Saturday, August 28, 2010

Beginning Something Again

A long-ish time ago, I had a photo blog. The idea was simple: take and post one photo per day on the blog, with some semblance of title and no captions. It was great until my camera broke, followed by me getting sick of the project.

I have decided to do it again, for a few reasons:
  • I need an excuse to use my camera a lot, get use of it, and get practice with photo composition.
  • It's actually a good way to get some good photos. Not every photo will be amazing, but some will be.
  • It forces me to be more observant, to get out of the house (dorm?) and to look at what I see while I'm out - I don't want a zillion photos of the items on my desk and in my kitchen.
  • When I found the original blog again, after forgetting I'd ever made it or what account I had used to make it, I enjoyed looking back through all the photos I'd taken, and the strange view of those months that the blog offers. I want more of that pseudo-scrapbook. A scrapbook for the lazyman, one level above Facebook.

So, I begin it again, on this Google account, here:

The old one can be found here:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Defining Creativity

People have long been calling me "creative," mostly because I'm good at drawing, or because I was good at coloring or making crafty things. I don't know how creative I actually am, and I don't think artistic ability is necessarily related to being creative. As a matter of fact, most of what I'm capable of drawing or painting is directly referenced from life or a photo; few original thoughts make it into my art, and I have a hard time coming up with anything to portray. "Talented" may describe me, in terms of art, but "creative" really doesn't.

The term "creative" is often used in reference to artistic skill or talent, as though art in its various forms is the only application of creativity. It is not. Actually, one the subjects most often considered to be dry, dull, and devoid of creativity is a subject that requires a phenomenal amount of creativity, especially in its upper levels: mathematics.

How does one solve a problem in mathematics? Or in computer science, or cryptology, for that matter? You know what the solution will look like - an answer that fits, a program that works, words that can be read and understood. You know what the problem is. What you don't know is everything in between. How do you approach it? One step at a time. I love whiteboards for this purpose, because it can get really messy, especially when you take a wrong step. To solve a problem, you mustn't be afraid of being wrong - you just have to try stuff. It needs to be stuff that makes sense, stuff that follows the rules, but within the rules of mathematics (or what a compiler can handle, or in what ways a person can encrypt something), there are a surprising number of ways to attack a given problem. Math students often struggle because they think there are still steps that need to be followed in the same way, all the time, like when we learned long division way back when. It isn't so. Problem-solving requires a creative approach; that is, it requires the ability to work without those color-by-numbers steps, and to instead exploit truths of mathematics to solve your particular problem.

We do an awful lot of students a disservice by failing to teach them the creative side of mathematics and similar disciplines. Creativity is not merely an artist's quality. Creativity is the ability to think beyond the usual, conventional, or obvious approaches. For a mathematician, this may mean replacing part of a problem with an easier-to-use equivalent, or using different branches of mathematics. For a writer or an artist, this generally means finding a unique, effective way to describe an emotion or convey an event. In college, I actually see creativity encouraged in both my artsy digital media classes and my "left-brained" programming classes, but in high school and before, creativity was, for the most part, hardly even considered. And that is a problem.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A 50-Year-Old Man

In about three days, my father will be exactly half a century old.

Good gravy, old man, I didn't think of fifty as old until I phrased it that way. Now I'll be making fun of you for at least the next two weeks.

Anyway, in celebration of this milestone in my father's life, I will give here a brief, biased, and partially extrapolated biography.

My father was born in nineteen-sixty. A good, round year, right at the start of a new decade. Granted, nothing else exciting happened on that particular day (except that a world-record low temperature was measured in Vostok, Antarctica), but that means if he ever gets famous for something, his birthday will be celebrated in a Google Doodle without competition from other events. That is a good thing, indeed.

After he was born, he lived somewhere in Connecticut with his parents and his three sisters, I'm pretty sure. Nothing exciting happened until after high school, when he had roommates. Roommates, cats, and motorcycles. There was one roommate, possibly the one named Joe, who participated in some insanity that involved keeping motorcycles in the apartment and motorcycle parts in the kitchen cabinet. For some reason this made sense to them. Probably because they were awesome.

At some point, my dad found Christ. Additionally, Jimmy Carter got out of office, Ronald Reagan got in, and people could get real jobs again, so my dad went to college. Also, at some point, my dad married my mom. It was in these days that he turned into a real person. He ended up getting a job as an engineer and has been more or less stuck in Dilbertland ever since.

In 1989, something very important happened. My dad became a dad. Therefore, I exist. In 1991, my brother came into existence. In 1999, we moved to Florida for some Dad's-job-related reason, and since then, he's been enjoying a snow-free version of Dilbertland and seems to be fairly happy. He has also taken on the stock market as his hobby. He sometimes mimics Jim Cramer, and it's a little scary.

So, as far as I can tell, he's a good father and a good husband and a decent cat-owner. I also think he's harmlessly insane at times, but as my mother tells me that I'm exactly like him, I won't emphasize that point too much. It's mostly related to pun-making and math-liking and making lists of stuff, anyway.

Happy birthday, Dad! We love you! And you're old now.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Kind of Video Games

My hardcore gamer friends may laugh at me, but there's one particular variety of game that I like, when I have time to play them. I like happy games. No - I like games with cuteness. Or beauty. I like games with cute characters or cute situations, or games that involve beauty, with lovely characters or music or worlds.

I list here, therefore, the video games that I like best, with a link to the Wikipedia page for each. I know you love Wikipedia links.

  • Frogger. When I was a kid, we had an Atari gamestation of some kind, and we had a decent variety of pixel-tastic games for it, including Frogger. Eventually the Atari broke, and if I missed any of the games we had, I missed Frogger. So, when Frogger came out for the Playstation, of course I was elated. My brother and I enjoyed the two-player option (where he played a green frog and I a pink frog), and the different maps and levels. This was not just Frogger anymore. This was intense, complex, Frogger in 3D. It was awesome.
  • Spyro the Dragon. This was another of the games I played with my brother on Playstation when we were younger. I don't think we ever beat the game, but it was still crazy fun. And Spyro was just so cute!
  • Crash Bandicoot. The third of the Playstation games that my brother and I used to play. Although, we actually had both Crash Bandicoot 2 and Crash Bandicoot Warped, and I don't supposed I actually ever preferred one over the other. I especially liked playing as Coco Bandicoot and riding a polar bear.
  • Final Fantasy IX. I have enjoyed much of the Final Fantasy Series in pieces, but the only one I've beaten - twice - is Final Fantasy IX. I also have all of the soundtrack, the art book, and a wall scroll featuring Garnet and Zidane. I don't think I can explain what makes this one so much better than all the rest. I think it helps that the male protagonist isn't so moody, the gameplay was never aggravatingly difficult, the graphics were good, there was no complicated system of orbs and things, and the overall theme was actually "fantasy." One of my cousins showed me the game and I fell completely in love.
  • Pokémon Red, Yellow, Silver, and Crystal. When I was a kid, and Pokémon was ridiculously popular, it seemed like everybody had the GameBoy game and I didn't. I finally got Pokémon Red, started with a Squirtle, and have felt an affinity towards the franchise ever since. My brother got Pokémon Blue. Eventually I also got Yellow. Later, when Gold and Silver came out, my brother got Gold and I got silver, and eventually I also got Crystal. That's where I stopped obtaining the games, but I kept playing them (and exploiting their glitches) for years.
  • Mario Party 7. My boyfriend and his brother introduced me to this. At first I got aggravated when the game would cheat me out of something, but then I learned to accept that after you do all you can do, it is mostly a game of chance, and I decided I loved it. This was my first real exposure to Mario (since we had a PlayStation, not a Nintendo), and it prompted me to start playing versions of Mario World online.
  • Super Smash Bros. Melee. I was only introduced to this in the last few days, and I have decided that I adore it. I love that you can play as all these adorable and lovely characters, and throw Pokémon at each other, and play in different Nintendo worlds. It's just so cute. It's like Mortal Kombat except even more fun because it's adorable. Also, the combo moves aren't completely insane feats of button-hitting like they are in Mortal Kombat.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Still Dirty Words: End of Summer

I have not crossed off a single box on my calendar for the month of August. It has reached that point in the summer where, while much of my brain is trying to prepare for the upcoming semester and life back at University, some semi-conscious part of my brain is trying to sabotage all my efforts by doing things like pretending 10 days is still plenty of time to complete a things-to-do-this-summer list that's as tall as my dad.

"...Artemis was referring to his own mind in the third person, which was a warning sign no matter which head doctor's theories you subscribed to." --Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer

Maybe I do go crazy at this point in the summer. Maybe my Vacation Mind and Work Mind are conflicting as the former is loathe to go to bed and the latter is desperately trying to wake up and suffocate the other. Maybe I am still eight years old and fairly certain that a new lunchbox is no consolation for telling me that my life is on a schedule again.

I do exaggerate. I am also looking forward to the semester starting, if only so this weird anticipation period can end. And so I can clean the apartment. And stop tripping over all the boxes and bags that are accumulating around the house for my brother and me.

My main problem with summer ending isn't really that it's the end of a long, lazy time. It's that at the beginning of summer, I invariably make lists of stuff I intend to do over the Next Few Months, and then I inevitably realize that I have so much Time and so many Tomorrows and can laze around for days watching movies and reading books and going places without feeling guilty. Then I look back and realize, "What have I done!?"

Usually nothing. Wherein lies the problem.

Although, as far as breaks go, this one has been fairly productive, and still has another ten-ish days for productivity to ensue. I could still sew a dress, play my bass, paint a picture of a duck, make a ton of jewelry, write a detailed outline for a novel, paint a dollhouse, crochet an afghan, read the rest of the Bible, learn electrical engineering, and bake a cheesecake.


But I do have much to anticipate this semester, the first semester of my (I hope I hope I hope) last year of college. New classes, new assigned roommates, and a new bathroom rug will help bring it all together. I will not procrastinate on my homework this time around! And I'll surely play my bass guitar all the time, and write tons of stuff, and make my Etsy soar like eagles. And I'll finish reading the Bible and crochet that afghan and I wish Time could stop long enough for me to take a break from existing in it because I could have sworn Summer just started five minutes ago and I did not sign up for this.

And that, dear Reader, is why the words "end of summer" still make me cringe. Oh Freedom, you fleeting thing.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Barbie and Why I Love Her

I was raised without a hint of cynicism for Barbie. There were no philosophical questions about whether her proportions gave girls a bad body image, or whether we were getting brainwashed by Mattel, or whether Barbie was too privileged or too happy or too unrealistic or favored pink too much. There was only me, my myriad dolls, and my mother, who still holds a little bit of bitterness toward the time her mother got rid of all her Barbie dolls without asking her. My mother, who still has shelves and boxes full of collectible Barbies. My mother, who had a subscription to Barbie Bazaar for a long, long time, and still has a bunch of back issues lurking about the house somewhere. My mother, who tended to pass on the next issue of the Barbie catalog after she was done with it, having marked the pages with dolls she found especially beautiful, interesting, or ridiculous. I think at least half the reason I love Barbie is entirely my mother's doing.

When I moved here, my mother was very intent on finding me friends in the neighborhood, and somehow got me together with a girl my age named Allison. On our first day of acquaintance, we were sitting on my floor in a long, shy silence, when one of us finally asked the other, "Do you like Barbies?"

Why, yes.

I pulled down an enormous plastic box full of Barbies and Barbie accessories, and from that point, friendship occurred. She had a more creative mind than I, it seemed, for where my doll world was stuck in the few rooms of a hot pink Mattel house, hers was able to spread wherever she pleased. She showed me how to create rooms just by arranging furniture in a square, and how to create furniture out of other items. Handmade televisions, desks, beds, and trunks were easy, especially if you had a lot of small boxes, and they added an awful lot of character to a doll's room. My dad put two very low shelves in my closet, so I could build a two-story Barbie mansion out of sight of everyone else. Allison's Barbie house spread out over her bedroom floor. And boy, did our dolls have character.

I don't remember much now, except that our dolls' stories were fraught with a high level of soap-opera-esque drama and a little bit of magic. Two of the dolls I used most were a Hollywood Hair Barbie as Serena (i.e. Sailor Moon), and a Ken whose hair I'd Sharpied black as Darien (i.e. Tuxedo Mask). For some reason, my version of Serena was an extremely responsible and grown-up woman, which should crack you up if you know anything about the original version. As for Allison, I'm pretty sure her dolls were all original characters. And, of course, all of our dolls were absurdly stylish - even the maid and butler. Yes, there was a maid and butler. The butler's name was Drake.

So I was brought up loving Barbie, and kept right on playing with Barbie for a few years after other girls my age had decided it was lame, probably because they hadn't taken the same approach to the dolls as we had. I do so love Barbie's versatility. I love how she adapts to and encourages creativity. I love her elegance, which has lasted almost without pause since her inception. I love her history. I think that most of anything, I love how she can bring people together. Mock her, parody her, and say what you will - I do adore Barbie.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Void

I can't help but feel that blogging is an arrogant thing to do. Aside from a very special set of people, nobody asks us to blog, nobody pays us to blog, and nobody suggests that we set up a regular blog schedule. Since this isn't a personal, journal-type blog, it isn't written just for me; that is, whenever I write a post, I make the assumption that someone cares what I have to say. It's a silly assumption. The Internet is a vast void into which opinions and information, true and false, are sent from all sides, all the time, to be judged or ignored by people all over the globe. I feel meek in the face of my task, my self-assigned task: write a blog entry, send it into the void, and know that few people will read it and some will hate it.

It takes a certain level of confidence to blog. I did not realize when I began blogging how unqualified I am, then, as I am fond of second-guessing myself. Have I edited enough? Researched enough? Said something worth saying? Said something worth hearing? It is actually amazing that I ever get a blog entry out.

Some days are more difficult than others, when I am feeling especially meek or especially lazy or especially cynical about the usefulness of blogging. I bang my head against the Blogger's Wall while I remain shackled to my computer and its blinking cursor. I get up and give up for a little while, and I come back and fight with myself about the validity of my circumstances and opinions. "How vain it is," said Thoreau, "to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live." How vain it is to sit down to blog, when you are young and inexperienced at life and talk a lot but have done so little. How vain it is, when your life experiences are not unique except in the "unconditional positive regard," of-course-your-life-is-special sense. How vain it is, when your opinions come from the singular perspective of a life made easy by various blessings like good parents with a good income. I stop myself paragraphs in sometimes, deciding I am too uninformed, or too preachy, or too thoughtless, or too personal, and start over with something else, with rather less passion as my allotted blogging fuel is spent. I often wonder what authority I have to put words out there as I do.

I wouldn't still be blogging if I didn't have a few reasons for doing so. For one thing, I know that some people do like my blog. For another, despite all my difficulty, I do enjoy writing the blog, and getting the writing practice. I also know that with every blog entry I post, I become a little less timid and a little more surefooted as I navigate my place in the void.