Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Heh, already a new post. Good game, Grouse Grind.

I just wanted to share with you guys a bit of what I've been doing recently to improve myself.

Firstly, I'm slowly adjusting my sleep schedule so that I sleep earlier and wake earlier. I now sleep anywhere between 10pm-1am and wake at 630am. It took a few tries to get this, but I had a few tricks. The first, obviously, is to get out of bed. This is difficult, because the bed is so comfortable and warm. I used a variety of tactics, including putting my alarm away from the bed, drinking a lot of liquids prior to bed, and convincing myself that I can return to bed after feeding my goldfishies. Naturally, once you're out of bed, you can think a little bit clearer and achieving your goal becomes that much easier. At the very least, just take one step out of bed and stand there for a moment.

The next step is to adjust your body to the sleeping schedule. Those that suffer from jet lag may find this difficult. I borrowed a trick learned from a Harvard research report on jet lag. Apparently, starving yourself 14-16 hours prior to sleep will help your body adjust to a new sleeping schedule almost immediately. It took two attempts with this trick before I felt like I was fully adjusted. The first day I went to sleep about 8-10 hours after eating and the second day it was 12-14 hours before. Be forewarn, however, if you starve yourself your body will go into an emergency mode where food may be rationed and stored longer in your body, making it easier to gain weight (this is the reason why diets usually fail). I'm trying to balance this with proper meals now and some extra exercise.

The final thing that you need to do is to find something to do with your extra hours. You can work out, play games, do work, etc. So far I'm doing random things. Essentially I'm taking my post-midnight activities (gaming, surfing the net, knitting, whatever) and putting them in the morning. I find that my mind works better this way and, since it's in the morning, I cannot overindulge in an activity since the rest of my day gets in the way. I'm hoping that eventually I'll be able to allocate my time to writing, but more on that later.

A nice tip for the sleeping bit and for life in general: Try to change your eating habits so that your largest meal is breakfast and the lightest is dinner. This will help you sleep better and your body is less likely to take the extra energy and convert it to fat (though the World Health Organization may argue with me on that). Nonetheless a big breakfast will make your day much easier, especially after lunch when your normal reserves are all used up. A lot of people are skipping breakfast these days, but waking up earlier should afford them the time to enjoy a heartier meal.

Exercise works wonders for me in that it keeps me from eating too much. I don't usually feel like eating too much before or after exercise, I'm just not in the mood for it. So I'm trying to use exercise a bit to keep my eating habits in check while I switch the heaviness of my meals around. For exercise, I'm going to kickboxing still, but also the gym and the grouse grind (more on that later), and I'm also doing this program and trying for 100 consecutive "good form" push ups. I'm on week 3 now and having a bit of trouble. You see, I wanted to double the minimum amount for the final set of push ups for each day. This way, I'd be at 100 consecutive by the end of week 6. However, I'm currently at 50 some push ups at the end of a grueling set and I'm having difficulties eking out past 30. Oh well, I'm still about 100 every other day now and my arm muscles are starting to hinder my flexibility. So, maybe I will scale back a bit, but not too much.

My sister and I tried to form a pact earlier last month in July. We were going to wake up early together and try to do some activity, whether it be going to the gym, a walk, or out for coffee with each other. Unfortunately that failed when we were both unable to get up in the morning. However, I'm finding some success in that now and, when our schedules permit it, we are still attempting some sibling bonding. Originally my sister was supposed to accompany me on the Grouse Grind last Friday but, seeing how we're in Vancouver, the weather crapped all over our plans with rain. She didn't want to go out, but I ended up doing it anyways. I had bought some trekking poles just for mountain climbing/hiking and I wanted to use them as often as possible before summer ended. So I climbed the treacherous mountain in the pouring rain.

Here are my times, broken into quarters (which are marked on the trail):
1. 17 mins 20
2. 13 mins 07
3. 14 mins 51
4. 13 mins 08
Total: 58 mins 27

I might have started timing a bit early, as there was a fork in the road some ways past the "Grouse Grind Timer" that pointed one way to the Grouse Grind and another way to some other trail. This may account a bit for the longer starting quarter. I pushed myself a bit too hard too early and had to fight off a cramp for most of the second half (which is steeper and much harder to navigate in the rain). I ended timing a bit earlier too, as I stopped the clock once I was clear of the trail. I noticed the ending Grouse Grind Timer after I stopped the clock, but literally it was only about 20 feet of flat terrain away, so the most it could have added was another minute, which would still keep me under an hour.

My goal for the Grouse Grind this trip was to simply not stop. Finishing in under an hour was actually a goal for the next trip, but I got that too. I'll be visiting the Grind again this Friday, but with my sister in tow. How this affects my time, we'll see, but I think the companionship and conversation would be worth it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Update on this blog...

I have decided to discontinue my weekly updates of this blog. It has been good experience writing on a week to week basis, but I've come to realize that I have been avoiding creative writing due to the fact that I would not be able to produce anything satisfactory within a week. Since the reason I started this blog was to encourage my creative writing, I've decided that this is counter productive and that I should, instead, focus solely on my musings.

I may be posting here now and then when fancy strikes me, but it will no longer be a weekly thing, sorry. If you are a fan of my writing, be sure to subscribe to the RSS feed of this blog and, if you like, leave a comment here with your email if you'd like me to send you chapters of whatever I'm working on. I know that it helps to have people reading your work and I'm not going to stop that. But I will control the outflow of my stuff somewhat.

Thank you all for your continued support. Best wishes, enjoy the rest of summer!


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Deeper Motifs in Pixar's WALL-E

Life's complicated right now and I'm not really in the mood to do this but for the sake of keeping week to week updates I'll leave something of a placeholder here. Maybe next week I'll have a musing piece for you guys, since I've done a lot of rants recently.

Here's a list of things that I noticed in WALL-E that deserve some further discussion:
-Background storytelling, getting around a silent protagonist
-Problems of over consumption, pollution unchecked
-Problems of over reliance on machines and SEP (somebody elses problem) mindset
-Problems of over privatization, advertising is everywhere
-Definition of the soul, do robots dream (think EVE's coma security cam)
-Can individualism be misinterpreted? Is it what separates humans and machines or simply those with a "soul"?
-The Argos problem and WALL-E
-Balance of love and labour
-A new kind of dystopia, advancing so far that we severely regress as a society and culture
-What is main thematic message presented? Think: Pixar and Disney's audience and track record. Which are jokes and which carries serious overtones?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Everything in Moderation

I've been making quite a few posts on self-improvement topics lately, but it's all good. People have time in the summer, why not use it to try new ways to improve themselves? Myself, I've been making my usual attempt at improving myself physically and mentally and, unfortunately, making my usual poor showing at the task. The topic of today's post might be the cause of it, but if it is, then I don't really want to change as I believe very strongly in this mantra.

"Everything in Moderation" is indeed my mantra and one that I've been saying and following to some success. While I may have had an inkling of this idea, it became very concrete after I read the introduction to Ursula LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness (I have an autographed copy of another one of her books, Wizard of the Earthsea). In the introduction, LeGuin talked about the role of the science fiction writer in how they can formulate a dystopia by taking any element of our current society and exaggerating it to cancerous levels. When I say cancerous, I do literally mean cancerous as a tumor is natural part of your body that is growing out of control.

We can easily see some examples here: warnings against a tightly controlled society, war, over-reliance of technology. In a recent film, WALL-E, we see what happens if consumption, pollution, and privatization goes on unchecked.

With that in mind, let's turn back to moderation and its application to everything. I don't really believe in denying yourself of any of life's pleasures. People may have strong beliefs or opinions about certain things and that's fine. However, completely ridding things like carbs or sweets from your diet for the sake of fitness, I feel, is just silly. There is no point in living to the age 100 if the last 20-40 years is drab, dull and full of regret. Live a little, indulge a little, but keep it all in check. Moderation.

This also applies to work. Be careful not to become a workaholic or fitness freak. To me, that is equally unnatural. For a person to have the best possible life, they must maintain a rough balance (nothing too strict) in all aspects of their lives. Essentially, no matter what it is, be sure to hold yourself back a little now and then, you'll find that the pleasures (or hardships) of an activity will last longer/be more bearable as you take it on gradually.

Here's an example of each spectrum of this idea. When I was a child, I loved to eat (still do!). McDonalds used to have very cheap McChicken burgers every Monday and my mother, being the wonderful understanding person she is, used to buy a whole bunch and I would have them for lunch at school practically everyday. Eventually it got to the point where I was simply sick of the damn things and refused to eat any McDonalds for years. I think they have a punishment like that in hell, where they give you too much of a good thing.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is something like studying. Research has shown that people retain information better from the first 20 minutes of study and the last 20 minutes of study. All that work in the middle? Usually fuzzy if not completely gone. Cramming rarely works to the best effect. If you take the same all-night 10 hour study period and break it down into 30/10 min study and break periods, you'll actually recall the information better than if you studied straight through the night.

Paradoxically, this mantra can be applied to itself. There will be times when people have no choice but to bog down and something for a prolonged period of time. It may be because of work, a need for training, or a plane crash leaving you marooned on a desert island. In either case, if you find yourself doing something too much, don't feel bad, just plan your schedule a bit better to allow some breaks.

What I'm getting at here is that moderation is good and that we are built for it. Humans like to explore and, more often than not, these trials help them to appreciate what they already have and enjoy it more. I suppose everyone is born with a level of ADD. Like they say in science fiction, the biggest problem with any utopian society is boredom.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A few personal thoughts on the job market

Staffing is tight these days. I've been to a few restaurants recently that were quite understaffed, much to my chagrin (wait times are abnormal). Sure, yesterday was a holiday (happy belated Canada Day), but this has been going on for a bit now. There are literally tonnes of HELP WANTED signs everywhere. In fact, Pepsi has it sprayed right on their trucks, telling you to get a job with them online. One of my friend complained a few months ago about how Wendys was including a job application with his drive thru order.

We all know well and good that the labour pool is fairly tight. People have been telling this to my generation ever since we were in senior high. The baby boomers are retiring and spending their cash on recreational stuff now, creating huge demand that producers, suppliers, and services are pressed to keep up with. For those of us graduating in the next few years, that's great news. We'll be able to get a job and demand high wages for it. Many of us are looking forward to it and may even be feeling really easy because of it. However, there is another side to this job market equation that people haven't told us about.

The echo boomers, the kids of the baby boomers, are coming of age fairly soon. What this means is that within 5-10 years of us getting our jobs, there will be a suddenly influx in the labour pool and a lot of unemployment. Or, at least, crap employment. It'll be like the start of the baby boomer thing again, history going in circles, etc. etc.

So while we may have it easy for the next few years, we can't slack. We'll have to earn our wages appropriately and affix ourselves in the career of our choice. Else, corporations will be looking at the expensive employees to lay off first once cheap labour is readily available.

It's tough, but we must think rational and make good plans for the future in order to avoid being nipped in the arse by the same thing that is a blessing to us now.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Holistic Interpretation of Fate and Destiny

The idea of holistic reasoning is thrown around quite a bit these days as modern thinkers and scientist/theorist begin to see the world in a less dogmatic fashion and become more willing to accept a more multi-variable explanation of things. This takes into account a wider perspective. For example, up until recently, psychologist would debate on whether human behaviour is determined by genes (nature) or upbringing (nurture). This debate eventually settled in a tie of sorts with both sides seeing merit in the others argument. The result is an agreement that many different things effect the outcome of an event, which is a wholly holistic concept.

"Holistic" refers to the idea that individual events are caused by or is the result of many different and tiny events. There is a book by Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holisitic Detective Agency, wherein the protagonist solves the mystery by pulling together all the strange happenings and details in the story into a cohesive explanation. What seemed unrelated before suddenly became essential to solving the mystery.

If a person fails a class, for example, it seems obvious to blame his partying habit and tendency to skip class. However, there are people who do that and still do well in school, so we must delve further. Perhaps he had a bad sleeping habit, which caused him to lose focus during tests. Or maybe he wasn't a casual reader, which caused his writing ability to suffer. These things may not fail a person on their own, but when combined, they play an important role.

Those that believe in fate/destiny believe that they truly have no control over things that happen. They simply put things off as good or bad luck. Such a passive view of the workings of the world should be shunned in our post modernist society. Surprisingly, I have found that most people adopt the idea of fate/destiny for lack of a better alternative. Even those of an atheist following sometimes lack creativity, which hinders how they see the world and approach life.

What this means, however, is that, when presented with a better alternative, a lot of people are ready to accept and take on the concept. Not to say that they’re coerced or something, just that it makes sense. I’m not expecting everyone that reads this ramble to adopt my philosophy, but I am that people would find some things in it that they can work with and agree with. My holistic view on life allows for people to take action and take control of their life, which is much better than sitting back and passively taking what life dishes out to you.

How the holistic view works is quite simple and I’m guessing that most people have already put two and two together from my explanation of the holistic concept and their own general perception of life. In a nutshell, there is no fate or destiny, but rather just yourself affecting the things that happen to and around you. Our subconscious desires and motivation dictate our conscious decisions and actions. Just as all the tiny things in the examples before can add up to a large event, such as failing, these tiny and seemingly insignificant decisions can add up and create an important event in your life.

Here’s an example: say you wanted to meet someone new and start a relationship. You may not be entirely conscious of this desire and may be perfectly happy and content with your day to day grind in the world. However, you may find yourself interested in taking different routes to your daily hangouts or even just looking around more often at the people around you while commuting. These actions may not be entirely conscious, nor may they amount to much. Gradually, though, they can spark a change in your life and fulfill your unknown desire.

Recognizing this is vital. It can help you get out of a rut or help you achieve some of your conscious goals. The process is simple, you pick a goal and just put the odds in your favour. The difference between doing this normally and doing it with holistic on the mind is the motivation and rationalization factor. It explains how some people can naturally be motivated and succeed in life, but shows how average people can also do the same.

I'll definitely try to talk about this more, but I'm also trying to figure it out for myself. I believe, but I'm not certain, that the book The Secret speaks of something similar to this, where simply wanting something will inadvertently cause it to happen. The big difference is that, here, just wanting it is not enough, as your subconscious can still defy you. There are still internal obstacles to overcome, but it's worth it in the end.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Creative Nunchuk Kata

Midterm season! How horrible, I know. Anyways, this week's cop out is a video of my Nunchuk kata. If you have access to my facebook, I have a video of the same kata, but from a different vantage point. Anyways, enjoy and let me know what you think. I may have something fresh written up for next week, if not, I have another cop out prepared.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What it means to be a black belt

First off, a quick update on Scooter Polo. I was talking with friends and we decided that the "ball" would need to be something that did not roll easily, but could still be hit easily by the mallets. I proposed a block of wood, but I'm only half serious. The sport would look silly enough without a doorstop being the object of focus. We might as well paint it pink with glorious polka dots while we're at it.

Anyways, I will be testing for my black belt this Friday and I'm feeling a mixture of anticipation and jitteriness that everyone seems to get whenever they're put on the spot to perform. Typically this test is accompanied with an essay, but that hasn't been done for the last few tests. Still, I always liked the idea and thought that it is worthwhile to reflect on past training and lessons learned and what my accomplishment (I fully intend to pass) will mean.

The test won't be easy, that is my most sincere hope. If I breeze through it, then it will lessen the meaning behind the accomplishment. Black belt is meant to be something that not everyone can achieve. It requires massive amounts of hard work and dedication, among other things. I have been training in kickboxing since I was 15 (I'm 23 now), with a few years break in my grade 11 and 12 years. I also dabbled in BJJ for a few years, but it was all at the same school.

Black belt is kind of like a club. It is definitely not the end of a long journey, but rather a recognition that a person has achieved something. Aside from all the physical elements, it is character that is judged. When people think of martial artist, black belts especially, they see a very peaceful person who is very virtuous. Even in movies, the martial artist is typically a reluctant fighter, being forced to defend what is right. My sensei has often said that if everyone in the world were true martial artists, then the world would be a very peaceful place.

I suppose another way of saying this is that those without martial arts training are lacking confidence and security and usually suffer from some sort of inferiority complex that drives them to be aggressive and confrontational. I should clarify that this is not to say that everyone is like that. Martial arts training offers many opportunities for people to take on daunting challenges and succeed. This process of taking on difficult tasks and overcoming obstacles builds character and this process can exist in other things, such as music, sports, or studies. Those that rarely get the chance to shine in their own mind are those that eventually fall prey to deadly sins.

However, this doesn't explain things like world leaders seeking out wars or similar events occurring in recent or past history. One of the things that I feel other activities lack is a distinct opportunity to show respect and feel humility. In martial arts, which is riddled with traditions, every tiny action helps to mold the martial artist into a better person. Bowing and responding to the instructor shows respect, almost all schools have students bow to the school and their training area to show respect to inanimate things. Some even have students clean the floor of the school. In terms of humility, even now I am learning new things, sometimes from those lower ranked than myself. And, indeed, I also bow to my students when I teach. Respect and humility, in some ways, go hand in hand.

A fit body is a fit mind, usually. Martial arts is focused around the physical aspect a lot. Martial artists learn to become detailed oriented and show perseverance in long, repetitive practices. In sparring, we apply all of our technique in a very realistic fight, the only difference being the padding and the control. We learn to exercise our mind as well as our bodies, which leads to us considering other options before throwing up our fists.

There really isn't enough I can say about martial arts. In becoming a black belt, I can only reflect upon the person I was and the person I have become. Certainly, many of the changes and improvements of my person can be attributed solely to myself. But then again, that's basically martial arts as well isn't it? As we are doing the training not for others, but for ourselves. The school and the instructors are only guides, it is up to the individual to become the "black belt". This would account for the people who practice martial arts but may not be to standard on the personality scale.

Wish me luck this Friday. If you are in town, the testing is at 6pm at Cobra Kai in Burnaby.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Scooter Polo

File this one under "Crazy and/or Silly Ideas". I was hanging out with some of my girlfriend's friends and, I don't know how we got on the subject, but I suddenly developed a huge urge to conceptualize and play Scooter Polo. That is, a game similar to polo, but on manual scooters (like the Razor that was popular a few years ago, not the electric or motor ones, the ones that little kids can use). Somehow we were talking about playing a random game together and someone brought up polo. Unfortunately, none of us had horses. There is a variation involving Segways, but we didn't have any of those either. But the discussion did make me think about scooters. I didn't have a scooter myself, but a few of my friends and my girlfriend has one and I sometimes liked to have fun on them (kind of makes me think about the Mazda zoom zoom concept).

The next day, while shopping at a sports store, I noticed a croquet set and scooters on sale. I didn't buy them, but it did make me think and re-invigorated my interest in a scooter variation of polo. So, here we go:

Scooter Polo
Currently this game is designed for recreation. Thus, rules are informal and players should make sure that anything vague is clarified or modified accordingly.

Set up
4 vs. 4 or 3 vs. 3, no goalies
Played in an enclosed space, like a roller hockey rink, with boundaries boarded so that the ball doesn’t go out of bounds, but instead bounces back.
The goal is the same as a hockey net, including the crease
You may pass through the crease, but must maintain constant forward motion. Additionally, your feet cannot touch down inside the crease.
Each player should have an arm length mallet and a scooter. There are no real protective equipment, but closed toe shoes are strongly recommended. If possible, players should all use similar equipment. I recommend standard croquet mallets and average to economy standard scooters.
The goal does not need a net and can be marked by anything. The crease should be noted in some fashion.
The ball can be anything spherical, a roller hockey ball or a croquet ball would suffice.

Moving the Ball
You can only hit the ball with a full swing (starting with the mallet straight up and swinging 180 degrees to hit the ball) and when both feet are on the scooter.
Goals can only be scored by legal hits of the ball
The mallet can only touch the ball, but the ball can be touched by mallets and scooters, but not feet or other body parts.
If the ball is airborne, it may be knocked down in any manner, provided that it is knocked down immediately with the first contact.
Other rules
As this is a recreational sport, bodily contact is prohibited. It is considered good sportsmanship to be moving primarily laterally between the two goals, moving horizontally across the play area should typically be only done when changing directions. This should prevent accidental collisions.

Well, that's all I can think about currently in terms of rules. Most other things are similar to polo, or can be covered with house rules. If there is anything that you think I should address, let me know.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Spoken Word: The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories

Thought I'd try something different this week, I hope you enjoy it. There is a few tongue-twisted moments, especially near the end of the first video, but it should be ok. I'm too lazy to re-record.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Subdued Sensibility

I'm pretty late for this week's blog post, but I'll get to that in a bit.

Thus far, I have managed to keep one of my 2008 New Years Resolutions, which was to maintain this weekly blog. Although there may have been some bumps and corner cutting along the way, I am proud that I have managed to keep my resolution for almost half the year. As I may have mentioned before, I have a problem with procrastination.

For this particular week, I was plagued with Team Fortress 2, an online multi-player game that I got for my birthday and one which I'm determined to master. I'm taking the time right now to make a blog post as I know full well that if I start playing again at anytime, I won't get anything done.

While procrastination is not something new and unique to myself (I'm sure all of us procrastinate a bit at some point or another), my ability to forgo logic in the process is utterly fascinating. Not only do I somehow overcome overbearing logic that would otherwise motive weaker willed people, but I counter my own logic with reasoning that justifies my actions.

I'll say right now that I fully intend to give up TF2 starting Sunday evening up until my Black belt testing on June 13th. Whether that will happen or not is still in the air. In my mind there is a constant and fierce battle between my motivated personality and my slacker one. Certainly I can become incredibly engrossed in work, evident in quite a few projects that I have undertaken so far this year. However, the hardest part always seems to be getting started. For example, I procrastinate sleep. I can feel a strong urge to rest, but I simply cannot seem to remove myself from whatever activity I'm engaged in and drag myself into bed and close my eyes. Pulling all nighters during exam times have seem to ingrain a habit of staying up late even when there isn't anything to do. For the most part, I would play games, but I would stop that once my mental and motor responsiveness decays. Even then, I would chug along for a couple more hours doing random things until I absolutely must collapse on the bed.

This happens often enough that I can recognize the onset early on. Yet, somehow, I cannot prevent myself from entering the vicious cycle. This is what I called subdued sensibility. The concept is a variation of a decision making trick that I crafted up a while back. The decision making trick is simple: you use a random event, such as a toss of the coin or roll of the dice, to help you make a decision. Once the decision is made by the random event, you examine your own feelings about the decision outcome and, based on your emotions, you can figure out which decision is, in actuality, your preference. For example, if you're deciding between two colours on a purchase (maybe a DS?), you can toss a coin to force one choice upon yourself. If you don't mind the decision, then you go with the coin, but if you're hesitant and not that willing to act on the coin, your preference is obviously the alternative. While this method does not take into consideration third variables, such whether you actually want either in the first place, it does help to make a vast majority of binary decisions.

Subdued sensibility, on the other hand, is a concept that explains your thinking process when you rationalize some action over what logical reasoning dictates. For example, if you know you should be studying, but end up watching a hockey game on TV, your mind provides you with an excuse to ignore studying for the duration of the game. You may suffer regret, or cognitive dissonance, afterwards, but while you're procrastinating, normal sensibility has been ostracized.

The solution? Utilize your brain and make a contingency plan. Do not rely on yourself to make the right decision at the crucial moment. That situation is not unlike relying on a freshly awaken mind to correctly decided between getting up and going back to bed. More likely that not, if you haven't trained yourself, you would go back to bed. My little sister told me recently that she sleeps on the floor on important dates so to prevent herself from oversleeping. Myself, I have developed many systems to keep me from procrastinating. The current one involves keeping a To Do list on Google calendar. However, I may need to change up my habits again as this system is starting to wane in effectiveness. If you have suggestions, I'm willing to give them a shot if I haven't already. 

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Entertaining ourselves to death

There is a book on my shelf by the late Neil Postman entitled, Amusing Ourselves to Death. In the book, Mr. Postman attacks society's love affair with technology, reasoning that it would inevitably lead to our ruination. Mind you, I personally have only read excerpts of Postman's writings. His book sits on my shelf with at least two years worth of dust on it. In the articles that I have read, I've only found a hint of the technophobia that Postman is accused of spreading. And while some of his ideas are rightly laughable given our knowledge today, there are some sound arguments that should be brought into light.

We need not look further than pollution to see that the world is going to hell in a hand basket because of our technology and our attitude towards technology. It is said that the next generation is the last chance humankind will get to clean up their mess. To some, that's a scary thought, to others, it means that they don't have to worry about it. Unfortunately, the actions of the next generation are partially determined by nurture and a pedagogy dictated by "do as I say and not as I do" has rarely encountered success. We love our cars, electricity and consumption too much to even slow down and try to make a minimal difference. Not to point any fingers, but I'm sure that everyone is guilty of being unwilling to give up something that would have benefited the future of the Earth.

This mindset is our irrational love affair with technology. Even though we know better, we make excuses for ourselves to get out of them. Naturally there are many people doing a lot for the good cause, but there are still more things that even they can do. Again, this is say without the intent to offend. Cynicism is a theme of this blog after all.

So I was sick last week. I ended up playing a lot of video games while I was bed-ridden. While I can understand the need for modern day conveniences like fast transportation and illumination after sunset, I still don't know why there is so much investment in entertainment. This is not directly technology related, but is something that has been on mind every since the Playstation 2 was announced.

The PS2 is apparently so powerful that it can be used to direct a warhead. To use such technology and other resource to entertain children seems to me to be equivalent to harnessing the nuclear power of the sun to make a single lollipop for a 3 year old. Economy and "market opportunities" are a subsidiary nuance born from our love affair with technology, stemming from the industrial revolution and onwards. While I do love my video games (ask anyone), it still boggles my mind that there are people out there who can do incredible work to forward the significant progress of mankind and they are, instead, working on the next Mario game.

It is strange to think that we are dooming ourselves in entertainment and convenience, but I suppose of the motives for such actions are escapism and laziness, then it is merited. I still have more to say on this topic, but this is a suitable introduction.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Last of M&M Comics

Stricken with illness this week and I can't quite bring myself to do anything. Only 4 more M&M comics left in the archives, so I guess I'll throw them up for this week. I can't believe I've managed to keep this blog up to date for 5 months now. Not too shabby if I don't say so myself.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Jung at Heart (part two)

There are many arguments for and against the stereotypes portrayed on television. It seems that, no matter how you argue, television does have a role to play in influencing youths. Mr. Carl Jung had an idea about the human psyche that involved stereotypes, or archetypes, that people inherently knew from birth. These preconceptions guided people's behaviours in their day to day interactions with other people.

Inherent knowledge aside, I feel that television plays a vital role in helping people encode and decipher identities. That is, television presents stereotypes that become subconsciously ingrained into modern culture and people draw from those images to mold themselves into an easily recognizable stereotype. Television, in other words, act as the "key" in this code: people who identify themselves in a particular way want others to identify them in the same way and so they assume qualities that have been associated with that identity, regardless of whether that quality defines them as a person. These stereotypes that people learn from television and other pop culture media also helps them in identifying other people. People are quick to judge, not because of bias, but because there is a need to rectify the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing how to interact with someone.

Here's an example. My girlfriend got her Bachelors last year in June, but she went back to school in order to become a high school teacher. Before her practicum, she expressed a dire need to go out and buy some "teacher" clothes and a "teacher" bag. These are items that would allow her to show that she wasn't a student, but a teacher. By acquiring and using these items, she is hoping that other people will identify her as a teacher and not as something else.

This is not a bad thing. Rather, it is a necessary thing. People do not walk around with a large version of their business card pinned to their shirt to help you identify them. There is a reason why the police and other important people have uniforms. It is because there is a need for people to recognize and correctly identify each other. Television is a huge factor in this communication process, however, as I mentioned last week, some of the "stereotypes" that it portrays is dangerously wrong and is being picked up and assimilated by the wrong demographic.

So, while we can't and we shouldn't stop television from stereotyping people, there are some things that we have to be careful about. Along with the images of "adulthood" being shown to the tweens, there are still some unfair and malicious portrayals of the homosexual demographic on television as well, which can cause some serious harm to people trying to encode their identity and to people trying to decode it.

As human beings, our mind works at a million miles a second. It is important that we learn to understand where our feelings and behaviours come from. Doing so will allow us to improve ourselves and the way we interact with others. If for nothing else, it will help us to hone our encoding/decoding ability.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Jung at heart: The media's role in identification

This is going to be a two-part discussion. This first part takes a look at the negative aspects of identification being influenced by the media. The next part will look at the "positives", which are not really positives, but more like inevitable and necessary elements in society. If possible, I'll try to link some ideas back to Jung and his ideas about stereotypes, but if I fail to, you should go and do some worthwhile research.

Stereotypes is not an uncommon topic in discussions revolving around the media. In particular, much concern is raised about the images portrayed and how impressionable youngsters mimic and mirror them. Just yesterday, my girlfriend showed me some music videos from the newly established group, Girlicious. Everything about the video, and I do mean everything, screamed skanky and only worked to degenerate females. I mean, the song was called "Stupid Shit" and it features the barely legal girls strutting their stuff in school girl uniforms before a whole bunch of other girls join them and they all strip to their skivvies.

From this, it is easy to see why people are voicing so much concern. It's easy for me and maybe older teens, say those 16 and older, to recognize that the entire Girlicious thing makes no real sense and is silly and stupid overall. When the group was still a reality TV show, I recall the producer eliminating girls for being too trashy and saying that they're looking for something classy. Honestly, I can't really tell the difference.

When the Spice Girls was initially formed, their target market was girls 14 and older. However, they failed to hit their target market, namely for the same reasons that Girlicious is looking so terrible to me right now. Instead, Spice Girls were popular with a new demographic, the Tweens. The Tweens represent those beTWEEN the stages of childhood and adolescence (aka teenagers). Typically the age group would be 10-12 and, strangely or not so strangely, this group is prominent and easy to identify with girls but not boys. While boys stay immature well into their twentys (some say), girls do go through various stages that marketers have found to have pronounced differences in consumer behaviour.

As I mentioned before, those already in their teens are old enough to recognize the absurdity in these commercial images. However, those in their tweens are not. Instead, they desire to move quickly out of childhood and into adulthood and look at the Spice Girls and Girlicious as a model that they can copy. The biggest issue surrounding this, is that behaviour affected eventually becomes behaviour rationalized. That is, even if one is just acting out a behaviour without a reason behind it, eventually they will develop a mindset to rationalize that behaviour, formally and permanently adopting that behaviour as their own. This is the biggest concern because it means that the teens of tomorrow will actually be like what we see in the Spice Girls and Girlicious. In fact, the reason why the level of skankiness has stepped up to where it is today is because the level had been breached and adopted in the past. Without the adoption, the level would have just been maintained and re-packaged for the same age group year after year.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Exam Week Poetry

Exams this week, so I thought I'd laid down some poetry that I wrote down last week while looking out the window. Seems like I keep writing about trees these days.

Seasonal Party (2008)

The largest cherry blossom on my block
Has a poor sense of timing.

It garnishes and accessorizes
Its aged and wrinkly branches
With feminine pink,
A million soft sequins.

But as the other trees arrive
In their best dress and outifts.
The largest tree's modesty
Would already be scattered and spread
On my lawn and on the street,
The blunder of unfashionable earliness.

Street Lamp (2008)

I saw the immediate aftermath.
Rows of uprooted victims.
Months later,
A forest of dull green metal
Conceals the history of the fallen.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

M&M part 2

Well, it's finals time and I've no time to really write anything. So I'll just take the lazy person's way out and post some more M&M comics that I did in the past.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Sub-culturally diverse advertisement

Happy April fools day! Here's a joke:

I was walking by the Liquor store the other day when I noticed that the large windows were decorated with huge banner ads for "Support Dry Grad." The funny thing was, each ad portrayed a different sub-culture stereotype. There was the jock, the goth, and some others. I found it hilarious because these groups would never be caught dead together. And yet, this may be one of the only times when sub-culturally diverse advertisement might work: when it's advertising to people who have to deal with these different sub-cultures daily (eg. parents and teachers)

Culturally diverse advertisement are those that strive to depict as many cultures as possible. If you ever watched a commercial and wonder why there is always a woman, a black guy, a Mexican, and a Chinese person, this is why. It's supposed to be politically correct in a way, but it's also necessary to reach out to minorities because they represent a huge demographic that everyone wants a piece of. Cultural diversity in media is also prevalent in movies and television shows: there is always a token minority character in an action movie, etc.

Sub-culturally diverse advertisement are those that try to feature as many sub-cultures as possible. Sub-cultures exists within cultures. You can think of them as a specific and large kind of cliques. There really is no wrong way to identify a sub-culture, they can be categorized by the music they listen to, by the forms of entertainment that they enjoy, even by their sexual orientation. As you can imagine, most people exist in several sub-cultures at once while they may only live in one or two cultures at most. This is just one of the problems with sub-culturally diverse ads. It's hard to pin-point recognizable sub-culture stereotypes to use in advertisement and more often than not, you're going to end up offending someone or making people laugh. An unintentional example of this would be a couple of radio ads that I hear on Fox currently. One is the fountain tire ad that features a lifeguard (I'm a lifeguard) and the other is a Red Bull commercial about studying for Biology (I'm a student). Both are cringe-worthy and makes me turn off the radio as soon as they come on, but I'm sure others wouldn't mind listening through all of it.

The biggest problem with sub-culturally diverse advertisement is the fact that you really can't use it to target multiple sub-cultures. While people of mixed origins are used to living with each other and have come to expect ads to feature a cultural mosaic, those in different sub-cultures really don't have any reason to associate themselves with any other sub-cultures. It may happen on the individual level, but rarely as a collective. As such, you can't really make an ad featuring both rockers and country/techno enthusiasts and expect to get a positive reaction from all groups. Rather, the fact that you're trying to associate polar opposites will most likely turn all groups featured away.

Even with individual ads and campaigns, sub-cultures pose a problem to advertisers wishing to target them. When trying to market vodka to straights and gays, Absolut uses different campaigns to target each group. However, if a few insecure macho men discover the gay targeted ads, it would no doubt cost Absolut some customers.

This is why sub-culturally diverse ads are a joke, they're impossible to use without turning people away and costing advertisers money in the long run. I made an exception above for people not directly in the featured sub-cultures, but those that deal with them daily, like teachers and parents. However, even then, there has got to be a better way to advertise to these groups without turning off potential future customers that are in the sub-cultures and will hold a grudge.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Trees at a Parking Lot

Standing evenly spaced
in line, at attention.
Sporting gnarled crew cuts,
unruliness untolerated
and boundaries maintained.

The trees were deprived of soul,
and self-confidence.

Sitting high atop one,
a collection of carefully placed branches,
Stubborn to the shouting wind.

Signs of life that would be had
if the birds were back
to spread like lice
from tree to tree
and crew cut to crew cut.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Updated article on Conspicuous Sustainability

Conspicuous Sustainability

...or how I learned to stop worrying and love the trend.

Sustainability is a very popular catchphrase nowadays. Companies work hard to let their companies know that their practices are environmentally friendly and that their products are green. Celebrities have begun voice their opinions on the matter. Their demand for clothes and toys that fit their new cool and trendy lifestyle is eagerly supported by environmentalists, who needs the money and attention, and by their fans, who labour to imitate them.

It is getting to the point where it is difficult to differentiate between those that are madly passionate about saving the world and the knowledgeable early trend adopters. Luckily, there still exists the type of people that wear their hearts on their sleeves, so to speak.

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These people practice conspicuous sustainability. I hesitate to use the word “greenwashing” as it explicitly refers to something else and carries with it a strong negative connotation. Instead, a page is taken out of Veblen’s book.

There is a positive and negative side to conspicuous consumption. The negative side is obvious to those that have studied Veblen: wasteful consumption, compulsive spending, etc. However, the positives are not so obvious. These people tended to be the early adopters of new technology and tastes/styles and were not afraid to spend the money to get it. You may have heard of the 20/80 rule, where 20 percent of one's customers provide 80 percent of one's revenue. Since these early adopters demanded innovation and were providing the bulk of profit, businesses were motivated to provide newer and better things, resulting in the lifestyle and consumer/producer model we enjoy today as well as giving the economy a big boost.

Similarly, there is a positive and negative side to conspicuous sustainability. The negative side includes sustainability falling out of fashion and greenwashing, which involves companies highlighting certain “green” elements of products while keeping the non-environmentally friendly aspects hidden. The big positive, however, is the amount of attention and awareness being brought to the topic of sustainability. Because of this attention, I believe that it would be impossible for this trend to ever go away. The social enigma of being a tree-hugger has been removed and in its place are litterbugs and eco-villains. Green has become the norm and standard. It is quickly reaching the point where non-green actions are considered faux pas, similar to how wearing fur coats would net you dirty looks.

This brings us to an interesting conclusion: whether people are genuinely practicing green activities, or if they are just trying to be trendy, in the end, they are still doing the world a favour in preserving it. For that reason, I am content to put aside my cynicism and focus it on other things, like American elections.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

M&M Part 1

Another busy week as I rush to complete a bunch of stuff by Friday. I hope you'll forgive me as I indulge in some nostalgia.

Time seems to fly sometimes. To me, my high school graduation always seems to be just last summer. When I stop to think about it, however, I know that it's been 5 years and my university graduation is just looming ahead.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like, to meet this younger version of myself. How would I see my future self. There is a lot to think about and reflect upon.
I present today, a blast from the past. A comic that I did with my best friend, Mike. We worked on it during the last year of high school but it didn't go very far. In my first year at my high school, I wrote a letter to my 18 year old self that the counsellor kept. When I opened it again, I found that the letter came with a long joke that I found hilarious at the time. Looking at the comic now, I feel the same way I felt when I re-read that long joke, some parts are still funny while others makes me cringe a bit. I could understand why I found it funny but I could also see myself patronizing my younger, immature self as well. In either case, enjoy the first few! I'll whip out some more later on.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Conspicuous Sustainability

...or how I learned to stop worrying and love the hype.

Note: I've redone this article for a school publication. The new article utilizes the correct definition of "greenwashing". I will post the new article at a later time.

I had this topic in mind ever since Boxing Day. I was shopping with my girlfriend in Off the Wall at Metrotown when I noticed a bag hanging off a wall rack. It was one of those grocery shopping/library bags, you know the kind that is ugly-durable and can be reused until the end of time. My mom and grandma had a bunch of them way back when, as a demonstration of their uncoolness, before the bags were popularized for their reusable/sustainable ways.

Anyways, what made this bag stand out to me (aside from its gaudier than gaudy quality that considerably made it worse than any of the other gaudy things in the store) was the line that was printed (in a gaudy fashion, no less) on the face of the bag. It read "This bag is made with 100% recycled cotton"

It came across to me that it was not enough to simply popularize the bag as reusable and better than plastic. Instead, all the exemplary qualities of the bag must be thrust into the face of all passing by. It was, in fact, an exceptional example of what I call conspicuous sustainability.

Conspicuous sustainability is related to greenwashing, but is also category unto itself. Greenwashing refers to how companies and corporations try to cover every facet of their business with sustainable practices and then market the hell out of it. Well, without my negative connotation. The fact that the practices are sustainable are usually a side benefit for these businesses. More often than not, these practices are adopted because they are cost effective. That is, it's cheaper to produce more waste or to use less energy. That way you don't have to pay for trash removal or shipping energy from elsewhere. However, since it is sustainable, businesses also like to advertise the fact in order to gain even more benefit from their new policy and actions, drawing in more conscious minded customers.

Greenwashing is a play on the word whitewashing, but instead of covering things or cleaning up things so that they're white and spotless, greenwashing ensures that a company is entirely green and environmentally friendly. Conspicuous sustainability, on the other hand, refers to the term conspicuous consumption, which was first coined by Veblen in 1899. Veblen, in regarding to the leisure class, noted how people tended to purchase things for the sole purpose of showing it off. Often, these products or services would help to denote their social class and worth. In the modern day, almost everything can be considered conspicuous as the postmodern person often purchase products and services for the hedonic, or pleasurable, experience. What this means is that the function and practicality of the product is often put off to the sideline or ignored completely.

However, conspicuous consumption is not entirely a bad thing. While appealing to a more sinister side of human behaviour, that is pride and egotism, conspicuous consumption has allowed for tremendous boosts in the economy. If it weren't for the upper classes spending their cash on frivolous things, there would be little cash flow in the economy. That is, if all people did was save save save, then a lot of people would be out of a job.

These people tended to be the early adopters of new technology and tastes/styles and were not afraid to spend the money to get it. You may have heard of the 20/80 rule, where 20 percent of one's customers provide 80 percent of one's revenue. Since these early adopters demanded innovation and were providing the bulk of profit, businesses were motivated to provide newer and better things, resulting in the lifestyle and consumer/producer model we enjoy today.

Similarly, I believe greenwashing and conspicuous sustainability to have long lasting positive outcome, wherein people are more aware and more proactive in preserving the environment. This is regardless of their intention. They could be doing it because it is trendy (or it may become a faux pas to not be green, similar to how fur coats are now looked down upon) or they could be doing it because they genuinely care. In either case, there will be a general motion towards green activity and this will become mainstay and the norm, which is a great thing. So, though other may be cynical of greenwashing and sneer at those practicing conspicuous sustainability (such as celebrities or Off the Wall customers), in the end it all goes towards something positive and that outcome will be reached, with or without intent.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Some Poems

First Meeting (2001)

The tangle of their lifeline
Rarely entwine with ours.
I have only seen them twice
In all my years in the mountains.

His head was crowned
With an antique finished oak coat hanger.
His heir, of unknown gender
Was grazing the grass that hid in the snow.

I watched them
Through the rear window, listening to music
As they stood their ground.
Hearing only the crunching
Of hooves and the hum of the motor.

I'm working on a second poem, but I'm not satisfied with it enough to post it just yet.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Debunking John Gabriel's Greater Internet Theory: An Evolution in Internet Vigilantism

If you roamed the streets of Vancouver on February 10th, 2008, you might have been treated to a physical manifestation of an internet rant to the melody of 200 people wearing V for Vendetta masks protesting outside the Church of Scientology in downtown.

Aside from the usual slogan shouting, pamphlet distributing, and sign waving customary for protesters, this group, calling themselves "Anonymous", also indulged themselves in Rickrolling, image macros, and other internet memes that would have you scouring wikipedia for hours trying to catch up with the times. One of the participants of the protest in London, UK noted that only half of the crowd really got the joke at any given time. However, it is the other half that would carry the momentum until the next inside joke is shouted.

One of my favourite quotes from the event: "Ideologically speaking, how do you fight a crowd who is enthusiastically shouting that you should "DO A BARREL ROLL! DO A BARREL ROLL!"

I won't talk too much more about Project Chanology as I'm no expert. There are many other reports about it that you can find with a quick search on Google. What is noteworthy in all of this is that this event signifies that internet vigilantism has reached a new level of drive and focus. People are no longer hiding behind computer screens, but are willing to allow their opinion of right and wrong to dictate their physical actions in the real world. The internet, instead, acts as a breeding ground for ideas, opinions, and organization.

In the case of Project Chanology, the source is 4chan.org, a seething cesspool of derogation and general ill-repute (author claims nothing to be his own opinion). This open forum is a nightmare to navigate, leading to hours of browsing with little to show for it. That, in itself, is a feature of the site as there is rarely anything substantial to be found on 4chan save for obscure thoughts that may one day spread like wildfire throughout the internet in the form of a meme, such as LOLcats did.

In the early and adolescent days of 4chan, John Gabriel's Theory holds true. Anonymity and desire for attention did lead a good number of "normal" (this cannot be tested or checked) people to become, pardon my French, bastards. In fact, there is a special section in 4chan, labeled as /b/, where there are no rules and people can be a politically incorrect as they please. If you're a light gamer and often wonder why other gamers find it difficult to avoid homophobic or racist remarks, part of the problem is 4chan.

However, in recent times, the collective direction of 4chan has shifted. No longer does Anonymous harass people over the phone and mail. These activities can be interpreted as juvenile: similar to how children may react violently to negative opinions, 4chan typically replies with DOS attacks on websites, notably news media websites. Instead, 4chan seems to have grown up, taking a stronger stance against pedophiles, even contributing to the arrest of a child pornographer.

While they may not necessary shrug off their dickwad behaviour, the target of said behaviour makes all the difference. You can think of them as a politician that makes things happen rather than the jock next door with a dead end job. In this case, John Gabriel's theory fails as Anonymous is gathering positive attention and, dare I say it, respect. They may be dickwads, but not total dickwads.

The focus of Anonymous' energy this time around is the entire church of Scientology, whose reach is quite broad. There is even a booth for them in my university where they offer stress tests and sell L. Ron Hubbard's book. If you are interested in Project Chanology, I'll leave it up to you to research on the many reasons why they are targeting Scientology and what they hope to accomplish with their actions, on the internet and otherwise. The important thing to note, for the sake of this ramble, is that internet vigilantism is evolving.

There is still anonymity, as the protesters hide their identities with masks, paranoia, and other methods. There is a larger audience, as Anonymous is trying to bring enough media attention to Scientology in order to garner the desired official actions. However, there is a palatable lacking of asshatery as all the protests across the world have been peaceful and polite (at least to the police). Anonymous stayed within their legal boundaries and whenever mob mentality started brewing, it was quickly quashed from within. For example, a brasher protester started shouting profanity on a megaphone, but did not find any support. Instead, he was booed and shouts of "Epic Fail!" were heard.

At times, people might worry about vigilantism as it can get out of control. As with anything, who watches the watchers? In this case, Anonymous has a built in self-checking system. This is mainly due to the fact there is no systemic unity or cohesiveness in Anonymous. Rather, they are joined by a roughly similar sense of justice and callousness. Anonymous consists of individuals, not members. They can turn on each other at any moment and are eager to do so. There is no leader, no immunity. And yet, as is the beauty of the internet and social networking, they somehow can organize and work together efficiently and effectively. The call to action for Project Chanology was in late January and by the end of the February, there will be three global protests already.

So what is fueling this evolution? My supposition is fairly simple, it's age. In a way, you can compare this evolution to that of Alex in Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, and by that, I mean not the movie. Both the movie and the original American publication of Burgess' work are missing the true ending that reveals Burgess' thoughts on criminality and juvenile delinquency. Essentially, Alex, after leading a life full of crime and ultra violence, finds himself oddly yearning for a quiet, peaceful life with a nice wife and child. I would even go as far as saying that he wanted to positively contribute to society. The message here is clear: criminality is but a phase and eventually people move on to become participants in society.

Naturally, that isn't always true, if you think of crime as a job, you either take it up a notch and get "promoted" to more organized forms of crime or you become discouraged by the high risks and low rewards and "quit" to rejoin society. But with that aside, this idea is applicable to debunking John Gabriel's Theory. Eventually, people will stop being dickwads with little outside influence. In a word, they'll get bored of it and will start acting like normal, decent people again.

In the case of Anonymous, this means that the users are maturing. Even if there continues to be a huge influx of young and new participants in 4chan, the original core group is already moving onto bigger and more constructive things, like political lobbying. These actions will have a huge impact on the next generation of 4chan users and, as a whole, Anonymous will grow up.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Automated Barber

Phew, this week was hard, with all the projects and Valentining going around. Next week is midterms week, but I'll try to get something, anything up as well. I know! I'll talk about my short story book idea next week. Thus, I won't mention it this week, but I'll let you guys read one of my short stories. Enjoy!


Jasper had a particular tidbit of information that he verified for himself beyond reasonable doubt. For a nine year old, living in an era of force-fed education, it was an astounding feat of persistence and intelligence. He had determined that no one liked the town barber.

The elders living in Jasper’s small hometown were very curt and tight-lipped. One could go as far as saying that they were political. They knew that gossip spread like wildfire among the dry conversations that irritated Jasper. His own caretaker was one of the more talkative types and, as invaluable as that quality was for his research, it pained him greatly whenever he had to sit through lunch dates with her friends.

Equally disliked was Dr. Au, the dentist. That, however, was a long sustained fact that was learned during one such lunch discussion. Dentistry seemed to suffer seasons, becoming busier at certain times of the year, not unlike the efficacy of the sun. Halloween and Easter were usually blamed. When Dr. Au was unable to manage and cope, the town barber would lend a helping hand. It was a strange undertaking considering the modern age that they were living in, but it was often stated that the barber was over qualified for his job. Still, heralding medieval practices made the townspeople uneasy. Jasper also suspected that Dr. Au’s unpopularity slowly transferred over to the barber through association.

Either that or the barber was an awful dentist. It was something that Jasper could not test, being blessedly cursed with teeth that seemed impermeable to cavities. Jasper had even tried skipping brushing once, but was found out before anything good got going. His caretaker took him immediately for a check up after that. Since it was never busy season during regular check ups, he only saw the regular specialist. Similarly, the town’s only barber did Jasper’s regular haircuts.

Jasper was thinking about the barber more than usual today, allowing himself to become deeply immersed in his thoughts in order to drown out the boring banter during lunch. He had a haircut appointment today and was dreading it. Everything about the grooming process made Jasper suffer cold, steely chills up and down his spine.

First, there was the barber. The greeting heard when one first walks through the door is less of a greeting and more of an utterance of distaste. It was as if the barber did not welcome business and would much rather be standing and gazing out the window all day. The next thing that Jasper dreaded was the chair. The barber could somehow know your weight just by looking at you. Jasper was sensitive about his weight, which was deceivingly immense, giving his physique. It bothered him greatly that he had to sit in the heavyweight chair. He would much rather risk breaking one of the normal chairs than to suffer the humiliation of sitting in the big chair. Although it was a weekday and most people his age were at school, Jasper still found himself ill-logically making a quiet prayer that the barbershop would be empty.

The haircut itself was the most frightful thing of all. The barber seemed to assume that Jasper’s head was as hard as his own and would make grotesque, grandiose motions, pausing and posing his hands far above Jasper’s head before swooping in with the scissors to make a single snip. It was an artistic endeavour for the barber, who was of European make, and he liked to create a spectacle and show out of each visit. Most of the time, however, he only succeeds in shocking and scaring his customers. Still, he was the only barber in town and people were forced to go to him when they want to look good.

As his allotted appointment time approached, Jasper’s anxiety increased. Lunch was over and he helped carry the day’s shopping to the car. They had run out of errands for the day and next item of note was his haircut. Along the way, Jasper fidgeted endlessly in his seat. The thought of watching the reflection of the barber’s terrible cold and stern demeanour in the mirror as he contemplated Jasper’s hair made Jasper contemplate jumping out of the car. If he timed it right, he could tuck and roll on a grassy patch and get away with only a few minor nicks and dents. It was only the greater fear of being caught afterwards that kept Jasper in the car.

When they arrived at the barbershop, Jasper obediently got out and politely opened the door for the caretaker, but he dragged his heels when he walked towards the door. As in the past, the barber’s greeting to him was cold and monotone, almost forced. The barber’s eyes fixated on Jasper and his arms gestured awkwardly to the heavyweight chair. Jasper let out an audible sigh, but his caretaker’s stern look made him pick up his heels as he made his way to his seat.

Jasper glanced at his reflection in the mirror before sitting down, committing his long haired appearance to memory. He noted that his outward expression was stoic as usual; save for the slight redness in his eyes that gave away his fears. He closed his eyes for a moment in an attempt to get rid of the redness, but when he opened them again, the first thing that he saw was the barber hovering behind him with a pair of scissors ready in each hand. In that moment of surprise, Jasper could have sworn that his eyes went completely red and glowed brighter than Rudolph’s nose. The barber simply chuckled and waited until Jasper relaxed and calmed down before starting the haircut.

With surgical precision, the sharp edges of the barber’s tools danced about Jasper’s head. His caretaker watched on, intrigued. At times, especially on the sideburns and around the ears, the scissors came within a millimetre of his face. Jasper was normally good at keeping still, but it also helped that he was scared stiff. Unable to watch the blades buzz about his head without shuddering, Jasper watched the barber himself. There was an air of concentration to be found in the expression of the barber. His eyebrows furrowed deep wrinkles on his forehead and Jasper could make out sweat beads that trickled down his nose and unto his neatly waxed mustache.

Suddenly, probability struck. One of the droplets of sweat was too close to the barber’s nostril when he inhaled and the discomfort caused him to falter. The barber’s right hand erred towards Jasper and jabbed him just above the ear while the left hand moved on impulse towards the barber’s nose to wipe the sweat and he poked himself in the cheekbone lightly before stopping himself.

Jasper was still disinclined to move, but he could feel the wet slickness oozing out of his head wound, the cool liquid trickled onto and around the back of his ear. The barber apologized profusely and immediately grabbed a towel from the counter and held it to his own face. The damage on the barber was minimal and he stopped bleeding almost immediately. Using the same towel, the barber wiped around Jasper’s ear and guided Jasper’s hand to hold the towel against the side of his head.

Jasper looked at himself in the mirror again. The towel, which was previously bleached white, was now soiled with black and red. The black in particular was in abundance and Jasper looked around, checking the countertop for a clean substitute. On the bright side, Jasper thought, his hair looked great.

The bleeding stopped before the barber came back with a patch for the cut, making the bandage unnecessary. The barber apologized again as he gave Jasper’s hairdo a few final flourishes. Jasper entertained the notion that the barber’s reputation would surely drop a few more notches after this incident, but he made sure to keep his smile to himself.

Apologizing once more, the barber waived the usual charge for the haircut. Jasper felt alleviated. It would be months, maybe years, before he would have to visit the barber again. He took the sullied towel with him as a keepsake. There was a wonderful tie-dye-like pattern on it, tiny dots of red freckled the middle while streaks of black formed petals around it. Jasper was reminded of the eyes he saw in the mirror, though the colours were reversed.

They were halfway home before the caretaker thought to take Jasper to see the usual specialist regarding the cut on his head.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Metapost: HeroesARG.com

I'll probably end up posting something else this week as well. But just in case I fail to, don't fret! You can still catch my quips and quirks in my weekly commentary of Heroes Graphic Novels at www.heroesarg.com

In the meantime, have a good week. I'll try to have a short story or something up this week.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Nethologica - Prologue Part 2

Here's the continuation of the prologue. Note that the story will be mainly fantasy, but there are some instances of sci-fi mixed in. I'm very interested in hearing what people think of this story, so please comment and let me know your opinion.


Willow was not cheap with her bullets. She stepped quickly, but lightly, towards the double glass doors that were the entrance to the restaurant. She used the flashlight attachment of her rifle sparingly, relying more on the intermittent night guides left on by the night janitor and the natural lighting from the sky that filtered in through the windows, skylights, and the main entrance.

As she approached the front of the restaurant, her ears noted a rhythmic tapping and scratching sound ahead of her. Squinting her eyes a bit, she noticed a shadow—no, a silhouette, blocking some of the glow that penetrated the glass doors from the street.

She raised her rifle almost entirely on reflex. Resting the butt on her shoulder, she checked her aim briefly before squeezing the trigger. Her finger held the trigger down as her weapon fired two short bursts of bullets that she traced from the body of the rat to its head. The sound of gunfire and rodent screams would have surely awoken any neighbours, but pest control rarely got any complaints.

Willow had already pressed the call button on her vest to report to the captain before she noticed that something was wrong. Bullets were meant to embed themselves in the object that they were fired upon, coupling with the target and causing more damage that way. However, Willow’s shots had gone clean through the rat and the glass doors, giving her an eerie view of the street through the silhouette and body of the rat.

Rodents of unusual size and girth existed as a result of a slight mutation, a slow process of evolution that humankind had, in their error, ignored for the last few centuries. In the extermination industry, there had been stories about some recent mutants encountered. Though usually dismissed as tall tales, people in the industry still made it their business to know everything, even things that seemed too fantastic to be true. Still, as the captain says, truth can be stranger than fiction.

Willow was still holding down the call button when she swore under her breath. The captain, who was still in the kitchen calculating the service tax, tried to respond but Willow’s hand was still gripping the call button, effectively blocking others from communicating. However, Willow recovered quickly from her shock and continued to hold down the button just long enough to fill in the rest of the team, who were now nervously straining their ears to listen.

“Guys, we got a shifter.”

As she spoke, the holes in the silhouette that gave Willow a view of the street, the holes that were gouged by her bullets, began to shrink. The rat turned its long face to look at Willow, uttering a low squeak that started off more as a growl. Carefully, Willow moved her hand from the call button on her vest to the grip of her rifle. Perhaps sensing that more pain was on its way, the rat immediately bolted.

Willow quickly brought her rifle up and pivoted to keep the rat in her sights. She squeezed the trigger repeatedly, pausing only long enough to recover her aim from the recoil. The radio was alive with buzzes, clicks, and chatter, but Willow could not focus enough to understand her teammates with her gun firing rounds in a deafening manner.

She lowered her gun as the rat disappeared from sight. Removing her earpiece, Willow allowed all her senses to absorb her surroundings. She calmed the pace of her heartbeat with a few slow breaths and followed the path laid out by the rat. She could make out the clamour of her teammates in the distant hallways, but ignored their shouts, pushing it away from her attention as she focused her hearing to seek out the tapping and scratching of claws on the tiled floor.

A soft scuffle drew her towards the door leading to one of the restaurant’s private dining rooms. She paused in front of the door, her head turned and tuned to pick up any sign of the rat. A second, more distinct, scurry convinced Willow to move through the door, gun aimed at rat level.

Willow’s trigger finger faltered as she traced the barrel of her rifle upwards, searching for the head of the figure that the shape-shifting rat had assumed.

The rat had filled the room with its body in an almost impossible manner, breaking all laws regarding the conservation of mass. Willow felt as if she had shrunk as the head of the creature was almost directly above her while its body was at the opposite corner of the room. Willow afforded herself a glance at the door, which had closed behind her. She doubted her ability to open the door and get through it before the rat attacked her exposed back.

Looking back at the creature, for it was no longer shaped like a rat, Willow judged, based on the size of the door, that she had not shrunk, but instead the room had scaled to accommodate the expanded rat.

“Is it illusion then?” Willow whispered to herself. The form that the rat had assumed was not one that was familiar to Willow. It still had a long face, but instead of fur, the skin was bare and looked rough. The head was no longer triangular in shape, but narrow like a horse’s. The long neck that allowed the creature to loom over Willow connected the head to a body that looked almost humanoid. Willow was a student of anthropology and found that the body reminded her of a grotesque and demonic fat Buddha.

Gripping her weapon tightly and moving swiftly, Willow aim at the head above her and fired. The figure reeled, pulling back the head. But, as it was stooping before to fit in the room, the head now ripped through the ceiling and Willow could see the night sky through the falling rubble.

The creature turned suddenly, its tail lashing out and catching Willow on the side of her arm. Willow’s body spun in place and she fell against a wall. She dropped down to stay low and rubbed her arm, feeling the swelling of a forming bruise. Her gun was now half way across the room from her, removed from her possession when she was lashed and carried away by the momentum generated by the creature’s swift rotation. She considered making her escape while the creature had its back turned, but instead she watched in awe from her corner as the creature ripped open the rest of the ceiling and climbed out.

Without knowing it consciously, Willow followed the creature out, somehow scaling up the wall. From a distance, she could identify the creature roughly as a giant lizard. She pitied the flora it trampled before realizing that she was no longer in the city. The creature looked back at her and stretched out its neck as it screeched, making effort to shake the leaves of the trees around it with the sound it made. Then, it spread its wings, for it had wings, and created such a backdraft that Willow nearly lost her footing. She could still see the silhouette of the creature against the bright moon for several minutes before losing sight of it in the surrounding clouds.

Finding herself breathless, Willow sat down against the building she was defending and tried to recap the events that had just unfolded. Unable to do so, she closed her eyes and huddled against the oncoming cold.

In the distance, a tribe seeking the source of the dragon’s cry spies a figure lying prone against the weathered stone wall that encircled a willow tree.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Nethologica - Prologue Part 1

Hm...I'm falling behind a bit as I failed to update last week. I'll have to update twice this week to make up for it. The reason for my tardiness is my unique gift to combine procrastination with perfectionism. I wanted to put up a short story this week, but couldn't get it the way I wanted it to be. And so, I tossed it.

As a sort of emergency, I'm posting the prologue for the novel that I'm working on: Nethologica. I'm not particularly happy with the prologue either, but I've decided that I'll forge on ahead first and simply write without looking back. I'll return to edit for quality and plot after I'm done everything. I've separated the prologue into two part, partially so that I'm guaranteed to make two posts this week and partially because it's pretty long. Enjoy!


A lone man stood on a half-lit block. He took a quick glance at his watch, barely registering the time, as he tried to determine whether it was safer to stand under the streetlamp or in the shadows. If something were to happen to him, it would be better to stand in the light, where things were more noticeable and help was more likely to come. On the other hand, being in plain sight might make him more of a target to opportunistic thieves, or worse, psychopaths.

Hovering over the boundary set by the lamps overhead, he paced back and forth like a stray dog; indecisive as to whether he wanted to follow a stranger home or continue his carefree, albeit uncertain, life.

Finally, he settled against a bricked wall sparingly illuminated by reflected lights. He checked his watch again, more carefully this time to ascertain the time to himself. No longer moving about, he started to feel the city air and pulled his jacket tighter around him before crossing his arms over his chest.

It is late in the evening for the man, but early in the morning for the people that was keeping him waiting. He managed a scant peek at his watch before his wall was illuminated by the headlights of a car. He looked up hopefully but the vehicle is small, a Personal Automatic Transporter. Most likely it was a night janitor, enjoying an enviable nap as the PAT took him home.

The man is also a night janitor. Normally at this time he would be resting comfortably, enjoying the soothing driving motions of his own PAT as it guided itself to his home. The transporter had become essential in the last decade. It allowed business folks to focus on other things as they moved about in the city. However, it was not a cheap investment. Those in the lower-middle class, looking to own one for aesthetic and conspicuous reasons, had to take on a second job in order to afford the lease. This meant that their treasured time-saver would end up costing them more time than it saved. It was the latest modern inconvenience, after virtual reality and the internet of the last millennium.

Luckily, night janitors did not have to take on a second job. The restaurant, whose exhaust-stained bricks provided the wall that the man was leaning on, paid the man very well for his cleaning services. However, tonight he was unable to sweep the floors. And in the day, the restaurant may not be allowed to open.

The building had suffered a sudden onset pest infestation, a discovery the night janitor had just made a few hours ago. He called for pest control and it is for them that he waits.

Another vehicle passed by, much too quickly to be the right people, even though the vehicle was the right size, roughly that of a delivery van. The night janitor checked his watch once more before sighing and averting his gaze upward, as if questioning some higher deity, though contemplating nothing in general. He tapped his shoes against the wall and sidewalk impatiently, shifting his foot from the back of the shoe to the front, and alternatively.

His heart was anxious for sleep. He was not tired, but was addicted to the other world that he visited in his dreams. It was a good thing that he had but one job, he would be able to sleep through the entire day, waking only when it was time to come to the restaurant again to clean. Since the start of his obsession, the janitor had only seen sunlight a few times, when he had to take time away from resting to restock food and other supplies. At that thought, the janitor reminded himself to make another day trip soon. Though sunlight had become foreign and blinding to him, he did not resent it. It brought warmth and, once he was able to open his eyes fully, it enabled vision that humans were not entitled to in the night. He would leave his house to enjoy the sun more often, if it were not for the overwhelming desire to remain asleep in his bed. His habit was beginning to border on the unhealthy side. Simply thinking about it caused the Pavlovian effect of salivation. He licked his lips contemptuously to exercise his slacken jaw.

Engrossed in his thoughts, the dim headlights of the pest control van nearly escaped the notice of the night janitor. It was an armor-plated, military-issued van, typical of pest control. The man in the front passenger seat rolled down his window to address the janitor.

“You the one that called for us?” he asked.

The janitor simply nodded. The crisp city air had frozen the saliva between his lips, effectively sealing his speech with the threat of tearing pain and chapped lips. Even if he could talk, his tongue was momentarily tongue tied as he spied the face of the van’s driver. A fierce and striking young woman looked back at him before turning off and exiting the vehicle. The janitor’s gaze followed her figure as she walked to the back of the van and opened the large double doors so that the rest of the pest control team could hop out.

They numbered six in total, there was only enough room in the back of the van for four people to sit among the weapons, baits, and traps. There was another woman besides the driver, noted the janitor, but she was not as striking as the other, who was now sternly giving out orders to the team. The man who first spoke to the janitor, presumably the leader, broke away from the group to gather more information from the janitor.

“You said on the phone that it was a large rat,” he said. His tone of voice made the question seem almost like an accusation.

“Y-yes,” stammered the janitor. The cold was reaching its peak, just before the Earth started to face the sun again. He rubbed his lips together tenderly as he watched the exterminators arm themselves.

They worked together well, passing body armor, rifles, and other equipment between each other in a practiced fashion. The janitor could hear the soft cracking of their helmet radios breaking the night silence before it faded, obscured by the head that now occupied the protective hat. They looked formidable in their gear, worthy of the descriptors they gave themselves in their ad.

The janitor uncrossed his arms to search his pockets for his keys, exposing his chest in time to feel the full effect of a chilly passing wind. His hands had begun shaking when he opened the back door to the restaurant. Not wanting to stay any longer than he had to, he told the leader that the door could be set to lock automatically, instructing him to leave the invoice on the prep table and to lock up after they were done.

The team captain nodded slowly, making a mental note for the janitor’s instructions. He shook hands with the janitor and watched him as he left. The captain then turned to face his team, they immediately stopped their conversation and looked back at him.

“Chief complaint is a large rat, but as usual we’ll clean up anything we find. Willow you take the direct route to the main entrance and take care of anything that comes your way. Andy and Sherry, you take the left corridor. Chris and Anjay, you cover the right.”

His team stood still for a moment to ascertain that he was finished before breaking apart sharply to execute his orders. The captain himself remained behind to watch the backdoor and to coordinate the operation. His earpiece buzzed as the teams reported in.

“This is Willow, I’m skipping the rooms as I head down but I’ll check the ones near the entrance.”

“Left side team here, we’ll cover your slack Willow. Sherry and I are in the first room right now.”

The captain allowed himself to tune out the radio slightly so that he could focus on filling out the invoice. The second in command, Willow, had constantly berated him on this bad habit. Pest control was a high-risk career, but years without any excitement had caused the captain to be complacent, taking shortcuts whenever he could justify it. A large rat was as standard as they came, only dangerous if you approached it unarmed or if you were cheap with your bullets. The captain noted that some of the food stocks in the kitchen had been rummaged through and assumed that the rat had already eaten its fill and was most likely trying to find a way back to its den in the sewers. This meant that Willow would encounter the pest first.