Monday, December 27, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Mediocrity Codex: Volume I, Issue II
Section IV: who needs fingernails, anyway

Aldavaro Barvolo is a simple man.

“I don’t know who gave me the case! I don’t remember!”

He has simple needs. He needs a bed. He needs a meal. He needs love.

“I can barely remember what I did two days ago. I’ve had that case for 6 months! I’m telling you, I don’t remember!”

For man like Aldavaro, these needs usually come easily. A bit of sleep here, a ham sandwich, there.

“Please, please, I’m telling you. Believe me I have no idea how I got that damn thing. Please? Come on. Come on!”

But today, for a man like Aldavaro Barvolo, things are not so simple.

“I mean, look, I don’t even know what’s in the case. I opened it once. There’s papers right? And some pictures. That’s all I saw. I don’t know anything. I shouldn’t have kept it. I know. I’m sorry. Is that what you want? I’m sorry?”

Today, Aldavaro’s needs have become a bit more complex. Today, Aldavaro’s needs will not come so easily.

“Ok, look. Look. This woman. She dropped the briefcase when we were getting off the bus. She was in a hurry, see? I tried to give it back to her. I tried to chase her down. I didn’t want to keep it, ok? I didn’t mean to keep it. I mean, after I opened it, there’s no money inside anyway right? Isn’t that what you want? Money?”

But Aldavaro knows how to get what he needs. He always gets what he needs.

“Hey, hey what are you doing!? Please, no, god no! please. PLEASE!”

And what Aldavaro needs now is information.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Mediocrity Codex: Volume I, Issue II
Section II: the keyhole is the key


I almost lost my keys today. Keys are such small things. So easy to lose. It’s a wonder I don’t lose my keys all the time. But I did today. I was dreading getting off that bus and coming back to my car, calling my dad, praying and hoping there would be a spare so that I wouldn’t have to leave my car overnight at the bus station.

At work it was out of sight, out of mind. it’s times like these where I really believe something is wrong with me. I don’t panic. I don’t get scared. I don’t suffer from anxiety. Even when I should. I necessarily should. I’ve lost my keys! I mean, right? I’m sititng at my desk, watching Louis C.K. I’ve lost my keys. I have no idea where my keys are. I picture them in my mind, lying in the gravel and rain, silently waiting for me to pick them up. They could be in someone else’s hands by now. Worse yet, my CAR could be in someone else’s hands by now. I’m watching Louis C.K. talk about how he hates having to raise kids.

What do I feel? Well, to be honest I’m laughing. The guy is hilarious. I’m thinking about how I don’t have much to do at work and it’s awesome. I have to put in some orders for supplies and I get to loaf around waiting for my boss decide whether she wants to spend $3000 on lab supplies. The Chinese guy who I’ve been mentoring for the past month and a half asks me questions about the buffering capability of sodium bicarbonate and I look it up on Wikipedia. After explaining it to him I get curious about all the other links I find in the article and end up looking at zwitterions for the next half hour. Then I’m back watching Louis C.K. Where are my keys? WHERE ARE MY KEYS?

In the back of my mind, back in that place that I don’t often go because it goes pretty far back there, like how there are certain houses with attics or long closets and when you first find them you’re look “woooaahhhh awesome” and then you stuff it full of stuff but then a couple years later you go back and you only ever take stuff out of the first two feet of stuff in there and then you finally realize “damn there’s a lot of stuff back there” but at that point you also realize how much it scares the bejeezus out of you because only God knows what could have made its home back there by now. Like spiders and shit. Oh my God, I’m so unsettled by spiders. So back there, I think God is like typing my thoughts out on this little typewriter that is probably loud if you sat right next to it, but since its in the back of the attic all it ends up sounding like is *plink plink tic tac plink ching*. Like little children who are the size of raindrops wearing tap shoes dancing the hood of your aluminum roof in the fall. Each *plink* corresponds to a thought which meander their way through these large, dusty Narnian coats and boxes of used mothballs until they hit me in the back of my head, like they’re saying “hey.”

And it’s like “hey, hey”. “hey.” “hey.” That’s all it ever says. Nothing deep, like “everything will be alright” or “we are all connected” or “life is so fragile and be happy you even have a car at all even though now you may not because you don’t’ know where your keys are but it’s alright because you still have a family that loves you and a girlfriend who will probably feel really sorry for you if you lose your keys.” Just “hey.”

But I realize, that’s enough for me. Does that make me strange? Maybe that’s all that there is to strangeness. I’m comforted by nothingness. By void. I infer meaning from a lot of things, but I do so consciously. As if every time I infer meaning from something that typewriter in the back of my mind is basically saying “PSHHHHHH you know that’s a lie.” And I know it is. There’s nothing more to having a family than having people who care for you. There’s nothing more to a school or a university or even a church than what the people that attend it believe. Objects, events, even nature has no meaning that we don’t give to it. Even seeing my keys, stuck in the keyhole in the side of my driver-side door after a long day at work, miraculously hanging there, in the rain, untouched, inherently means nothing. But that damn typewriter still says “hey.”



And all I can say is “thank you Lord.”

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Mediocrity Codex: Volume I, Issue 2
Section I: fly in a bottle

why do we use the soft e in the word preposition? totally confusing.

I'm tired of internet jargon. TIRED of it. There's enough jargon as it is due to academic disciplines and technological advances, but internet jargon isn't like that. No one really "gets better" at the internet. Ok, ok, i know you're saying, "yes, yes they do. And the people that don't are internet noobs." Things like search engines and blogging and keeping up with the right blogs and believing the right bloggers and not getting your computer infected with spyware/malware/viruses. Ok, sure. but none of those things require phrases like "OMG, Do want!" or "it's over 9000!" and god forbid "tl;dr" (which stands for "too long; didn't read"). If there's an abbreviation to preface a summary of a post by a complete stranger because such a preface has found the need to be used SO OFTEN, why don't people just refrain from making long-winded comments in the first place? wouldn't SO MUCH of this jargon and wasted text space be saved if those people who decided to write just wrote more succinctly?

tl;dr get to the point.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Mediocrity Codex: Volume I, Issue I
Section V: I’m Nothing Without you, Batman

Tim Burton’s “Batman” (1989) was the only iteration of Batman I knew until I was 12 years old. I first watched it on VHS with my parents when I was about 9, and I remember being intrigued (and a bit confused) by the killer handshake buzzer (as in, “so THAT’s what those things do.” Yes. After watching this movie once I came to believe that ALL handbuzzers were indeed killer shock handbuzzers.) I was also wonderfully and willingly drawn into the world of Gotham City: a perpetually dark, aristocratic yet sordid landscape of petty criminals and billionaire vigilantes. From that iteration to that which appeared on the WB a few years later (1996), I had become thoroughly convinced that Batman was nowhere near a regular human being, but indeed a full-fledged super-human.

Chalk it up to my disinterest in comics (more like lack of exposure), but I never got into the original illustrated series. Nor was I aware of Adam West’s portrayal of the hero. To me, Batman will forever be Michael Keaton in a nipple suit with Jack Nicholson in too much makeup (I was SERIOUSLY disappointed when I saw Val Kilmer in the sequel. And don’t even get me started on the rest of those impostors).  This brings me to my review of Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Let me first say that I have no idea who Rocksteady is. Apart from sharing a name with one of my favorite villains from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game, they conjure neither glee nor disdain in my mind. Their last game was apparently a mediocre first-person-shooter that rattled no chains and shook no foundations, but at the very least gave players a good time a chance to “overindulge” (this isn’t a correct word. It’s practically a recursive. So redundant. Overindulge.)

In Batman: AA (heretofore referred) they’ve done something magnificent. Let’s break it down. Batman: AA is a comic.  I mean, it knows it’s a game but what it really knows is that it’s about something that really isn’t about anything besides itself. It’s got a story, it’s got characters, it’s got scenarios. It’s not about making a difference or saving the world. It’s not about a hero who was never a hero before and now you get to live his life story as he becomes the hero and you’re going to be lifted up out of your mundane life because you experience this life of his becoming a hero. It’s about Batman. It’s about Batman kicking ass and saving Gotham City. And this never changes.

To this end you’re given the ability to BE BATMAN. I mean, really, how many games go about setting you up to believe that you’re something you’re not nor ever will be, implying that you can do things that you couldn’t do if you didn’t just try right now? Go find a battleaxe. Get a suit of armor. You can do that. Go build a laser. Now put it inside a little case that’s operated by a trigger. You can do that. Ok now say “Aveda Kedavra” a few times. Ok, well, no you can’t do that.

What I mean to say is that this game lets you be the Batman you want to be. You will always be Batman. You fall on your ass, you get shot up by shotguns, you’re still Batman. You still have that nipple suit and the cape and the mask and the batarangs. You still have the chance to break a man’s arm because you promised not to kill anyone. You still hate crime and love love and want the Joker to learn his lesson and stop being such a nasty guy. You never stop feeling like Batman. Unlike the jarring (but endearing) death codec calls that Snake receives when he dies (hilariously elaborated on by Comedian Dara O’Briain), Batman doesn’t answer to anyone.  If he dies, he dies. Barbara Gordon won’t know until she receives his bullet-ridden corpse on her doorstep. If he wins, he wins, and Gotham City won’t know it was on the verge of doom. But the best part of all is having a nemesis like the Joker.

Writing a character is always hard. Mostly because believable characters need to have depth and complexity. They need to be multifaceted and interesting. “real” characters are always more than they seem. But that isn’t true. What makes a character great isn’t depth, or complexity, or facets, but conviction. Singlemindedness, unwavering dedication to a single idea. Shove a character like that into any situation, and see where his conviction takes him. That’s basically the Joker. He’s a pure character. He’s got no secret desires or complex musings. To put it succinctly, “All I want is for Gotham city to melt in a pool of radioactive goo. Is that too much to ask?”

Thrust thusly into a game are these elements, with a bit of grandeur and a nice bit of sugar, and you have Batman: Arkham Asylum. What? You say I haven’t mentioned anything about how it plays or what it looks like or whether it’s a good game or not. Really, now. But I have. I have. Games should be able to take for granted gameplay and the ability to be played. A game that allows the player, the character to focus on how the game plays out has done the job of being a good video game. What makes this a great game is that it’s a good video game with a great atmosphere and features to boot. Great video games are like playing through great movies where you control the action. How each character gets dispatched and how it looks from each angle. What tools to use and how long each sequence should take. A great game makes you the director, and builds a world that you can feel realized in. It may have been easier to make a good Batman game, seeing as how his persona and his environment is well-tread, but I don’t think it detracts from its quality.

The bottom line is, if you’ve ever wanted to BE Batman, take a trip to Arkham Asylum.

Otherwise, play this game.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Mediocrity Codex: Volume I, Issue I
Section IV: a curiosity in name only

What makes a man a killer? That he has killed? That he is capable of killing? What makes a man a killer...

Don't think about it. You just have to do it. You can't hesitate. You hesitate, he gets you first. It's you or him. You can't have doubts. Where's your war face? Show me your war face. Show me your war face!

A man incapable of  killing is a coward. A man who cannot kill cannot defend himself. A man who cannot kill cannot defend his family. A man who cannot kill cannot defend his country.

You need clarity for conviction. You need conviction for control. You need control to kill. And that's what you're here for. You are the tool. I am the hand. You are the tool. A reliable tool.

Control the mind. Every kill begins in the mind. Every weapon exists in the mind. Control mind and control the kill. Control the weapon.

When I'm through with you you'll be a killer. See? Others make children into men. I make men into killers. You can be a killer. I see it in you. You see it? I see it.

Now show me your war face. Show me your war face!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Mediocrity Codex: Volume I, Issue I
Section III: the ambiguity of scientific outcomes


My very first experiences with science as a discipline were not unlike many young children, I’m sure. In a classroom, in front of a teacher, from a book, with pencil and paper poised and ready.

You’re told that there’s a right answer. You’re told that it’s a simple step-by-step path from Point A to Point B. And then you’re off. A train is traveling from Chicago to Boston at 50 miles per hour. Another train leaves Boston 2 hours later traveling at 70 miles per hour. When will both trains crash in spectacular fashion and how many bodies will be ejected from their shattered husks? And what will their sons and daughters think?

Of course, the answer is simple. Point B, your mind shouts. Point B! But along the way I got lost somewhere. Somewhere between Point A and Point B, I got caught up looking for stinkbugs and goldfish. And all I found was a piece of dirty pocket lint stuck to the inside of my hooded sweater pocket. That was my Point B.

The marvelous thing about this whole experience of course is that even now, at this point in my life, I’ve correctly learned the method of science. The scientific method is an appendage of necessity. And to this day I continue to believe that science will lead me from Point A to Point B, with undeniable certainty. Who the hell was my science teacher? Somebody give that guy a medal.

But then, I realize that science is a messy business. I have worked now for over a year as a lab slave in one of the country’s most prestigious developmental biology research programs; conducting, analyzing, and recording experiments and data in the hopes of discovering something new about the process of wound healing and scar formation. From the wealth of information preceding me and my principal investigator, we attempt, based on our own and other’s hypotheses, to design and conduct experiments that will demonstrate a consistently replicable result hoping to be able to say, “Ah-ha! By a series of known events and measurable and modifiable interactions, we can conclusively claim that this path will lead from Point A to Point B!”

It hasn’t happened yet.

It isn’t as sad as it sounds, though. During my experience, my PI has shared her travels from Point A with me. They’ve led to what many might consider a Point B, or even a Point B-esque location. To her, well, they are more akin to Point A version 1.1, or perhaps a “beta” version of Point B. Some have been enlightening, others discouraging. Some have even been interesting enough to make her entertain the thought of changing her Point A. But these various conclusions and results often don’t amount to much more than noise;  the journey continues to be a neverending series of encounters with stinkbugs, goldfish, and pocket lint.

So does Point B actually exist? It’s hard to say. There’s a good chance it does, and also a good chance it doesn’t. But the best explanation of it may be that it’s already come and gone, or even sitting right in front of us, hiding in plain sight among the haystacks of analysis and results accumulated over 20 years of (re)search. And to that I say, long live stinkbugs.

The Mediocrity Codex: Volume I, Issue I
Section II: the unappreciated charm of 1984's "The Karate Kid"

So I got busted at work today. Science requires that everything be meticulously recorded, whether success or failure. Beyond that, reagents and solutions also need proper labels, with accurate dates, contents, and signatures. It's all about accountability. And I suppose that's why I get busted so easily.

On top of this, there's a volunteer at the lab now, whom I have to train and am responsible for. Which would be great, except that English isn't his first language and Chinese isn't mine. Sure, it's a great opportunity to learn Chinese, and it's a rare and wonderful chance for me to teach a non-native speaker the joys of the English language, but to be honest, it sucks. Besides, when am I ever going to have to translate things like "gel electrophoresis" and "vacuum gas plasma-treated tissue culture flasks". Never. That's when.

Anyway, onto the meat and buns of my thoughts for today. I watched (and am currently watching) the original 1984 classic "The Karate Kid". It's frightening and enlightening seeing how well this movie has aged. Is it a period piece? Perhaps. Is it social commentary? Kinda-sorta. Is it artful photography direction and cinematography? Sometimes. Is it a good movie? Definitely. Despite its use of a plethora of tropes (platinum blonde evil boy/love interest girl (wonderfully played by elizabeth shue)), it still does so many things right. Japanese internment. Socioeconomic stereotyping. High School Bullying. Rockin' 80's fusion soundtrack punctuated with full orchestra compositions during climaxes. All this with the backdrop of a 1980's Southern California San Fernando Valley Reseda-is-the-armpit-Encino-is-the-Diamond milieu that makes the drabulous look fabulous.

And watching old movies often gets, well, old. Nostalgia does a great job of glossing over the more mundane sections of a film: slow moments of exposition, fumbled physical stunts or awkward attempts at body language, even plain old bad dialogue. Don't get me wrong, "The Karate Kid" has its fair share of each one of these. But even so, it's a briskly paced, genuinely entertaining piece of cinema history. Ralph Macchio captures the essence of the plain, awkward, displaced teenager moving from a boondock to a 'burb. Pat Morita does a GREAT job playing the esoteric yet warm mechanic-turned-sensei. and Elizabeth Shue epitomizes the blonde girl-next-door that the valley is (was) famous for back when Malibu Castle (now Sherman Oaks Castle Park) was the coolest place in town.  Even the platinum blonde evillion William Zabka is a pitch-perfect mold of the valley's collective recollection of the bully. I'll never forget the way he looks in that Skeleton costume in the halloween party scene, and the words "Cobra Kai!" will always place his face squarely in the 3D IMAX of my mind. To be honest though, the most recent remake was probably made after a long night with too many drinks and a netflix account, because it seems to attempt all of these things, but with relevance to the present, which, sadly, has not found a place to be relevant among media today.

Which is sad, because it's a great story.

Miyaji-do! I mean, MiyaGI-do! Kiai!

Disqus for the mediocrity codex: just like everyone else, sometimes