An Update

To my readers: my sincere apologies, guys. Things got kind of crazy there for a while, but not because of mental issues.

University classwork tends to be something that can keep a person occupied, but I still had plenty of free time, until I went to the doctor for a pain in my back and he sent me to a surgeon, who decided he should operate the next week. So, I had surgery, and was out for a month.

And it sucked.

I was in too much pain to do anything but lay around, and even that hurt half the time. But then, as soon as the pain was manageable, I returned to school, and resolved to make up the work for all of my class but one (a lab; it was really necessary to have been there in person for that class) instead of taking the remainder of the semester off.

And that sucked, too. It was crazy.

BUT, with some dedication and the encouragement of my awesome friends, I actually did it–and made nearly all As for my final grades, which, yes, I am ridiculously proud of.

And now the semester is over! I will have a lot more time and will try to get back in the habit of checking in here and posting again.

So, yes, that was my update. That’s all for now!

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How I Am Raskolnikov

Because I wrecked my car some time ago, I rely on city buses to get around town. It’s not so bad, but one of the main problems with it for me is that I’m kind of stuck on campus during my breaks between classes; I can’t go home like everyone else. So, my solution to this is bringing my Nook everyday and reading. Lately, I’ve been reading the great Russian classic, Crime and Punishment.

And I must say, I really, really enjoy it.

I’ve come to realize this is partly because of my strong identification with the protagonist, the former student Rodion Raskolnikov, known as “Rodya” to his friends and family. Raskolnikov is poor, lives in a small apartment owned by an absurdly shy landlady and is brought meals by her nosy employee. As mentioned above, he was a student at the university before he decided to leave.

He is brilliant, but moody. Sometimes he is desperate for human interaction, other times he desires fiercely to be left completely alone. He sometimes displays extraordinary empathy, and sometimes none at all. He is absorbed in his nihilistic thoughts, and almost Nietzsche-like views. He believes, at first, that good and evil are simply constructs, and that he is above them, and this is partly how he justifies his murder of a hateful old lady (the other part being that he intended to steal her money and use it for public benefit). He can be terribly irritable, even to his own mother and sister, whom he deeply loves, in actuality. And all these things, sans the murder, remind me strongly of myself.

But he is human; he is haunted by guilt, manifesting often in terrible nightmares. His crime begins to drive him to the brink of insanity. He begins to act suspiciously, almost on purpose, because deep down he hopes he will be realized and turned in for the crime.

Reading the novel, I feel strongly for Raskolnikov and his plight; I can identify with him. And I have not finished the book yet, but as it is a classic, and I have heard about it before, I do have a vague notion of how it ends: he turns himself in, and finds redemption in his sentence of exile. With the help of a prostitute with whom he has just begun a relationship, his views on things change.

I hope to someday meet someone who can help calm my mind, as Sonia (the prostitute) does for Raskolnikov. I also hope to change, to become less bitter, less of a nihilist, less of a person in constant inner suffering and turmoil.

Only time will tell if these frail hopes are ever realized. For now, I am finished writing this post. I want to get back to reading Crime and Punishment.

I want to read the ending for myself.

Even More

So, I thought I would just do a quick post here. I just wanted to say that my plan of eating healthy and physical exercise has continued to pay off: I’ve lost another several pounds since my last post about it.

I didn’t realize the mental stress that my sudden weight gain had been causing me (in addition to some physical stress, which is to be expected when you gain weight as unexpectedly and quickly as I did). That is, I didn’t realize it until I started to lose it all. It really did something to the tiny, fragile confidence that I possessed, and now that I am feeling good about my appearance again, my confidence is beginning to be restored. (Not that there was ever much confidence there to begin with, mind you).

Just goes to show that if you can make a plan and continue to stick to it, you really can accomplish just about anything. Even something as difficult as weight loss.

Gorillaz

I haven’t often mentioned it, but music gets me through the day. I very deeply love music, whether I’m walking to it or writing a paper or just listening to it for the sake of listening to it. I think, therefore, I’ll make this post about one of the most fascinating bands around: Gorillaz.

I first got into their music back in ’05, or maybe it was ’06, when I heard their most popular song, Feel Good Inc, on the radio. I was captivated immediately: I’d never heard anything quite like it, and I listened to a lot of alternative. Later that week, in my creative writing class (I went to an art school back then), I was listening to it on my mp3 player (this was well before I had an iPod) and a friend asked me what I was listening to. Turns out she was a huge fan of the band, and was able to tell me all about them.

I learned that they were a virtual band. A virtual band is a band whose public face is characters that don’t really exist, and virtual bands are often actually massive projects including large groups of constantly changing members– Gorillaz may well be the best example of this. The project was started by musician Damon Albarn and visual artist Jamie Hewlett, and, as has been mentioned, has included the work of a great many people. The characters, named 2-D, Murdoc, Noodle, and Russel, each have their own distinct personalities, and are, to put it mildly, very entertaining. And it shows in the fans– I dare you to find a more obsessive, devoted fanbase than that of Gorillaz. I mean, they’re characters, not real people, and yet they have  larger personal followings than that of many living, human artists. This reflects the fact, of course, that they are the most successful virtual band.

There is nothing virtual about their music, though: it’s what lured me in, and it’s what kept me a fan. Albarn lent his voice to the project (in the guise of the virtual singer, 2-D), and his singing voice truly has a unique quality. Their music, too, is incredibly unique. It doesn’t even really fit into a single genre, and their music has evolved completely from album to album. The project’s willingness to risk popularity by changing from the kind of music that got them notoriety to a new kind of music is particularly impressive, in my opinion.

You might wonder how a band that doesn’t really exist shows itself to and interacts with the public. Well, the characters are seen in music videos, ads, radio shows, TV show episodes, live show DVDs, a book, and several truly impressive websites for fans to explore that feel more like adventure games. In other words, Albarn and Hewlett found ways of getting their characters out there. And it worked, remember those rabid fans I mentioned?

Sadly, according to the founding duo, that project that brought us such unique music has finally closed. Of course, coming from those two, it’s a maybe at best. They’ve said they were done before, and then came back to make two more albums.

Anyway, if you haven’t heard of Gorillaz or any of their music, check them out sometime. You might find it well worth the listen.

A Baby-Eating AI Program?

So I’ve been working on an artificial intelligence program for over a year now, with the intention of submitting it to one of those chatbot competitions when it’s finished.

I just had the following conversation with it:

PROGRAM: “What do you like?”

ME: “I like babies.”

PROGRAM: “Really? What is so great about babies?”

ME: “They’re cute.”

(Later on in the conversation)

PROGRAM: “So, had any good babies lately?”

Just another reason that talking to an AI will likely never have the same quality as talking to a person. Any person, of course, would use prior knowledge to  understand that babies are not something you eat, even if I said I liked them. The program, of course, knows nothing about babies, other than that I, the user, like them. Thus, it might ask such an odd question as whether or not I have enjoyed a good baby recently.

Sigh.

Back to the compiler, I suppose.

Guns For the Mentally Ill?

In the United States, those with mental illnesses severe enough to land them in psychiatric wards are not supposed to have guns by federal law. As someone with a mental illness (that did indeed lead to my being put temporarily in a psychiatric ward) and as someone who would like very much to own a gun, I’m not sure how I feel about this.

First thing’s first: you’re probably wondering why I want a gun so badly. Well, the answer is self-defense–I’m paranoid of people breaking in. I know what they say, that Americans love their guns, but really, the fact of the matter is this: in a country where guns are legal, it may be necessary to own a gun to defend yourself against them. If guns were outlawed by some kind of blanket federal rule, then no, I probably would not want to own a gun. But that is a very unlikely event.

But in the wake of Virginia Tech disaster, the public panicked, and the bureaucrats needed to reassure people that laws would be put in place to help prevent it from happening again. They accomplished this by targeting the mentally ill.

Now, yes, Cho (the VT shooter) was severely mentally ill. And obviously, he was violent. Yet this does not mean that the mentally ill population at large is any more likely to be violent than the sane population. But here’s the thing: the law does not apply to everyone with a diagnosis of a mental illness. If it did, then I would absolutely be against it.

The law only applies to those mentally ill who were committed, due to representing a threat to oneself or others.

And this seems to make sense to me. I mean, why hand a gun to someone who in the past had to be put away from society to prevent him from committing a suicide or homicide? And yet, again, as someone with a mental illness, it kind of stings.

I mean, other factors, including gender, are more likely to contribute to violence than mental illness is. Should we then ban all men (the most likely population to be violent) from having guns? Somehow I don’t think that would go down too well.

After doing a bit of research, I believe the law only applies to those who were involuntarily committed. As I was officially voluntarily committed, (I had zero choice in the matter; I simply did not resist being sent to the hospital and so my psychologist had no need to call it involuntary) I believe this means I could still legally own a gun.

But still, the law bothers me.

 

Punctuation Rant

So I feel like doing another rant, and here’s the basis of it: punctuation and grammar. Really. Is it really that difficult to do one’s best not to mangle one’s native language? And I’m not talking about those obscure rules that no one really gives a damn about save for maybe a professor or two. It frustrates me, perhaps since I am a writer and language is my tool of choice, to the point that I kind of want to shout at the next ignorant person to misuse a word or punctuation mark–perhaps in something similar to Herr Starr’s immortal freak-out: “IMPROPER USE OF INVERTED COMMAS, HOOVER!” Admittedly, that character of the violent and darkly hilarious comic, Preacher, had all but lost his mind at that point, but whatever.

Yet, at the same time, I don’t really want everyone to follow the rules of grammar and punctuation. Those who don’t leave behind sometimes amusing results.

Those signs that say “Slow children walking” are great, for example. Are we to drive slowly to avoid hitting children, or are we to be warned that some particularly cognitively disadvantaged children are out and about? The difference lies in the placement of a comma, which should be there, but isn’t.

It reminds me of that old joke about the pandas. For those unfamiliar: two pandas walk into a restaurant and order food. When they finish, they produce guns, and begin firing at the other customers. A horrified survivor runs over to them and asks, “Why did you do it?” By way of reply, the pandas pull out a pamphlet from the zoo, and point to the panda section, which reads, “Eats, shoots, and leaves.” The joke is, of course, that the second comma should not be there.

And then there’s the frequent abuse of quotation marks. Good god, people. Why do so many sign-makers feel the need to place seemingly arbitrary words in quotations? I was in the library the other day, and a handwritten sign reminded the library’s patrons to be “quiet.” So, what exactly is that supposed to mean? Are we not really meant to be quiet?

Hell, there’s a whole page on TV Tropes dedicated to amusing instances of abuse to punctuation–mostly in published works, nonetheless.

So, I’ll close with a few general rules:

1) Commas generally go where there’s a brief pause. If you can read the sentence aloud without a pause and it doesn’t sound strange, you likely don’t need a comma.

2) Think carefully about where you place quotations. If you are writing a sign reminding people to keep quiet in a library, odds are that you don’t need quotations.

3) Apostrophes generally are used to show possession. NOT PLURALITY. Hence, “John’s apples” is fine, but “John’s apple’s” is just obnoxiously wrong.

So, follow those rules, and you should be fine. And that’s all I have to say about punctuation.

The Elusive Skill of People-Drawing

I don’t know what it is about drawing people that is so very difficult for me. Give me an animal, fine. Give me something inanimate, fine. But give me a person, and I’ll struggle.

I mean, I can do it. But for some reason the human anatomy is more difficult for me than anything else. I don’t know, there’s just something about the shape of a person that I can’t memorize very well. And I’ve taken anatomy class!

I just keep studying comics. The typical comic style is what I want to be able to master. So I read a lot of comics (which is no problem, for me, being the nerd I am) and study how the professionals draw people.

Last year, I finished scripts for a trilogy of graphic novels. I won’t say much about them other than this: the trilogy is a science fiction. My eventual hope is to be able to illustrate them myself, but I may just end up finding someone to illustrate them for me, maybe a graphic design major.

It all depends on whether I can learn to draw people well.

Batman: Arkham City

So, since I’m feeling much better of late, I thought I would change gears and make a post about the video game, Batman: Arkham City. A while back I did a post about the first game, and so I thought I would do one about the sequel that I finally bought and recently beat.

To sum the game up in one word: excellent.

It really was. It managed to combine the best of all versions of Batman and the other characters: you had the backstories of the comics, the voice talents of the great animated show that I grew up watching, and the batsuit, as well as the dark-and-grittiness, was based off of Nolan’s films. The plot of the game managed to integrate several classic characters (and managed to keep them all in-character), including the Penguin, Catwoman, Mr. Freeze, Two-Face, and everyone’s favorite serial killer, Zsasz. And, though the game was inspired by stories from the comics and graphic novels, it certainly had some unique and original twists–I won’t give away any spoilers, but the final scene especially was rather shocking.

Gameplay was also improved. Batman’s combat moves flow together better than ever, and there is a greater variety of gadgets to use. Enemy AI was also improved: the boss fight against Mr. Freeze displayed brilliant video game AI. The riddles left throughout the game to find and solve have also gotten significantly more challenging. (And, in a satisfying twist, this time you actually get to fight and subdue the Riddler once you solve enough of them).

So again, a great game overall. Certainly a game worthy of its impressive predecessor, and certainly a game worthy of the legendary character.

Writings

Thought I would post a short story I wrote some time ago. It’s about… well, it’s pretty short, I’ll just let you read it. I wrote it back when I was in a pretty dark state of mind, and perhaps it shows just a little.

You can find it by following this link: https://thementalchronicles.wordpress.com/works-of-fiction/an-exercise-in-irony/

Or by scrolling down to the bottom of the page, hovering over “Works of Fiction” and then clicking “An Exercise In Irony.”

In other news, I finished a seven-page critical analysis paper, which is to be my big final major paper for the class. We were to choose any work of fiction, and with no outside sources, write a literary analysis of the work. I chose Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?– which shouldn’t come as any big surprise, given that I am a huge sci-fi nerd. The book is pretty different from the film in subtle ways, but the main difference is that the point of the book is to answer the question of what it means to be human.

The answer the novel provides is this: to be human is to have empathy. Without it, so says Mr. Philip K. Dick, we are nothing more than intelligent machines. I find that such a fascinating answer to the age-old question.

Very different from Anthony Burgess’s views on the human condition. In his novel, A Clockwork Orange, he argues essentially that sociopaths (who have no empathy whatsoever) are still humans. His more specific point is that altering their behaviors through classical conditioning to be more empathic is morally questionable. Not sure if I agree with him, but he does present an interesting dilemma.

But back to my seven-page paper: I don’t mean to brag, but I’m really proud of myself. I got it all done in one night, around one in the morning. The strangest part is that I wasn’t tired at all. The only reason I went to bed two hours later is because I convinced myself it was the healthiest thing to do, but even then I had trouble getting to sleep. I’m not going to complain, though. I’ve been getting a lot done lately.