Having just marathoned through six seasons of Lost in nine days, I’ve begun noticing odd behavior quirks. Though I’m not typically a fan of self-diagnosing psychological neuroses, I have what can best be described as “Lost Paranoia.” When you spend days at a time with nothing much besides that volcano of a show spewing conspiracy theories and plot twists, you start to get a little schizophrenic. I completely lost track of time in the “real world,” forgetting what day of the week it was and forgetting whether events happened yesterday or the day before. Considering most of Lost is told in flashbacks and out-0f-time sequences, my own sense of the linear world was disintegrating.

It got even worse during the few times I left my apartment in the last week. I started to see things and people. Recurrent themes from a TV show were actually recurring in my own life…or so I thought. I started seeing characters from the show wandering around the streets. A bald man sitting across the table from me became Locke and warranted a double-take before my rational mind took over. I started seeing the familiar numbers everywhere (4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42). Every mundane object or action in my life seemed to be imbued with hidden meaning. Though I wouldn’t say I was really in danger of losing my touch with reality, my mind was constantly racing, searching for answers and clues to common threads.

Now that I’ve finished the show and had a few hours to recuperate, I believe I’ll make a full recovery. I’ve made my peace with the show’s constant plot twists, jerking the audience around like the passengers on Flight 815. I am almost absolutely certain that I would not have been able to stand the anticipation waiting weeks or months between episodes. I still think watching all of Lost all at once is the best way to experience it. Just note the danger in coming too close to total immersion.

Slim Slow

Riding the bus I overheard a conversation between a man and a woman about which movie was the scariest. Predictably the man said Saw and the woman said The Exorcist with the addendum, “because Saw is just a movie, but The Exorcist could really happen.” Needless to say fourteen ellipses paraded through my brain in succession at this utterance. “Psychotic killers are not real, but demon possession is” was the basis of her opinion. We can only hope she was sterile. Nevertheless, we should suspend our sense of reality and accept as fact her delusion that we may examine on equal footing these two positions. Saw’s terror lies in physical and psychological torment inflicted on a victim in a more or less arbitrary fashion. The victim suffers pain as a direct and indirect response to the self-preservation instinct. In The Exorcist the characters fear having their soul corrupted by sin. Here we are again deforming the shape of truth to fit “sin” loosely over “immoral actions” by ignoring the troublesome oxymoron, “religious morality.”


The reason this is significant is that one may tell a lot about a person by their greatest fear and a film can invoke that fear in ways that are experienced similarly by all viewers. One generally fears losing that which is valuable to them, therefore reaction to horror films is a window of insight into someone’s values. Those who fear Saw most value their physical and mental comfort; those who fear The Exorcist most value spiritual integrity. While I cannot agree with her choice of movie, I do agree with her in principle so that for me the scariest movie is The Machinist. There can be many other possibilities: insanity, dishonor, confinement (i.e. Virginia Woolf), emotional pain, the afflictions of loved ones, chaos or the unknown, permanent destruction of something sacred. A good experiment in personal discovery might be to watch well made horror films which use different fears and observe your experience of them.


Chief Digressor

The scariest movies for me are not the ones that are most realistic. Psychotic killers do not bother me because they are still confined by the rules of the physical world. Whereas paranormal events and entities are not constrained in the same way. I know what it takes to stop a serial killer, a vicious dog, or a school or piranha (get out of the water), but I don’t know what it takes to stop a ghost, a vampire, or a demon. Contrast that with a zombie apocalypse, for which I am overprepared. It is the unexplainable that I fear the most, hence my childhood fear of the dark. You can’t prepare for what you don’t know, or worse, can’t stop.

Ah, the almighty dodge roll. How many times have you saved my avatar’s sorry ass from annihilation? The dodge roll is such a vital action adventure game convention that playing a game without that function is oddly restricting. In fact, when I start a game without the ability to dodge roll, I instinctively think that it must be unlockable somehow. This weekend, I played indie 3-d action fighter Lugaru, a deceptively simple interface that is frustratingly hard. Sure enough, one of the first tasks in the tutorial was to learn how to dodge roll (and its equally valuable cousin, the handspring).

It makes sense that some sort of emergency evasive maneuver lends itself well to the genre, where fast reflexes often mean life or death for the player. In certain games, intelligence may not amount to much if you have the finger dexterity and timing down (I’m calling you out God of War). From Zelda to Castlevania, Metal Gear Solid to Kingdom Hearts, a fast roll to one side or the other exists in all these games. It is however, notably absent from games where the character is purposefully encumbered. I’m thinking Resident Evil, where many times I could’ve survived a zombie rush if only I could roll out of the way. Gamers pride ourselves on many things, amongst them is our reflexes. Among the things we’re not so proud of is our physical fitness level. Being able to translate our fast moving fingers to our slow moving bodies is cathartic to say the least.

From a gamer’s perspective, I’m starting to worry how the prevalence of dodge rolls is affecting my real life. An FPS will never convince me to shoot innocent people. Grand Theft Auto doesn’t breed a disrespect for the law for me. My concern is how these nimble gymnasts in the form of video game characters are boosting my confidence in my own abilities. I can say that I walk across the street with heightened confidence that if a runaway car comes my way, I’ll be able to roll to safety. I wouldn’t be shocked if at the precise moment some on-screen prompt at the bottom of my field of vision would tell me precisely which button combination to press.

Acknowledging the importance of the dodge roll, I will also add some caveats for the incorporation of dodge rolls in games.

  1. A dodge roll should move the character at a faster rate than the regular movement. This is so essential as to be almost definitional of a dodge roll.
  2. A dodge roll should have an appropriate recovery period. In other words, characters should not be able to substitute rolling for running. That would be absurd.
  3. Aforementioned recovery should occur after completion of the maneuver. Dodge rolls should be instantaneousness at the press of a button.
  4. Dodge rolls should be unlimited. As mentioned before, it is so necessary that it should not be restricted in use.
  5. If the character does not start out with the dodge roll, it should earn the ability soon. Given it’s usefulness, I don’t want the reward of something so foundational so late in the game.
  6. Of course, all action adventure games must have a dodge roll (or evasive equivalent like handsprings, short-range teleportation, etc.).

Photo Credit: Fellowship of the Rich

I recently had the pleasure of spending some time with an acquaintance named Eric. He has a cheerful disposition and somewhat erratic personality. It wasn’t until someone pointed out the resemblance that I finally realized why I was so amused when hanging out with him. Eric was Charlie Kelly from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, minus the selfish disregard for other people. He had some odd convictions and was ready to argue very loudly to defend them. The comparison was made apparent when he argued that it should be perfectly acceptable to eat food from the trash bin provided it was on top of the garbage rather than in it. Following his premise and argument, I have named this The Trash Boundary and will lay it out here.

Eric was adamant that there really was no magical line created by the rim of a trash can. Trash on a table top doesn’t change in character once it enters the trash can, yet we treat it so differently. You would eat leftover pizza that was on the table right? Well why wouldn’t you eat the same pizza that is in the trash, especially if the pizza was hermetically sealed in its box? For the sake of this argument, put aside possible contamination and assume that the trash can is clean, which is very likely to be the case with a new trash bag. Yet once the pizza passes this Trash Boundary, people hesitate to retrieve anything and are even chastised for going through garbage.

There was one concession Eric was willing to make–food that is “in” the trash, as opposed to “on“ the trash shouldn’t be eaten. That’s the line he’s unwilling to cross. Somewhat arbitrarily, as soon as there is additional trash on top of the target food item, it then becomes trash and inedible. I’ll admit this line is just as frivolous as the line that any food, once it goes into the trash, is off-limits, but it makes a little more sense. There is much more of chance of dangerous contamination once refuse has been piled on top of food, rather than when food is simply the last thing thrown out and sitting comfortable on top of the mountain of garbage.

Unlike Eric, I hesitate to make any brightline rule at all. His Trash Boundary is not much more logical than the one which most people respect. I would say that eating food out of the garbage should be determined on a factual, case-by-case basis. A sealed Hostess Twinkie under crumbled papers? That’s fair game. A half-eaten hot dog on top of a pile of diapers, surely not. Yet I suppose to some people, dumpster diving for food is a principled matter and should be forbidden under any circumstances. As one guy put it upon hearing Eric’s rant, “That’s a line you just don’t cross.” In some ways I can respect that conviction, as if your humanity is threatened by your baser instincts of hunt and gather. But I won’t judge anyone if their Trash Boundary is just a little further than someone else’s.

Were you all as confused as I was when your Facebook news feed started to pop up with messages like the one above last week? A quick search on Know Your Meme brought up this little snippet:

In support of anti-child violence, change your Facebook profile picture to a cartoon from your childhood. Until Monday Dec. 6, there should be no human faces on Facebook, but an invasion of memories. Join the fight against CHILD ABUSE. Invite your friends to do the same.

Now I never use my profile picture as advertising space. So as much as I wanted to display a sweet image of Goliath for all my friends to gander, I ignored this meme as just another fad. This wasn’t the first time that Facebook users had attached en masse to a meme in a thinly veiled attempt at activism. Remember the bra color status updates?

In fact, soon enough, I saw friends speaking out against this new childhood revisitation indulgence as a form of slacktivism. Urban Dictionary, though seldom having any coherent definition, had this delightful definition:

The act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.

Though that was also my first reaction to this week’s Cause of the Month, I thought more closely about the intended purpose. I doubt that most of the people who participated really cared about child abuse. It’s just a fun way to identify yourself and continue oversharing. But even those who genuinely thought they were supporting some cause weren’t being entirely disingenuous. True, there are “real” ways to aid society. Sure, as a Wall Street Journal blog points out, you could donate time at an orphanage, participating in mentoring programs, or raise money for prenatal care. The pointed criticism is that changing your Facebook profile really does nothing for the cause.

However, if you take a step back and think about what is the effect of meme, you’ll see that it did easily accomplish one of the biggest hurdles facing any societal issues– it raised awareness. It got us talking about the issue. Just like the bra color status updates got the dialog going about breast cancer or changing your Twitter picture green to support Iranian democracy. Regardless of whether the actions have a tangible effect, raising awareness is the first step and shouldn’t be so easily overlooked. People can do more; they can always do more, but that doesn’t mean they should be belittled for the little they do.  Just point them in the direction to do more.

The problem happens when people become too enamored with the awareness step and never move forward. But I doubt there’s much risk that people who truly care about child abuse issues would stop at a profile picture change. Even for those who don’t care at all, they became a part of a greater cause. I think that’s worth at least a digital thumbs up, because a real pat on the back would be too much effort.

*I’m aware that this meme may have nothing to do with raising awareness for child abuse and could’ve been added as an afterthought. That doesn’t change the analysis.

The old standby for rating a person’s attractiveness is the ten-point scale. However, the meaning in a score has, I think, been heavily influenced by the letter grading system used in our schools. Thus a 9 is super hot, a 7 is average and a 5 is fugly. But this leaves half the scale unused except as comically insulting scores of 1.4, the decimal being used for humorous effect. The problem here is that we hesitate to give a score of less than 5: in part because scores less than 5 have little numerical meaning, and in part because 5 is already a failing score so why kick a dog — or someone who looks like a dog — while they are down. I propose two different rating systems to replace the ten-point scale which will hopefully clear up these issues.

The first is the five-point scale. The difference here is that it goes from -5 to 5. In this system an average looking person would receive a neutral zero, their perceived worth in society, and a wookie would get a negative score. It is important to inform hideously malformed abortions of human conception that their appearance detracts from them and is not simply the lack of a “bonus” of pleasing features. While it may seem cruel at first glance, think for a moment on the psychological damage inflicted on the general populace by fat, ugly people wearing revealing clothes and you will not only see that this is a good policy, you will have a searing mental image you can only remove with boobies. You’re welcome.

The second system is a ten-point logarithmic scale. A person, “Sheryl,” is assigned a score of “k” where “k” best completes the following sentence: in a room filled with 10^k random people, 1 would be more attractive. A score of less than 1 would be very common as 90% of the population would fall into that category. 0 is not possible because there’s no one so ugly that we couldn’t put them in a room with an uglier person then shoot them both and call it a mercy killing. Then burn down the room. As there are not 10 billion humans in existence, a score of 10 means the person is perfect. It does NOT mean that that person is the most gorgeous on Earth. It means that there is no one MORE attractive. Which brings me to a side note.

I saw an average rating of Raiders of the Lost Ark as 9.8 on some movie site with 10,000+ reviews. The only way this is possible is if some of the people gave it a 9 (it is inconceivable that anyone intelligent enough to use a computer would rate it less than 9). Why? There’s some weird compulsion certain numbskulls have about never giving something a perfect score as if 10 is a purely theoretical level of awesomeness. Just give it a 10 already, morons.

Ta-Da! All your problems have disappeared America

Is it just me, or does this picture of Obama look like he’s in the middle of a magic trick with doves appearing from his hands?

It reminds me of another awesome magician.

Why the focus on underachievement based on race? I have always been uncomfortable with using discrimination as a tool to fight past discrimination. As any firefighter can tell you, the most effective way to fight fire is with fire. In the past, I’ve advocated doing away with race-based affirmative action and targeting real root causes of underachievement more closely linked to economic gaps rather than perpetuating race stereotypes. Of course that debate is too loaded to be resolved in a succinct blog post. Instead, I’d like to address a more demanding case of human prejudice that could be better addressed by affirmative action.

We all know about the pain felt at rejection, and as a society, we try to flatten the playing field as much as we can. Our country prides itself on allowing anyone the chance to succeed without innate attributes holding us back. Race is certainly one of the most obvious extrinsic qualities that we want to avoid judgments about. It’s not something that we choose, or we can change, therefore we find it disdainful to discriminate based on that trait. But as much as we say that racial discrimination is a learned trait that should/can be unlearned through methodically reshaping society, what about prejudice based on physical attractiveness? I’d say that hating ugly people is just as inherent a disposition that should be targeted and systematically eliminated.

But how can we target ugly-haters? Unlike the key attribute singled out in heightism, which can be measured objectively, isn’t physical attractiveness subjective? Beauty is a spectrum, a spectrum that has shifted and emphasized different attributes over human existence. Though there may have always been an attraction towards proportionality, there are certainly attributes that have been treasured in the past that no longer hold true. Breast size for instance, though we tend to think that large breasts have always been the norm, small breasts were actually preferred in the Middle Ages.

I don’t think it’s that debatable that at least some traits of attractiveness are heavily influenced by media and society. Is it any more unfair for a black applicant to be turned away than an unfortunate-looker based solely on the interviewers preferences?

People are drawn to pretty people. There’s no way around that. But why perpetuate this preference for beauty by putting beautiful people in places of power? Let’s elect a short President, hire that woman with the droopy eyes, date the bald guy. For every job, set aside interview slots for people you wouldn’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole. Start including photographs for college applicants and specifically choose the ones who couldn’t get a date with the opposite (or same) sex. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a color-blind society where people can still be celebrated for their cultural diversity? Frankly, I don’t think being ugly brings much culture, and I’m fine with phasing it out completely as a barrier to entry.