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July 2015
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Hoping to build a computer this year…

Still waiting. You know, for 2016. Because you know what happens in 2016? Presidential election! But, more interestingly, the Oculus Rift will be released! (If everything goes as planned, I guess.)

(Sorry in advance for the materialistic nature of this post. Thinking too much about money and materialistic crap may be harmful to some readers’ souls. Reader discretion is advised.)

I spent some time researching the computer I’ll need to power the Rift, and honestly I’d like to have it ASAP so I can start fooling around with game programming with Unity 5. (As I said before, my current computer runs Unity 4 too slowly, and my OS (Vista) is not even officially supported, so trying to learn Unity on here is a bit torturous.) I’ve used this site as a sort of guide for what I’ll need, so I’m basically looking into building the computer myself, which, for all my interest in computers, will be my first time actually building one from individually purchased parts. Fingers crossed that it’ll go well. Anyway, my plans currently don’t deviate much from the parts listed on the aforementioned site. I’ll probably look into different cases as I’d prefer one with a bit more personality (such as a window), but that’s only if I can find one at a good price with some good space for future upgrades should I want them. Hard drive wise, I’d like to look into perhaps getting both a solid state drive to store the operating system and an old-fashioned mechanical hard drive with 1 or 2 TB’s for some good storage. (Composing music can take up a good amount of space when you’re storing some big audio files, plus games in general can take up some significant chunks themselves.) I’ll have to research how to set that up.

Altogether, my current estimate is that the computer will cost $1,200. Of course, when the time comes, I’ll search around for deals and save every bit I can. I’ll probably also search some nearby stores and see if I can pick up anything in person; having to wait for parts in the mail will be torture for my weak impatient soul (though that will probably be the cheaper option). Anyway, I won’t have to worry about it yet; still gotta save the actual money. (It’s tempting to just use my credit card and buy it all now, but I guess I’ll resist.) With the debts I’m still paying off, my phone bill, and my Netflix addiction, it’ll probably take around three months, give or take. I’m currently about 1/6th of the way there, $200 saved of $1,200. So only $1,000 short.

It’s aggravating having to wait; my mind’s been obsessed with dreaming about VR and a new rig all week. Everything I do feels like something to fill the time while waiting. And while that hasn’t really helped me be more productive in any way, it has actually been a bit cathartic; it’s helped relieve some of my overly-self-conscious “is this a good use of my time?” anxiety that just makes me angry when I feel like I wasted some time, which just makes me waste more time.

I’ve also been looking forward to YouTube’s upcoming game-streaming platform, their answer to Twitch. Maybe I’ll even try streaming some gameplay of my own, though that’ll have to wait until I build that new rig, because I doubt my current Vista-powered computer would stream very well.

I’m also looking forward to the upcoming game for PS4, The Last Guardian, showcased not long ago at E3. I’ve been waiting at least 6 years for this game; it was originally intended as a PS3 game, but it’s been in development for so long that PS4 is now their target console. Check it out:

I don’t have a PS4, but I guess I’ll need to buy one just for this game. Unless I get trapped in my Oculus Rift.

Waiting for the Oculus Rift

It was computer gaming that inspired me to self-learn GW-BASIC programming in elementary school. I wanted to make games. For the past decade, I’ve meandered from that interest, more towards music composition, writing fantasy, and even a couple years studying character animation. I’ve also been interested in 3D images since a young age, when ViewMasters and those Magic Eye books were popular. I’ve loved 3D movies at the theater since they’ve become feasible. I pity those who get motion sickness from the experience, but I’ve never understood any other sort of objections to them. (I, on the other hand, get motion sickness when trying to read in a car, which stinks. I usually have to look out the front window to avoid sickness. Of course, when driving, I have to do that anyway.)

So I’m super excited for the Oculus Rift, the virtual reality gear set to come out sometime near the beginning of 2016. That also gives me time to save up the money to buy it, along with the new computer I’ll need to power it. (And which I need anyway now that my 2009 Alienware laptop is practically useless outside of safe mode thanks to a failing hard drive, and my 2008 Vista-powered desktop is almost out of hard drive space and is outdated a quite a few other regards.) The Rift may get me obsessed with gaming again, and of course I’ll also want to explore developing my own projects with Unity 5. (My current desktop doesn’t even support Unity 5, and Unity 4 runs so slowly that it’s a bit agonizing to use.) The wait is a bit agonizing, but I’m definitely looking forward to it.

Beyond gaming, I can’t help but think about other possibilities the VR gear may make possible. Could I write a novel in a VR world, inspired by fantastical scenery and drowning out real-world distractions? Could I compose music by moving around blocks of notes or something instead of having to click notes into a scoring program? Could I watch a movie (perhaps a 3D one?) in a virtual movie theater so that it’s like watching the movie on a big screen in the distance?

How might VR gear transform websites themselves into virtual experiences? Could I browse books on Amazon as an enormous epic bookstore? Could I make a VR world for my blog?

What about chatting and VR hangouts in virtual worlds?

And then of course there’s Oculus’s Story Studio which I’ve already blogged about that is exploring fascinating possibilities.

I can’t wait to see what awesome new worlds VR technology may make possible!

Used bookstore plunder

We don’t have really any good used bookstores very close to us. They tend to have very small selections or high prices. But on Tuesday I was able to make it to a larger used bookstore about an hour away. Their selection wasn’t amazing, but wasn’t horrible either, and their prices were pretty nice. I unfortunately didn’t have as much time to peruse as I would’ve liked, but I spent quite enough money anyway, so the time limit was probably a good thing. I could browse books for many countless hours; it’s a great source of intellectual stimulation and inspiration. As to how long it will actually take me to get around to reading the books, I’m sure I’ll have them all read by *cough* *cough* [inaudible] *cough*.

So because I don’t have much else to blog about (besides [insert the latest controversial issue here], but enough’s been said about that already), I will tell you what books I got, complete with beautiful photographs filtered through Instagram’s X-Pro II because I’m so cool.

Dreams

Became interested in the works of Jung through Joseph Campbell, though he’s usually so abstract that he’s tough to read. I can’t help but think that trying to interpret dreams very much risks searching for meaning where there actually is none, at least not as much as one may think. But I’m interested in the subject regardless, and certainly open to having my mind changed if I can manage to understand what Jung writes. And even if I don’t agree, I’ll be interested in his thoughts.

Campbell

Speaking of Joseph Campbell, found a couple of his books there as well. Goddesses in particular looked interesting, because I had never heard of it before (granted, I think it was published posthumously and is actually a collection of his essays on the subject rather than something he actually put together himself), and because one of the stories I’m currently plotting involves a “goddess” archetype, so I’ll be interested in what insights Mr. Myth himself can share on the subject.

sagas

I’ve eyed this at the bookstore a few times, so nice to get a big discount on it at a used bookstore, eh? And it’s in almost new condition too. Just curious about the subject, though I know very little about it.

Power

I really have little clue what exactly this book is about. Browsing through it, parts looked interesting enough, and it was cheap. Guess we’ll see!

Goodkind

On to fiction, picked up the fourth book in Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, though I’ve yet to read the 2nd and 3rd. I read the first book, Wizard’s First Rule some years ago and enjoyed it. Goodkind’s writing is very bland, but that’s at least better than being clunky and cluttered, and the story itself definitely held my attention throughout. I’ve heard the series gets repetitive later on, though.

Jordan

I have yet to read any of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, though I hope to at some point, especially now that it’s actually complete, so I picked up the second, third, and fourth books in that series. (Already have the first.)

Vinge

Similarly, I have yet to read anything by Vernor Vinge, but I’ve good things about him from readers I trust and his books definitely look interesting.

Stephenson

I’ve read Neal Stephenson’s Anathem and Reamde, both of which I gave five stars, so I’m interested in anything by Stephenson. (Already have his Baroque Cycle and Cryptomicon, though I haven’t read them yet; they’re definitely doorstoppers.) I hope to start reading his latest book, Seveneves, as soon as I finish the last eighty pages of Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance, which I’ve been reading for the last two months.

IMG_20150528_045606

From the mind of Ray Bradbury, I’ve only read Something Wicked This Way Comes and Zen in the Art of Writing, both of which are fantastic. So I’ll definitely be interested to read some more of his work. I also like the look of these classy 70’s paperback editions. Can’t find ’em like this anymore. In a new bookstore, that is.

Peter Pan

Always interested in some classic children’s fantasy, as old-fashioned as the old stuff tends to be, and this isn’t one you see too often.

Sweeney Todd

And just because it was cheap. One of my favorite movies.

CDs

Finally, also got some CDs, mostly soundtracks. Good stuff.

And there you have it. Go out and peruse your closest used bookstore today, and support authors not getting any money… oh no, wait…

Love Never Dies

I watched Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies on blu-ray over the weekend, his sequel to his famous Phantom of the Opera. Being a fan of the original, I was curious to see the sequel, though I didn’t really have high hopes. I actually bought the cast recording when it came out, but couldn’t really get into it for whatever reason. And the plot involves the Phantom working at Coney Island, which sounds laughably ridiculous. Finally, the title, Love Never Dies, seems rather a bit melodramatic.

Love Never Dies

But I actually really enjoyed Love Never Dies a lot. It features some of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s better melodies, and the dark mysterious atmosphere they give Coney Island and the other sets complement the dark mysterious atmosphere of the original Phantom.

That said, I think one still has to approach this musical as sort of its own self-contained thing, merely based on the original, rather than a “definitive” continuation. (Especially as the original Phantom ends quite fine on its own, thank you very much; it doesn’t really leave anything to be said.) Though the main characters are back and musical references to the original are all over the place, Love Never Dies still feels a bit like fan-fiction. It has a different “spirit” to it. It’s not nearly as large in scope; rather, it’s a drama among a few characters. Gone is the mysterious and murderous Phantom lurking in the shadows, willing to kill to get what he wants. Now he’s the main character, trying to get back a piece of the love he knows he lost, without resorting to violence. Gone is the romantic and dependable Raoul willing to do anything for Christine; he now likes to drink and is a pretty much a jerk. And now there’s a child, Christine’s son, whom the Phantom quickly comes to realize has more in common with himself than his supposed father, Raoul. Could it be the Phantom has a son? If so, what does it mean for everyone?

So it’s a very different kind of story than the original Phantom of the Opera. But I think if you view it as “story variations on a group of characters” rather than a definitive sequel, it works very well. I enjoyed seeing the a-bit-too-romantic-Raoul turned into a jerk, I enjoyed seeing Christine still caring about the Phantom (though I suppose we must forget that he is a murderer who got away with even burning down an entire opera house), and I enjoyed seeing the Phantom facing the realization that he might be a father. After all, he’s been alone and rejected almost all his life; being able to pass on his interests in music and … dark brooding atmospheres? … seems a salvation. (And having just written a book called Son of a Dark Wizard, I suppose that dynamic appeals to me.)

Perhaps because I’ve been listening to quite a bit of symphonic metal lately, the song Beauty Underneath got stuck in my head the most. It’s a parallel to the title song of the original, only this time instead of leading his love interest to his lair under an opera house, he’s showing his lost-love’s son … a bunch of freaks trapped in glass or something. Anyway, it’s here that he’s realizing the child may share his interests because he shares his blood. Also, I think the singers on the blu-ray do a better job with the song than the cast on the album:

Talent and stuff

My weird and often late work hours prevent me from falling into any sort of groove lately; my sleep schedule is all over the place and I can’t seem to get into any sort of routine. Not that I really need one, but I’d probably be more productive with one. I’m still working on writing things and programming musical things, but progress is slow on everything. The days seem to be flying by; every day feels like only a few hours. Suddenly an entire week is gone, and then the entire month. My mind is clearly shrinking.

Talent book

I bought a book last week (or was it the week before?) called The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills by Daniel Coyle, which is basically a book of tips (52 to be exact) about how to… improve your skills, I guess one could say. It’s a quick and easy read and full of great little nuggets of wisdom about how to practice skills productively. I have yet to try putting them to the test (especially as I was feeling pretty sick all through last week), but one tip stood out to me…

From page 112:

Tip 51: Keep Your Big Goals Secret

… Telling others about your big goals makes them less likely to happen, because it creates an unconscious payoff — tricking our brains into thinking we’ve already accomplished the goal. Keeping our big goals to ourselves is one of the smartest goals we can set.

Definitely one I’ll have to try. This very blog is riddled with my blathering about goals I never seem to reach. So I’m going to try just shutting up about them and see if that helps at all. (It’s not my only problem, I know, but it’s still worth trying.)

Other interesting tips from the book include:

  • Tip 15: Break every move down into chunks
  • Tip 18: Choose five minutes a day over an hour a week
  • Tip 30: Take a nap
  • Tip 46: Don’t waste time trying to break bad habits — instead, build new ones
  • Tip 47: To learn it more deeply, teach it

The book makes a point about making a daily habit of things. The only daily habits I’ve gotten very good at are eating, sleeping, and taking showers. So that’s something I’ll have to work on. (Making new habits, that is, not eating and stuff.) The book also points out (as with the aforementioned tip 18) that just five minutes a day of focusing on some particular thing can make a big difference; it doesn’t have to be some hour and a half of dedication that will just wind up discouraging you from putting in any time at all. (“Oh, I don’t have enough time to focus very deeply today!”) So that’s definitely something I need to try.

Anyway, it’s a good book, and one that I’ll be rereading now and then. I especially appreciate how pithy it is. These self-helpy type books so often have only a few little points to actually make, but spread them out over a couple hundred pages bloated with boring personal stories and examples. And at the end the reader thinks, “Gee, that was good!” and then forgets what few main points there were, if there were even any at all. This book, on the other hand, is only main points, with pithy little paragraphs for a bit of elaboration. None of that annoying self-help bloating-to-make-it-book-length-to-sell-it stuff.

Bonus material

Here’s a TED talk by the author…

And here’s a funny comic from a talented person:

3-painting

February happenings…

Haven’t gotten much done this week. I’m adjusting to a slightly new work schedule with a bit more hours (which is good for the paycheck), plus some chest congestion has been keeping me from getting to sleep, and I keep waking up with headaches. So I haven’t been very good at finding large chunks of time to do any very focused work.

Anyway, I’ve been a bit torn lately between competing interests: should I work on my fiction writing, or my music software? Whenever I commit to one, I feel the pull of the other. Ultimately, though, I think I’m going to focus on programming my music software for a while. I’m excited about its potential, plus it would be awesome if I could turn it into a business and be self-employed with it. Not that I’m not arrogant enough to believe I could do the same with writing with more work and patience, but music software that’s like nothing else on the market (as far as I know) probably stands a better chance.

We’re not in Heaven yet…

I had a dream in which I was reading a book (and I very rarely read books in dreams). It was some guy’s autobiography. He wrote that he had met a spirit on his front lawn and that it “convinced me there was a God in Heaven who flicked all life into existence.” And then something I can’t remember. And then, “Every human soul is wise enough to remember that flick.”

One of the classic arguments for atheism. “If God exists, he must be evil to allow such suffering.”

Firstly, as I’ve blogged about before, the argument depends on a misunderstanding of the concept of God, separating God into two parts: some conscious entity who supposedly has magic powers to create the world and allow or disallow suffering as he sees fit, and an objective “right” and “wrong”, “good” and “evil”, that transcends God and which is then applied to God. And if God is judged to be “evil” by our standards, he can therefore not exist. Can you see the logical problem? The problem with negating God’s existence with an objective understanding of evil is that an objective understanding of evil can therefore not exist either. And if that doesn’t exist, you’ve lost your means by which to negate God’s existence.

In other words, your sense of “good” and “evil” is your sense God Himself. So judging God to be evil for allowing suffering does not negate his existence; rather, it reveals a paradox in your understanding of his will. The problem lies in our understanding. Why does God allow suffering, especially suffering that is not our fault? It seems so unjust! It is true enough that turning to atheism may seem to relieve the problem, but it hardly justifies it on a logical level.

And does atheism really relieve the problem? Does “banishing God” really make the suffering of the world any better? Now the suffering is OK because there is no grand entity to blame for it? If an atheist still holds that there exists, even if only in the mind, an ideal world in which there is no suffering, a sense of justice and a division between a moral right and wrong, an understanding that there is an objective difference between suffering and non-suffering, is he really an atheist? Or is he a theist who has lost hope and is angry at the God he blames for his suffering, and tries to relieve his guilt for that by calling himself an atheist?

But what about the suffering?

I’m afraid I don’t know why God allows all the suffering he does. I suspect we cannot know the reasons in this lifetime at all; it is something we may only be able to understand when we are able to see God face to face in Heaven. But it takes no more faith than a young child can conjure to believe that there is a reason, a good and perfect reason, and that it all works out for the good in the end. And even if I had no faith, this is the only logical conclusion there is, lest I abandon all sense of “good” and “evil” with God Himself.

I also suspect the reason has something to do with Free Will. The recognition that God allows suffering is at the very heart of faith; what faith would one need if there were no suffering? What faith would one need if we were all just born into Heaven? The entire point of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is that mankind is estranged from God; every son and daughter is estranged because their parents were estranged; that we are born estranged from God and that the life we live now was never what God ultimately intended for us; that there exists perfection (God) and that we don’t have it yet. The entire point of the story is a recognition that, hey, guess what? There’s suffering here, and we’re gonna feel it. And when you feel it, you can do two things: Turn to God, praying and hoping and striving and working to get back to his perfection. Or give up.

One thing you cannot logically do, however, is blame God for making you give up. That’s all on you.

Why does a child suffering from bone cancer stir the human heart? Why feel something for that child? As cheesy as it might sound, if you are having trouble believing in God, start there, with the feelings in your own heart. The easiest place to find God is in your natural desire to love. I do not mean your desire to love is evidence of God, I mean it is God Himself. The purity, perfection, omnipotence, omniscience, and forgiveness of God can all be found there, in your heart, in what you know as love. It is the portal to Heaven.

And it’s not just a one-way portal.

Build the kingdom

Maybe think about it this way: There is a kingdom in which there is no suffering. Some people left the kingdom in order to expand it, to build it in places it wasn’t before. Of course, outside of the kingdom there is suffering; it is painful to be outside of the kingdom. In this exile, the builders have children. The children, by nature of being born outside the kingdom, also experience suffering. But they were all also born with pieces of the kingdom, portals to bring the kingdom to where they are, and an assurance that they would never be disconnected from the kingdom (lest they knowingly cut that connection themselves).

Does it make any sense to blame the kingdom for the conditions experienced by the exiled children? “How dare the kingdom not already be here!”?

Movies with Oculus

I thought this was pretty exciting. A little too exciting. So exciting it makes me a bit sick with desire.

I’m definitely saving up for an Oculus dev kit… of course, by the time I can afford it (and the new computer I’ll need to use it), a consumer-oriented Oculus will probably finally be available. Still worth it though.

January projects…

A lot of people (as in one person) have asked me what I’m doing with myself these days, especially now that my novel Son of a Dark Wizard is indie-pubbed and garnering much acclaim and success, in its own slow way. So here’s what I’m up to, or at least what I’m trying to be up to:

  • I’ve started writing a new fantasy novel, which I blogged a little about on my writing blog.
  • I’m reading books and watching movies and playing video games (occasionally updating my media consumption log). This is for research of course.

Here are the other projects I hope to be working on soon as well, for the rest of this month and into February 2015:

  • Continue working on my co-writing projects.
  • Continue working the musical score for Son of a Dark Wizard. (I have an overflow of musical themes and ideas at this point, but I still want to keep experimenting with some things before I start actually writing the tracks.)
  • Start working on that long-dreamed-of web-comic.

The web-comic will be based on the children’s animated series proposal I put together a few years ago, about a young programmer who teams up with aliens to defeat galactic villains. Rather than your traditional web-comic that features a daily panel, I think my comic will be more like storyboard panels that must be viewed one at a time, preferably in full-screen; the user need only to click a button to move to the next panel. Though that sort of format may limit the comic in certain ways, I think it might also allow for a more immersive experience, especially if viewed in full-screen. I just have to figure out how to actually program that, and how I might be able to integrate it into WordPress. And then I have to, you know, actually draw all the panels. So this isn’t going to be finished anytime soon, but I figure I can go ahead and get started.

My 2014 favorites

Here’s another year’s worth of favorites! As usual, for books, the nominees are books I finished reading for the first time in 2014, regardless of their publication date. Movies and film scores must have been first released in the USA in 2014.

Hope y’all have a great 2015!

Year’s best live action film:boyhood

Year’s best animated film:boyhood

Year’s best film score:boyhood

Year’s best nonfiction book:boyhood

Year’s best fiction book:boyhood