Monthly Archives: February 2013

Bad Habits

I haven’t been as productively as I’d like to be. Part of this traces back to bad habits I developed when I was injured. Pains leads me to engage in distracting activities rather than more intense, productive ones. Back in high school, I once had a headache and cured it by distracting myself with Minesweeper. I guess that association stuck because I still find games a good way to distract me from pain. TV and mindless internet surfing are other bad habits. (Although I’m the least guilty about TV than anything else because it’s my primary way of consuming narrative. Some of the best writers of our generation are in TV. Seriously, I could write a whole blog post about this, so I should stop now.) I stay in bed far too long, which is a perk of working from home, but I think I am more productive in the morning. But now that I’m (mostly) free of pain, I want to crush these habits. That’s why I’m up at 8 in the morning, blogging. I have so many self-improvement projects that got derailed, and I’d like to get them back on track. (Hooray for unmixed metaphors.) Before talking about these potential projects, I’d like to note that things aren’t quite as dire as I make them. I still managed to put out a rather complicated app during this time and host several parties. Alright, time to get off the negative thinking and move on to thinking about projects.

One thing I’d like to get back on track with is learning how to draw. I’m not sure how far this will go. I don’t feel naturally gifted in this area. I was a band geek in high school, and my comic consisted of stick figures, which means my drawing skills haven’t progressed all that much since middle school. I’m also not that visual of a thinker; I don’t imagine pictures when I read. However, I believe I can at least make it from terrible to mediocre. Maybe even further. In college, I liked taking classes in different subjects so that I was exposed to different ways of thinking. Even if I turn out not to be gifted in the area of drawing, I will benefit from thinking a different way. I am also worried about how my comic, because it’s only stick figures, may be limiting my growth, but I think I need to just stop worrying about that and just start drawing. My idea for a project is to do something like “500 faces” where I have to draw 500 faces in two months. March 1 seems like a good start date.

Another area I’d like to improve is blogging. As you can see from the monthly totals on the side, I don’t blog as often as I used to. Every once in a while, there’s a short burst of activity. Then, I disappear again. There are several topics I want to write about — observations about my own life and thoughts on TV shows I’m watching — so maybe this will be a more prolonged burst of activity. Lately I’ve been binging on writing by Film Crit Hulk, and I feel inspired. I’d rather have him and Ta-Nehisi Coates as my models, very thoughtful and empathetic writers, and move on from my previous adoration of Hitchens. I have some talent in polemic, but this kind of writing will feel more honest. That said, I won’t discard polemic. I’m sure that despite this blog becoming more pop culture centric, I’ll still want to touch on torture and other political topics. Topics: Legos, beauty pageants on TV, The Walking Dead game (again), Community season 3, the idea of grading episodes on TV.

The last “thing” is programming. I put thing in scare quotes because it’s more than one thing. I want to improve my skills and market myself. I also want to be involved in more projects than just Sticky Pics. I’m going to start a separate blog for writing about code and for re-posting some of my better entries from here. I could do some programming quizzes and show my thought process. I could also brush up on some fundamentals and post what I learned/re-learned. I’m also teaching a web development class at ATDP this summer (aka AIC), and I can post about that. As for the other projects, I’d like to work on another app, find some contract work, and contribute to an open-source project. It all seems like a lot, so I’ll have to narrow this down.

The Walking Dead Game

I recently played The Walking Dead game, and I enjoyed it enough to force Stevie to play it. I played it on iPad, but it’s also available on Xbox. The game takes place in during a zombie apocalypse. You play as Lee Everett, a convicted murderer (this is explained more in depth during the game), and you have to take care of an 8-year-old girl you find who has been hiding out alone. Gameplay is simple enough that anyone can pick it up. Basically, the bulk of it is making choices. You have to make tough moral decisions, which sometimes meaning picking who lives and dies. You choose whether to lie or tell the truth, threaten or reason. You’ll decide how you treat the girl, how you treat everyone else, whose side you take in arguments. Not only do these choices affect how the game goes (to an extent), but they also reveal a lot about you. It’s fun to compare with other players and see why they made certain choices. Interspersed with the decisions are story, some zombie shooting and smashing, and relatively simple puzzles. It’s enough to get your blood pumping and your mind active. The best feature of the game is a compelling story with excellent voice acting. You really get sucked in.

Now, I want to talk about some things in the game, so here’s a fair warning:

******** SPOILER TIME!!! ********

Carley or Doug? I picked Carley because she had a gun and knew how to use it. I thought that was the best skill. But I also thought Doug was brave and was sad I couldn’t save him. Stevie cracked me up when she said she picked Doug because Carley was too stupid to know how to put batteries in a radio. Most people picked Carley because she’s a hot chick with a gun. I wonder how things would change if certain attributes were switched. What if Doug was the attractive one and Carley wasn’t? What if their personalities were the same, but their genders were switched? I’m curious if that would change anything.

Consequences. When I looked online, I saw some disappointed at how the choices you make didn’t affect the game more. That is, you’re stuck to a fairly linear storyline. Some choices don’t have that big a consequence. It does detract from some of the replayability of the game, insofar as you already know what will happen. However, a lot of the decisions are moral ones, like choosing whether to take from the abandoned car or not. Often moral imperatives exist independent of the consequences. Not all decisions have to result in different gameplay for them to be fun or interesting. On a similar note, some people would’ve liked for there to be some type of consequences for your character when you make tough decisions, like deciding to kill Duck. Your character would get more stressed, and it’d build some type of meter. The reasoning is that when you are playing the game through, you can only imagine that making Kenny kill Duck would make him more likely to snap, while your character will never snap. I don’t like that as a possible mechanic since it makes it too game-like. The fun comes from making your decisions based on your relationships with the characters and how you’d really react.

Ben. I hated Ben so much. I dropped him from the tower. I was surprised at how many people decided to save him, considering that he was such a liability. Then again, I’m not sure I would’ve done it if he had begged me to live. I only wish I could’ve never found Larry’s medicine, that ass. (I told Mark that Larry was a racist, haha.) Ben caused the death of so many people. He fucked up at the Motor Inn and so basically caused the deaths of Duck and Katjaa. He also got Brie killed when he took that axe and nearly killed the rest of us. I also really hated him when he ran away from Clementine instead of trying to help her. In his defense, perhaps, he was just a kid, as Chuck and others noted. (I mean, now that I’m 25, I think it’s ridiculous that I considered myself an adult at 18.) But, come on, you need to man up, Ben. It’s a motherfucking zombie apocalypse; grow the fuck up. I also voted for him to get left behind even though Clem wanted him on the boat.

Community Season 4

The new season of Community starts tonight. I’m excited, but I’m also worried that the show won’t be as good since Dan Harmon was fired. The “Hunger Deans” thing, from one of the season preview trailers, didn’t look that promising.

But we’ll always at least have seasons 1 through 3, some of the best comedy on TV. (Arrested Development is my favorite sitcom, and Community is second. Though, I do have to re-watch Arrested Development and see if Parks and Rec can overtake it.) Remedial Chaos Theory is my favorite episode of anything ever, including Arrested Development. Season 3 ended with a conclusion that gave us enough closure that we can pretend season 4 never happened, if it comes to that.

That said, I hope season 4 is awesome.

Super Bowl Thoughts

I was pretty devastated when the 49ers lost the Super Bowl. I thought it’d take a few days to get over it, but I’m already mostly over it.

Yes, yes, I know it’s only a game. I don’t think football is that much fun unless you’re emotionally invested. That’s part of the reason why fantasy football makes games interesting that you otherwise wouldn’t be interested in; you have something to root for. I let myself get caught up in the game for the fun of it. I have no control over it, so I guess you could call it a form of emotional gambling.

So far I’ve only seen my favorite teams lose championships. I watched USC lose to Texas in 2005. That close loss is actually what made me a fan. I don’t feel too bad about rooting for a really good team now, since I’m seeing them suffer through (unjustly harsh) sanctions. Still, since it’s not my alma mater, I’m not a huge fan. That is to say, I don’t like them as much as the 49ers. The 49ers have followed the opposite trajectory: They were a laughingstock, and now they’re great. Jim Harbaugh is a fantastic coach. It’s really cool going into each game expecting a victory.

I spent a bit of time looking at some ESPN articles and scrolling through comments. It’s weird seeing some people think that if it wasn’t for the blackout then the 49ers wouldn’t have been in the game at all. I guess the theory is that the blackout caused a change in momentum. Of course, last week, the 49ers didn’t need a blackout to blank out the Falcons in the 2nd half of the game. They make good adjustments. Plus, if the blackout changed momentum, why did the 49ers punt right afterwards? It’s just something really stupid to think. Oh and I think the absence of Ngata probably changed “momentum” more than anything else.

The refs made a bad call at the end, in my opinion. Overall, though, I don’t think the reffing was too bad. That is, I didn’t feel like the 49ers were cheated. Crabtree should’ve run a better route and never even got locked up with the corner. The Ravens also took advantage of Kap’s inexperience with their blitzing.

People are also criticizing the playcalling at the end. On the one hand, I am really disappointed that Gore didn’t get a carry. When LaMichael James ran for a few yards, I was joking that if it was Gore, he would’ve carried all the tacklers into the end zone. While it is a jest, it is also true that James doesn’t pick up a lot of yards after contact. Gore does. Despite the emergence of Crabtree and Kap, Gore is still the best offensive player on the 49ers. After all he’s done, he kind of deserved a shot to win it. On the other hand, Roman’s playcalling got them in position to take the lead. He also had a great play coming up when the 49ers almost took a delay of game. Chris Brown (of Smart Football) described it as a QB counter on twitter. I am convinced that had they got the play off in time, they would’ve scored on that play. I also thing Kap could’ve run to the pylon instead of throwing the ball away on second down. Greg Roman has installed an awesome, creative offense, so it’s worth the occasional bad series.

Brown also pointed out that the 49ers kicked field goals instead of scoring touchdowns. Sando, of ESPN’s NFC West blog, showed that Alex’s stats were much better than Kap’s in the red zone. Considering that Alex improved a lot since last year, I think Kap can improve next year too. They’ll also really need to work on getting the play off in time. That pissed me off so much, and like I said earlier, I think it cost them a touchdown at the end of the Super Bowl. I think the offense will be better next year, providing Gore still has another year left of tread on his tires.

I am concerned about the defense. Ever since Justin Smith went down, the pass defense … sucked. Granted, Aldon was also ailing, so the drop in the pass rush wasn’t all Justin. Still, Justin Smith is the MVP of the team, and he’s already relatively old. If he can’t get back to form, the 49ers could face a lot of deficits. Their secondary is pretty ordinary. I’ve heard DT/DE is pretty stacked in this draft, so I hope they get someone to eventually take over Justin’s job. They also need an upgrade at safety.

The Seahawks will be good next year too. I’m looking forward to those battles. I wonder how the 49ers will contain Wilson. I think Wilson and Cam Newton will be bargains in fantasy drafts with people looking to take Kap and RGIII before them. I might still overpay for Kap because I’m a homer.

Back to the Super Bowl… I enjoyed the game. It was such an emotional rush, even though there was the letdown at the end. I’m glad my favorite team got to the Super Bowl. They were a good team, and they were lucky to get there… just not quite lucky enough to win. I think the game could’ve gone either way. I’ll enjoy the fact that the ball bounced their way enough times for me to root for my team in the Super Bowl. It’s important to savor moments like that. (After the game, we played some Soul Calibur V. When I won a match, I took the time to savor it, even though we were playing 2 out of 3. It was my first victory of the night, and I had to take a moment to enjoy it.)

I don’t know if they’ll get back any time soon because of the luck thing, but I know with Harbaugh at the helm and Kap at QB, they’ll be in the hunt every year for a while.

Finally, I’m convinced that Alex Smith is good enough to be a starting QB in the NFL. Even up until the playoffs, I wasn’t fully convinced that Kap should be the starter over Alex. I’d see Kap make mistakes and say, “Alex wouldn’t do that.” But then, he’d run for 50 yards or through a laser to Crabtree, and I’d have to admit, “Alex couldn’t do that.” I saw the potential, but I was worried about the downside. The downside cost them at the end (when the play clock almost ran out), but with Kap’s arms and legs, they never would’ve been able to come back from that deficit. After seeing Kap set an NFL record for rushing as a QB, I’m convinced he’s the answer. Alex Smith doesn’t have that elite ability. But he’s smart, emotionally tough, more athletic than you think, and has an ok arm. I think he still has a good career ahead of him. I don’t think he can carry a team, but he can do well when surrounded by the right pieces. He won’t make mistakes. He won’t always make the big plays, but he can make enough small plays to get you a win. He can lead a come from behind victory. I wasn’t a fan for so many years, but he convinced me during that New Orleans playoff game that he was good enough to lead a team. One day, I think Alex Smith will be a great QB coach or offensive coordinator, or maybe even a head coach. I hope he gets traded somewhere and does well, as long as he isn’t playing the Niners.

Update: I forgot to say that the announcers were terrible. At the end, they were saying San Francisco was unprepared for the safety, but missed that everyone was being held. Not that it mattered in terms of the game, since the penalty would’ve resulted in a safety anyway and not restored any time to the clock. However, the announcers could’ve mentioned something.