hunger Games? I was taken aback by this thought, though I concluded that the answer is no: For me, there aren't actually real people dying, whereas the residents of the Capitol were watching real children die. If real children's lives were actually at stake, I would be beyond horrified. But still, is there something wrong with me if I enjoy reading a story in which kids kill other kids, even if it isn't real?

The other thing that disturbed me had to do with a scene between Katniss and her stylist Cinna, a Capitol resident. They're talking, it's time for lunch, and as I recall it, Cinna basically presses a button and a table full of more food than they could possibly eat pops up. Where Katniss lives, people regularly die of starvation--she and her family almost did themselves at one point, before she learned to hunt (which is illegal by the Capitol's laws). At the thought of people in the Capitol having more food than they can eat appear at the touch of a button, Katniss is repulsed. Cinna is wise enough to know it and says something to the effect of, "We must disgust you." It's as close to an apology as he can give, verbally. With his actions, of course he could do much more.

The scene disturbed me because, somewhat after the fact, I finally realized that I'm a resident of the Capitol. I have never worried about whether I would be able to obtain food for my next meal. I have never worried about perishing from hunger. If I have any food-related problem, it's access to too much of it. Though I usually don't think about it, I've known for a long time how lucky I am. I know that there are millions of people who don't have enough to eat, millions who are in danger of dying of hunger. I even know that this isn't just because there isn't enough food in the world to go around, but that the food is poorly distributed. Though I didn't really think about it, I guess I would have assumed that starving people would be jealous of people like me. It never occurred to me that they might be disgusted by me. Or that they'd be justified.

I think there's something special about the science fiction genre to make me understand this. Had the main character in a story set in the real world made a similar observation, saying that Americans with their excess of food (note: there are many Americans who are hungry; please excuse this generalization) disgust them, I would be defensive. Well, it's not my fault that I was born to a family with enough money to provide me with adequate nutrition. It's not my fault that my society is like this. I'd help you out if there were some easy way to do so--actually, I'll have you know, sometimes I do donate to the hungry! Because I already have my own place in this world and my own views, I am already biased and resistant to criticisms. But in a foreign world like Katniss's, the only place I have is hers. Hers are the only eyes through which I can see Panem. From the first-person point of view, I can see that she is a flawed but overall good and reasonable person, so I trust her. Thus I have no choice but to view the world the way she views it. And so I accept on face value that if the people of the Capitol disgust her for how much food they have while others starve, they disgust me. Then, when I then put down the book, I can see that this particular way in which the Capitol residents are disgusting applies to me as well. It's a trick. I have been tricked into finding myself disgusting.

I don't know what will become of this revelation. Having caught the trick, I can pull up my defenses again. But the Hunger Games definitely hit a chink in the armor. Not only was it an exciting, fun, imaginative, beautiful book, it also upset me in surprising ways. That's what you can hope for from a great book.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Art of Video Games Smithsonian exhibit--now open!

The Smithsonian American Art Museum's Art of Video Games exhibit is now open! Here's the exhibition trailer:

FemShep FTW!

It's now been more than a year since they started taking votes on which games to include in the exhibit, and they announced the winners last May. It looks like it all came together very nicely.

If you live or are planning on being in the Washington, D.C. area March 16 through September 30, you should try to check it out. If only I were still living in Maryland, I'd go. At least they've posted a bunch of photos from the exhibit on flickr. Check them out!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Choosing my SWTOR legacy name

I finally powered through Alderaan with my Consular to unlock my Legacy, but now that I've done it I'm paralyzed by indecsion. Legacy is a feature in SWTOR that, once unlocked by finishing Chapter 1 with one of your characters, allows you to choose a surname that will be shared by all your characters on that server. In the future, other benefits for gaining legacy points will be available, but for the moment, it's just the simple name. If only it were actually simple.

I didn't have too much trouble thinking of first names for the various characters I've created in SWTOR. After so many years of playing games, I have some favorite old standards, plus I made up a few new names for this game. But a last name that will be shared by all my characters? That's not something I've had to think of before. The fact that it's permanent and all my future characters (on that server) will bear the name as well makes it rather intimidating.

What sort of name do I choose? Names from Star Wars canon are forbidden, though many will make it past the filter and then it's just a matter of whether or not you get reported or caught. I saw someone walking around with the last name Onasi, a clear reference to KotOR's Carth Onasi. I wonder if that person had to change it yet. It could be kind of fun to effectively write yourself into a Star Wars lineage, be either an ancestor of someone from the movies or descendent of someone from KotOR, but I don't think I'd want to risk being reported and forced to change it (or, worse, reassigned some other name without any say in it).

How about references to other fiction? Maybe a last name from another sci-fi franchise? I've seen a Greyjoy walking around the space station, plus someone named Zoey Washburne (sic). Names from popular culture or media are also forbidden by the Rules of Conduct, but I don't know where they'd draw the line. Is Greyjoy somehow obscure enough that no one cares? Zoey Washburne is obviously a reference, but the last name Washburne itself probably wouldn't be ruled out if used alone. It's a real surname, after all.

I could always make up a name. But would I go the "Nounverber" route, a la Skywalker? It's right there in Star Wars canon, but it can also seem cheesy. In general, I look down on this option as the cheap way out, but I can't deny that sometimes, it just sounds really cool. Or should I just completely create my own made-up name, one that's gibberish but sounds good?

This is what my brainstorming has come up with so far: If I go with a sci-fi reference, I might choose the name Serra. It sounds good with the various first names of my characters, and as long as I don't name any of them Inara, it's not an obvious reference--it's a real surname. Another idea that at least amuses me is the name Schwartz. A legit last name that has special meaning for Space Balls fans. Unfortunately, it doesn't really suit my characters, somehow. It would seem out of place. If I want to do a nounverber, I kind of like the sound of Stardiver*, combining a space-related word with something ocean related, which suits me. And if I completely make up a name... Well, I'm still thinking on that!

Of course, legacy names are unique in each server, so if someone else from my server already has any of these names, then I'd have to adjust accordingly. I should also mention that legacy names can be displayed two ways: as a last name (e.g. Master Eleni NAME), or as a subtitle under the name (e.g. Master Eleni/The NAME Legacy). So if I chose Serra, I'd probably use it as a last name. But I'd probably choose the second option for The Schwartz Legacy.

Anyone have any suggestions? If you're a SWTOR player, what legacy name did/will you choose?

* Edit: Stardiver has already fallen out of favor. I realized it might make me sound like an Olympic diving champion or something. Didn't like that. Need a new idea now.

Update: I finally did choose a legacy name, and I actually went with an old standard naming method of mine that I didn't mention in this post. I won't say what it is, but it is related to my name "Eleni" and is meant to translate (sort of) to "Star Fire".

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The moment we've been waiting for...Mass Effect 3!

It's finally here! Happy Mass Effect 3 Day, everyone!

I'm so happy they have some official FemShep screenshots and wallpapers now. But this BroShep one is pretty cool, too.

Unfortunately, I pre-ordered my Collector's Edition online, so now I have to wait for it to arrive in the mail. Can't get here soon enough. But to all of you who already have your hands on it (lucky!), have fun!!!

Also, be sure to check out this awesome Mass Effect 3 CG trailer featuring FemShep!!!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The scale of the UNIVERSE

The Housemate recently pointed me to this awesome website where, using a simple sliding bar, you can explore the length scales of the universe. Zoom in to look at things too small to see...

* note the position of the sliding bar; viruses are far from the extreme small scales shown in the website

...and zoom out to look at things too large to fathom.

We live in a very, very big place made up of very, very small things. Prepare to have your mind blown...

Scale of the Universe

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!


You'll have to forgive me: I'm rewatching all of Battlestar Galactica with two friends who haven't seen it before (we've got just two episodes left in season one), so I have BSG on the mind.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Happy FemShep Friday!

Today is FemShep Friday, so dubbed because today, BioWare has finally released the long-awaited FemShep Mass Effect 3 trailer! It's so badass, and I just love hearing Jennifer Hale's awesome voice acting. FemShep deserved to be in a trailer long before this, but hey, better late than never. The trailer is titled "Reinstated". Check it out below:

Sweet. I even dressed up in honor of this occasion:

I'll probably be wearing the same thing in a month for the launch of Mass Effect 3. Please note the shameless advertising for my Mass Effect N7 beaded bracelet, now available from my Etsy shop ;) Now that I think about it, I'm slightly concerned about the appropriateness of wearing to work a shirt depicting an alien getting its head blown off/splattered... But that asari is just so badass.

Speaking of asari, last night I went to a Japanese restaurant that had asari clams on the menu. I wasn't able to take a picture of the menu, but here's a screenshot of their online menu:

I can only assume that asari clams are a clam-like species from the asari home world, in which case this is a surprisingly good price for such an exotic import. I didn't order this dish, but I was awfully tempted!

Happy FemShep Friday!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

And the giveaway winner is...

Thanks so much to everyone who entered my giveaway for the N7 beaded bracelet! I was really pleased with the turnout, and I loved reading about everyone's favorite Mass Effect characters. If you're curious, Garrus seems to have won that popularity contest (for the record, I'd probably pick Mordin).

But what about the contest for the bracelet? Well, without further ado, I give you the giveaway winner:

Congratulations!!! In the video, I say "Congratulations!" kind of like those annoying pop-up ads telling you you're the 1,000,000th visitor. Oh well :-/

So the video is kind of boring, mainly showing an Excel spreadsheet (yuck!), but I figured I might as well provide evidence of the random selection. If you don't want to watch it, here you go: The winner is @jamiepage19. Yay!

To those of you who didn't win (sorry!), you can still get an N7 bracelet...from MY NEW ETSY STORE! Yes, I just opened it, so it doesn't even have a name or a banner, but it does have the N7 bracelet. AND you can get 20% off if you use the coupon code IDIDNTWIN :) The coupon will be valid up to March 6, the release date of Mass Effect 3.

I plan to get my other bracelet designs on my Etsy store soon, and I might do a second giveaway for an R2-D2 bracelet. I also need a good name for the store. Any ideas? Maybe 8-Bit Beads, though that doesn't feel quite right. Hmmm...

Anyway, thanks again to everyone for entering. And congrats to Jamie!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Countdown to the giveaway...

I've already started on the bracelet. I'm pausing here, though, until I know the winner's wrist circumference, so I can add in a few rows if necessary. Here it is so far...

Yes, I use a makeshift loom I constructed out of two Costco boxes. Hey, it works, and it's also good for storing all my supplies.

Now, I've come to the realization that closing the contest at 11:59 pm tonight means that I'll be in bed when the contest ends. Therefore, I won't be able to select a winner until tomorrow, unfortunately. I will announce the winner as soon as I can, but that may not be until after my work day on Tuesday. I promise to announce it within a day of when the contest ends.

Thanks to all who entered, and good luck!

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Piled Higher & Deeper movie

Yesterday evening, I saw The PHD movie. The grad student organization at UH screened it in one of the outdoor food courts on campus. Appropriately, they had free food for the grad students. The turnout was very good.

I'd been a little worried that the movie would just be a bunch of the comics strung together and spoken out loud, and that it wouldn't be that funny because I'd already know all the jokes. But there were new jokes and situations that I hadn't read in the comics before. And there was actually a plot and nice character arcs, and I liked the message the movie sent. The story followed Cecilia and the grad student of unknown name (though he says his name at the end!!) as they suffer through about a month of grad school near the end and the beginning of their graduate studies, respectively. I really liked it, more than I thought I would, and I found it very funny. It didn't hurt that I was watching it with a crowd of grad students who also understood all the jokes, and laughed together in camaraderie and commiseration.

Since I have PHD Comics on the mind, I thought I'd share one recent comic that made me laugh very hard:

It's funny because it's true, THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENS. I haven't jumped over a bush, but I have hidden behind a campus sculpture to try to stay out of view of my advisor. As long as he doesn't see me, he won't remember that I'm supposed to be accomplishing anything! My goal as a grad student is to stay out of sight, out of mind. If only I had a Marauder's Map for the Oceanography Department. Then I could carefully choose what corridors to walk to make sure I never cross paths with him by accident. And if I saw my advisor coming towards my office, I could turn out my lights and pretend I'm not here.

If only. I better go get something accomplished now...

My SWTOR experience so far

Thanks to Star Wars: The Old Republic, my blog posting since December has been pretty sparse. Since it has been sucking up so much of my free time, I figured I might as well do a post talking about my experience in game so far. And of course I want to show off my toons.

I am leveling two characters side by side. One is a Guardian--an advanced class of the Jedi Knight--whom I play as a tank alongside my brother's Gunslinger (Smuggler advanced class) who does DPS. I was a little upset about this arrangement at first. I kind of thought I'd be a Jedi Sentinel--TWO LIGHTSABERS!!!!1!--but since my brother had already become a Gunslinger, it didn't make sense for us both to be pure DPS classes. So I chose Guardian. But why did he get his first choice class, while I had to choose one to complement him? Not fair! I still feel a pang of jealousy when someone walks by with two lightsabers, but I really like the Guardian skills and play style, and may even like it more than I would have liked Sentinel (hard to know without trying it out, though). Force Push just feels right--it's what Jedi are supposed to do. Here she is:

I have to say, though, that I really miss her hair. There are low level (~level 10) Guardian armors that have no hood, or wear the hood down, but after that, unless you're a Twi'lek, you have a hood up all the time. And hair doesn't animate under it--that would be too complicated (clipping is hard!). It's pretty low on the developers' list to implement a toggle hood on/off option, but I don't see why they couldn't just put in a couple pieces of mod-able hood down robes. After all, Twi'leks always have their hoods down, so they have the necessary designs already in the game. Ah well. Maybe some day I'll see my cute hair cut again.

My second character is a Sage, an advanced class of the Jedi Consular. She is a caster who really only uses her lightsaber to deflect attacks, something I can watch in the animation but not something I actively control. As one Sage on the SWTOR forum put it, "Don't use your lightsaber, except for nighttime reading." I solo her except for flashpoints and Heroic 4 missions. I have her specced for DPS, currently in the Telekinetics tree, but in a few levels I'll probably respec her to be a Balance/Telekinetics hybrid. If you don't play the game (or even specifically a Sage) that probably makes no sense, but if you do, it's an important distinction, trust me) Here she is, with her "Bubble" skill (Force Armor) active:

Both of my characters are currently level 28. It's been slow going, because I have two of them. Also, I haven't been playing quite as much as I would like to, in large part because I feel obligated not to ignore my boyfriend completely. He's so needy ;) Yes, this is the opposite of the stereotypical story of the games-obsessed boyfriend with the unhappy neglected girlfriend... I need to get him playing the game. And I might be able to if it weren't for the fact that his computer is old and can't run it. So I need to buy him a new computer. Anyone know of the cheapest computer that would run SWTOR? Let me know.

Anyway, so far, I love the gameplay. I've never played a game where I've had this many useful skills that I want to have hotkeyed. There just aren't enough keys (I currently have 18 skills hotkeyed, and counting...). But it keeps things varied and fun, and when I use the right skills the right way, it's very rewarding. I've found that I prefer both DPS and healing to tanking (I can't really heal anymore, but when I was lower level my Sage was a passable healer). Still, the better I get at tanking, the more I enjoy it. I also prefer ranged combat to melee, just because I'm kind of awkward and sometimes have trouble running around to find my target, or switching targets to a guy standing in front of me. Much easier just to stand still and hurl attacks at whomever happens to be my current target. For these reasons, I have to say that I prefer playing my Sage to my Guardian, because she's ranged DPS instead of melee tanking. I think I'm a Sage at heart--if I were actually training to be a Jedi in the Old Republic, I'd want to be a Sage.

Now I've said before that this is my first MMO. I played Guild Wars and Hellgate with my brothers, but those weren't true MMOs; you could see other players in the towns/stations and group with them, but once you went out into the combat environments, it would just be you and your small party. In those games, I only ever grouped with my brothers, never with strangers. I was thus a little worried about adjusting to teaming with people in SWTOR. I still haven't joined a guild, and I haven't done too much grouping with other people, but my experience grouping has been mostly positive. I've only had one bad group experience, and it wasn't actually that bad. It wasn't like the people were mean or unpleasant, it was just disappointing. We were already at a disadvantage trying to do the flashpoint with three players and a companion instead of four players, but on top of that, the companion that one player claimed was a tank started healing us (I think he lied), and the other player was three levels lower than the flashpoint. Not a recipe for success. After dying a few times on the first boss, the group leader recruited a Sage who was over 20 levels above us, and he just ran us through. I got some good loot, but it wasn't exactly fun, just confusing and hectic trying to keep up. Oh well.

Other than that, my other group experiences have been really good. Friendly players got together, we each had our roles and did them effectively, and we had challenging but manageable and fun fights. I might join a guild when I get to the end of the game and just want to run operations and pvp, but for now I'm happy as an independent.

The gameplay and team questing are great, but what ultimately drew me to this MMO in particular was the fact that it's a BioWare game and I expected interesting quests and engaging storylines. The stories and quests are not quite on par with Mass Effect (I hold Mass Effect 2 as a paragon of deep story and tough choices), but they're still great. In the non-class quests (which everyone in a faction gets to do), I think it's a little hard to have choices make a noticeable and lasting difference because there's a chance that your choice won't be the one acted upon--all players in a group make a choice, and a random roll decides whose choice "wins". If some other group member's decision had negative consequences you had to deal with throughout the game, it would discourage group play, and that would be bad. So I understand the issue there. Still, the quests are varied enough that they don't just feel like a list of chores (kill 10 X, collect 6 Y, etc.).

There are a lot of side quests in this game, but I'm currently mainly interested in getting deeper into the class storylines. At the very beginning, on their starting planet of Tython, I preferred the Knight's storyline to the Consular's. However, since leaving Tython, I think I've started to prefer the Consular storyline. Maybe they're about equal. This is all personal preference, really. All of the class quests are very different--they even had different writers--so you're definitely going to have some better than others. But that assessment is largely subjective.

Of the five class storylines that I'm familiar with (in addition to Knight and Consular, I've tagged along on my brother's Smuggler quests, plus I played a Sith Inquisitor in beta alongside my brother's Sith Warrior), the Inquisitor story is my favorite. I only played through the prologue, but it was really, really fun the whole way through. I don't usually like playing as a "bad guy", which is why I ultimately started playing as Jedi, but I'm looking forward to going back to the Inquisitor some time. I loved it. All the other class storylines are good, but just not as cool as the Inquisitor, in my opinion.

I have to share one fun anecdote about the Knight storyline. It's a tiny bit spoilery, but it's only from the end of the prologue (i.e. not very far in the game). And I won't name any names. Still, if you haven't yet played but plan to play a Knight and are sensitive to spoilers, you've been warned (skip to the second paragraph after the screen shot).

At the end of the prologue, you are attacked by a Sith Lord and have no choice but to kill him. He was a haughty (and evil) jerk, so after we killed him, my brother and I celebrated with a happy dance (our companions Kira and Corso were somewhat less enthused):

Here's the kicker: We had interrupted this Sith Lord in the middle of a holoconference with a few Darths, one of whom happened to be his father. Yes, we killed a Darth's son as he watched helplessly through the holo, and then we danced about it while he was forced to stand there and wait for us to come over to talk to him (so we could hear his livid threats). Surprisingly, we didn't earn any Dark Side points for this. You have to feel kind of bad for him, but... c'mon, he's an evil Sith! It was pretty hilarious.

Some other favorite moments in the game so far:
The other night, my Consular briefly got to impersonate a Sith Lord. Fun, different, quite amusing, and I even earned some affection points with Qyzen, my companion. Good stuff.

My favorite quest so far was the series of missions for the Gree Droids on Coruscant. I loved these quests just because of the quest givers, the droids, because of the way they talk. Apparently Gree senses place a particular emphasis on shapes and colors, and their speech patterns reflect this. They're also a fairly remote species, so their droids' translations are not ideal. Here's a video of them talking. Just listen for a minute or so, you'll get the idea:

I remember at first being so confused: I could follow along OK, and then suddenly the droid would say something about an orange sphere or red perpendicular. After a while, though, I got used to their patterns of speech, which was a true, satisfying pleasure. I thought it was cool that even in a galaxy with universal translators, there can still be language barriers. I've earned other titles for my characters, but I still proudly bear the "Black Bisector" title.

Well, I've rambled on long enough for now. Until my next SWTOR update, may red tangents envelop you as you descry multitudinous purple parallels.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An Into the Woods Movie?

I recently saw this post on io9 saying that Disney is developing a film adaptation of the musical Into the Woods:

"Disney Bringing Sondheim's Revisionist Fairy Tale to the Big Screen"

I LOVE this musical. I fell in love with it in high school when my brother rented the video recording of the original Broadway cast from our local library (free rental, so we took it out many times). I was slightly obsessed; I wrote a paper on the Baker's Wife for an assignment my senior year. I memorized almost all of the songs (it's a lot of words, believe me). Some time in college, I found the video on DVD and promptly bought it for myself.

The original cast is fabulous. Bernadette Peters and Joanna Gleason are my particular favorites. Seeing the musical live is great, of course (I saw a college production of it, which was pretty good), but if you can find it, I highly recommend the recording of the original Broadway cast. It's just the actors on stage in front of a live audience. No re-staging or anything. But even in that form, it still makes for great viewing on the small screen.

I am mostly happy to hear that they're planning on bringing the musical to the big screen. It's such a great story, with brilliant writing, delightful songs, and hilarious characters, it deserves to reach a larger audience. But I'm also nervous. Some recent stage-musical-to-big-screen adaptations (Chicago, Hairspray) have gone better than others (The Producers, Rent). The director attached to the project is Rob Marshall, who did Chicago, so that's promising. Fingers crossed that he can turn this one into a great success, as well.

If not... At least I can always retreat back to my original cast DVD.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Shit Geeky Girls Say...

Last week, I came across this awesome video in which Toria (The Toria Show) tells us all the shit geek girls say. It's hilariously true.

She explains that this is all stuff she says, but she assumes other geeky girls may say similar things. She's right. I don't partake in all the realms of geekdom that she references (e.g. comic books, Doctor Who), but enough of these resonated for me that I was laughing very hard.

Yes, female armor is so much skimpier than male armor! I couldn't believe it in SWTOR when my Jedi had heavy armor that left her with a bare midriff. Ridiculous! Then there's the slave girl outfit (luckily only counts as light armor). Obligatory, I suppose. But I've yet to find the slave male outfit.

Picard, hands down!


I'm usually pretty decisive about hair color, but the eye spacing... That's a tricky one. You don't want to spend the whole game thinking "I should have gone one tick closer" every time you see your character's face!

In Baldur's Gate, I definitely did give my fighter/thief more charisma than she needed. I wanted people to like me! What's wrong with that?

I showed this video to my boyfriend, to get a sense of what I really do say vs. just think silently to myself. He laughed particularly hard at the "My character is awesome!" line, and when she sings the Lord of the Rings Shire theme, plus the bit from "Still Alive". I sing those a LOT.

The funniest bit for me, though, came right at the beginning. "Did I ever tell you I speak Elvish?" The day I saw this video, earlier that morning I had just told a friend of mine that I speak (a little) Elvish. GET OUT OF MY HEAD, TORIA!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My blog's first GIVEAWAY!

On most days, Commander Shepard doesn't have time for jewelry. An array of guns strapped to her back are all the accessories she needs. But occasionally she'll find herself on a mission where she has to dress up--in the Afterlife VIP lounge, or an extravagant party on Bekenstein, for example. That's why I made this N7 bracelet: because even in formal wear, Shepard deserves to be recognized for the elite special forces marine* she is.

I made one of these beaded bracelets for myself last summer, and now, in honor of the upcoming release of Mass Effect 3, I'm giving one away! Yes, the release of Mass Effect 3 is still over a month away (March 6 or thereabouts, depending on your location), but I want to make sure I have enough time for people to enter the giveaway and for me to make and mail the bracelet so that it arrives in time for the big day.

This bracelet is made with tiny glass seed beads. The black ones are glossy and opaque. The red and white ones are translucent and silver-lined (shiny silver around the inside hole of the bead). The silver-lined beads have just enough shine and sparkle to pop out as a design, but not so much that they seem too glittery. The overall look is really quite sleek.


A beaded N7 bracelet!


Anyone can enter! I am willing to ship internationally. Hopefully that won't bite me in the ***, but I think with a small, light package, it shouldn't cost me too much.

Now, I know this giveaway favors the girls, and I'm sorry about that. If you're a guy, you're welcome to enter to win a bracelet (maybe you have a girl you want to give it to, or maybe you want it for yourself--that's cool). I could also attach the beaded design to a key chain instead of bracelet clasps... Or if you have other ideas for how I could turn the beads into something suitable for a guy, I'm willing to hear.


First, leave a comment below telling me you want to be entered in the giveaway, and let me know who your favorite Mass Effect character is. If you can't choose just one, then give me a list, that's fine :) This will earn you one entry for the giveaway. This step is important, so I know you really want to be entered, and aren't just following me because you like my tweets or tweeting about the giveaway to spread the word.

After you've done that, you can earn up to three additional entries in the giveaway for each of the following:
1. Follow me (@EleniRPG) on Twitter (if you already follow me, this counts).
2. Tweet about this giveaway on Twitter, with a link to this post and a mention of me (@EleniRPG). You can tweet about it as many times as you want, but I'll only count it as one entry ;)
3. Follow my blog (if you already do, that counts).
Important: Once you've completed any of the above, please leave a comment below to make sure I noticed (I'd hate to miss something). Also, if your Twitter handle isn't obvious from the way you identify yourself below in the comments, tell me your Twitter handle so I can correctly match you to the tweet/follow.
Additionally, if you're not following me on Twitter (in which case I can direct message you), give me an email address so I can contact you if you win!


The deadline for entries is Monday, February 6 at 11:59pm Honolulu time (5 hours behind East Coast'll have to figure out the rest for yourselves). I'll be selecting the winner randomly from a list of names. The number of times your name appears on the list depends on the number of entries you earned (up to four). I'll post the winner on this blog, but also contact the winner for details (address, wrist size, metal allergies, etc.).

Good luck!

* For those who don't know, N7 is the emblem on Commander Shepard's armor. N designates special forces, while the 7 indicates the highest level of proficiency.


I know that not everyone who reads my blog plays Mass Effect (But you should! It's such a great series!), so I feel a little bad that my first giveaway on this blog leaves those people out. I have made a few beaded bracelet designs that are not related to Mass Effect, and if there seems to be enough interest, I could do a giveaway for one of them. So, whether or not you want to enter the N7 giveaway, leave me a comment telling me if you'd be interested in a giveaway for one of the following:


I'd probably change the background beads if I made another of these, since the teal blends too well with the blue on top of R2's head. Also, the teal beads were ever so slightly skinnier than the other beads, giving the bracelet an uneven width. But who doesn't love R2-D2?

Space Invaders!

This is for the old-school gamers. Thanks to Mariel who suggested this one--the 8-bit style works very well for bead weaving. The aliens are made with silver-lined beads, so they stand out well.

I also have a Battlestar Galactica Cylon head design (old-school Cylons--the horizontal visor looks MUCH better with the beading constraints than the newer V-shaped visor) which I think will look really good: five Cylon heads go around the bracelet, but in each one the red light (done with a silver-lined red bead, of course) is in a different position.