Sunday, December 27, 2009


Like many amateur bloggers (and don't get me started on how hilarious I think it is that anyone qualifies as a professional blogger) I have fallen prey to 'real life syndrome'. Literally enthralled by my thesis, finals week, work, and holidays, I have forgotten to post to my blog. This is probably okay. It's not like I'm getting paid for this.
I've noticed that the majority of my posts thus far have been about food and/or games. In the spirit of this, and to keep you and me going during the blogging famine, here are some games I'm playing now:

*Dragon Age Origins (I think I'm at least halfway through it)
*Assassin's Creed II (It's-a me! Pop culture references!)
*Halo 3 (I am the last person on earth to get Halo 3)
*Dungeons & Dragons Online (Trying to master the art of auctioning)
*Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (FOR THE GLORY OF AMN!!!!)

It's tiring having all this free time. Here are some things I've eaten lately:

*Tamales with queso and Texas chili (traditional Christmas meal)
*Beef tenderloin encrusted with pecan, mustard and herbs (good one, Mom)
*Deviled eggs (I don't understand why I like deviled eggs so much)
*Two-tone fudge (another Christmas tradition)
*Ham (too much ham)
*Those gumdrops that only come in Christmas colors and the red ones are cinnamon and the green ones are mint (I can't decide which is my favorite)

Lists are fun. In any case, I had a great Christmas. I am outfitted with some dandy new clothes and other presents. In particular, I got both of A.J. Jacobs's books, "The Know It All", and "A Year of Living Biblically". I chose to read the latter first, and have been extremely pleasantly surprised by it. When I finish, I'll probably write a review.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Read the Manual

I remember when I was younger, when my video game purchases were limited by my allowance and thus primarily for my Gameboy or classics for my PSX and very infrequent, one of the very best things about making the purchase was reading the manual on the car ride back home. Man did I ever love reading the manual. There is the sense of studying it closely so that when I played the game, I would be prepared to operate its controls, but mainly, the manual was my first leap into the game's world. Most manuals are simply guides to the controls, but almost all of them have at least some little blurb about the environment. Some manuals even had more information about the game world than the game itself (cf. the Marathon manuals). Often, manuals gave you your first explanation of how the game world worked, which is always important for me as it is my first step for immersion. I also remember what a treasure trove finding all the old manuals for my grandmother's NES games. That was pretty awesome.
There was always something interesting in the manual for me, little previews to get me psyched up even more than I already was. And seeing as I had to save up sometimes for months in advance in order to buy a game, I was already pretty psyched up. Then, as now, I only bought games I really, really wanted for sure, which were few and far in between.
Reading the manual now is a much different story. I buy games a lot more often now that I have disposable income, and since I am usually driving myself, I usually can't read the manual on my way home unless I want to get into a car accident. But the manual is still the first thing I look at when I get home, and reading it is the first thing I do, before I ever play the game.
These days, I frequently find myself disappointed by manuals, sometimes to the point of absurdity. Dragon Age: Origins is a fantastic game with a terrible manual. I can't even remember what it said, except that it made no sense to me whatsoever and was pretty disorganized and all around hard to read. I'm sure there was some valuable information in there somewhere, but I couldn't tell you what, and this is the pattern I see most often these days. It seems manual writing is a bit of a lost art. I don't know if game publishers have a philosophy for manuals, and the lack thereof may be the reason why they are so wildly different from game to game. It would be nice if a manual made me excited to read on about when to press A, but I also have to recognize that the manual, as an auxiliary piece of literature which is often made redundant by in-game tutorials, is not necessarily important enough to spend a lot of time or QA on.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Exercises in masochism

What Facebook really needs is Bastard Tetris. That will teach you to procrastinate. Maybe you think you're good at Tetris. Maybe you think it won't hurt anything if you just play a flash game for five minutes. Well, you're wrong. If you're going to procrastinate, you may as well punish yourself simultaneously, rather than later when you realize you have wasted all your time.
You'll start playing Bastard Tetris, and for a bit, things will go just fine. Oh sure, it threw you the worst starting piece, but that's no big deal. This isn't that hard, you'll say to yourself. I'm even doing well, I've knocked out five lines already! And that is when Bastard Tetris will give you twenty S-pieces in a row, and then squares. Don't be ridiculous. Bastard Tetris isn't your friend.
And you will love it, because you deserve every time you get the L-piece that faces the wrong way from what you needed, because you are supposed to be working right now.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Someone was mean to me on the Internet

As some of you know, I spend a great deal of time on the Internet. I am bold enough to say to my professors that I spend so much time on the Internet that I am qualified to write papers about it. A lot of the time that I spend online is used playing games. These days, I generally like first-person shooters, like Counter-Strike or Team Fortress 2, where I feel like I am a comfortably average player. I've occasionally dallied in MMOs, having played Guild Wars devotedly for a little while. Right now, I play on Dungeons & Dragons Online, which is, notably, free.
All of these games center on the multiplayer experience, in the sense that without other people, there is no game. Even in MMOs, where it is possible to play through content by yourself, there are numerous points where it is simply not possible to win if you're alone. So interacting with other people is a big part of the games. When people are friendly and competent, this can make for an awesome game. When they are stupid or rude, well, you get the idea.
Something happened to me today that never happened to me before. Now, I have been yelled at plenty of times while gaming online for a large variety of reasons, but this was new to me. I was lectured, extensively and aggressively, on how to play my character, as I was, apparently, doing a terrible job.
On DDO, I play an elven ranger named Shenoute. The ranger's job is, historically, to shoot things with arrows and pet animals, all the way from the original Dungeons & Dragons days. In tabletop, where a Dungeon Master is interacting with you and crafting a story on a personal level, rangers can have all kinds of uses. Their ability to commune with nature, be invisible, and shoot people is rarely questioned. But when D&D hits the MMO platform, the tactics change. Thinking creatively is not important here; you must always be the biggest, baddest killing machine (or healer) possible or otherwise YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.
The way I play Shenoute, I pretty much live on my bow. I shoot arrows at monsters. I try to manage how monsters hit my party, because I see them before everyone else does, and I also try to draw fire away from other people. I am going for a particular prestige class that is basically a sniper. Why? Because I think that would be awesome. And I like playing this way. I think it's fun.
But this is not enough for some people. It was not enough for the guy who decided to call me out tonight. We were breezing through quests on the hardest level with the greatest of ease, and halfway through a long quest, he turned around and started tearing into me. Why do you use a bow when everyone knows they suck, he asked. Ranged is crap, you need to switch to melee. Stop shooting at things and melee. If you don't want to melee, then why are you here? Why are you taking up space being useless? Oh, 'you want to have fun', whatever.
For this person, it was not enough that we were doing well and enjoying ourselves individually. He seemed to have every sundry detail worked out to exacting specifications for how it should be done, and any deviation is useless and offensive. He had to turn around and start accusing me of messing everything up for everyone. Naturally, I am perturbed by these kinds of people, for whom playing a game is a mechanical process with rigidly defined rules, for whom it is a matter of clockwork and machine-like efficiency. It doesn't matter if they actually succeed in this or not, so long as they think this way. Seeing someone like me, whose character has been haphazardly designed for maximum coolness and funtime rather than to beat the game at its own rules, is apparently unbearable.
I wonder if they are really having fun, or if yelling at other people and telling them how to play the game 'right' is their way of compensating for the fact that they aren't really having fun. Seeing what they are lacking, perhaps, they lash out. If that's true, it's pretty sad. I can't hope to understand why people like this go to such lengths to enumerate things that they may as well be performing statistical analysis to find the best class combinations. I really just want to have fun, so I left the party in the middle of the quest and found another one that picked up where I left off. I plan to keep running and gunning, even if it isn't the best class in the game, because that's not what's important to me.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I go to a school where people work so hard, they get sick, are miserable for weeks, and then get better just in time to catch the same disease right back. Or so it appears, although I have been informed that according to medicine this is not very likely. The point is that most of my colleagues have a startling disregard for their own health.
I find this perplexing, as I love making myself feel good. I don't exercise enough or eat as well as I should, but I refuse to fail to get enough sleep unless it's really important, and most of the time I do get the hours in. I believe that taking a lunch break, or a taco break, or a dinner break, or a midnight breakfast break, is not only important, but sacred and necessary. I will go to great ends to accomplish this feat. In general, I believe in taking breaks because I have an extremely hard time maintaining my concentration for long periods of time. Taking a break - and I like to take game breaks, or TV breaks - refresh the mind and lighten the spirit.
I know for a fact that I don't get enough work done by my own measure. While it is commonly believed that teachers assign you more than they expect you to read, I always intend to read all of it. Naturally, I virtually never accomplish this goal, and fall short of even my minimum standards. I am always sorry not to get enough done, but it seems that in reality, there is little I can do to get more done and retain my sanity. And I find that sanity makes me more efficient than being depressed about work.
When I take breaks, especially when I take food breaks, I frequently attempt to seduce my colleagues away from their desks and make them come with me. I ask because I know that they, too, are working hard, and they will more often than not refuse to take a break. As far as I know, this pattern of behavior is the norm. Want to go grab a bite? Nope, can't, too busy. We are too busy all of the time.
One might ask, if we are too busy all of the time, then shouldn't we be getting more done? How is it that we can all be too busy, but never finished? Is our only alternative to settle for less than we know we can accomplish? When does being too busy wrap around to become an impediment to accomplishment unto itself? What are the bounds of sanity, and do we cross them when we decide that work is more important than rest or food? Perhaps most importantly, when we leave this place and stop having homework, what will fill that void?
It's difficult to address these questions when you have deadlines, but they are no less important in the long run.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Regardless of when you eat it.
Many cultures have elaborate breakfast cuisine developed over hundreds of years, although as an American I am very partial to American-style breakfast, and its spiritual antecedent, English breakfast. The ideal American breakfast is hearty, involves grease, and has tons of room for improvisation. There is something quintessentially American about it that is hard to pin down. Hearty breakfasts are meals intended for people who 1) get up before 11 o' clock and 2) require significant amounts of energy before lunchtime. For example, cowboys would fall pretty solidly into this category, as would captains of industry and farmers.
My relationship with breakfast is a little complicated. Perhaps it is because for most of my life I have neglected to eat breakfast at all that I have now fallen in love with the concept of breakfast. Likewise, as I primarily eat healthily, a fried egg with a slab of bacon and sourdough toast with a pat of butter on top, all, of course, made with saturated fats, and a big cup of milky, sweet tea on the side makes me crazy. My ideal breakfast is in the middle of nowhere, America, off the side of a major roadway, likely just before we set off again. There's something about food on the road that can't be duplicated, and breakfast on the road is doubly so, whatever it is.
But in my spare time, I try to get as close as possible, and that is why I now bring to you a quick review of my favorite Portland breakfast spots:

Cup & Saucer Cafe, 3566 SE Hawthorne Blvd
The Cup & Saucer is one of those places which contains the distilled essence of Portland. It has 'Northwest' style dishes, organic veggies, caters to vegetarians and vegans, and the waiters look like they're trying to pick up some extra cash on their time away from the carnival. The food is solid, and they have two strengths: scrambles with basically every combination of ingredients you could possibly think of, and scones. Goodness gracious, the scones. The scones are the best scones I've ever had. Is it because they're fresh? Is it because they're made with love? I don't know. Please give me some more scones.
Price: $
Portions: large
Classiness: 2

Toast, 5222 SE 52nd Ave
I'm going to be honest with you: I don't like Toast. I like that it's down the street from me, but in my opinion, it's unoriginal and overpriced. Their drinks are also not great and the service is slow. However, my friends like it and they didn't throw us out when we had a loud, prolonged conversation about the American justice system. They also give you coffee to drink while you're waiting outside forever because the service is slow.
Price: $$
Portions: medium
Classiness: purported 4

2239 SE Hawthorne Blvd
Jam is always crowded. It is far nicer-looking than Cup & Saucer, but the fare is pretty similar. Jam also does scrambles, although they are much more traditional than C&S's.
Jam is always crowded, so get there early. Of course, in Portland 'early' means, like, 'nine o' clock'. Jam has awesome drinks. They're scrumptious. And if the line's way too long, you can always walk across the street to Grand Central Bakery.
Price: $$
Portions: large
Classiness: 3

Zell's Cafe, 1300 SE Morrison St
Zell's is pretty tight. You can get a straight to order breakfast here, and the bacon is crispy. Big points there. This is also really crowded, so again, get there before the hungover hipsters crawl out of bed and roll downstairs to get breakfast. Zell's also does the more 'experimental' side of breakfast, creating seasonal dishes. It's yummy. I really liked their potatoes.
Price: $-$$
Portions: respectable
Classiness: 4

The Original Hotcake House,
1002 SE Powell Blvd
THE HOTCAKE HOUSE. 'Early' at the Hotcake House is 10 pm. By 1 am the place will be totally full with lines out the door. I have never been to the Hotcake House while the sun was still up because they are open 24h/day. They say they have the best pancakes. They are right. The Hotcake House is the closest I get to my magic road trip breakfast, perhaps because there is the same kind of hopelessness present here as there is in a small dead-end town kept alive only by passing cars. Life's a bitch, so let's make hashbrowns.
Price: $
Portions: HUGE
Classiness: 1

4931 SE 82nd Ave
1.Head north on SE 82nd Ave toward SE Liebe St
0.7 mi
2.Turn left at SE Powell Blvd
3.9 mi
3.Turn right at SE 8th Ave
213 ft
4.Take the 1st right onto SE Woodward St
262 ft
5.Take the 1st right onto SE 9th Ave
210 ft
6.Turn left at SE Powell Blvd
Destination will be on the right
387 ft
1002 SE Powell Blvd
Portland, OR 97202
You'll thank me later.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I am a linguistics major

I am a linguistics major. This is a relatively new discipline, which, despite being one of the oldest studies ever (shout out to Panini) has only come into its own since the 1950s when people like Noam Chomsky really started formulating theories. Of course, back in the old days, everyone and their brother was a linguist in their spare time, including Jakob Grimm, one of the brothers thereof.
Because linguistics as something one studies at college is a relatively recent development, when linguistics majors go out into the world and get asked what their major is, the response they invariably receive is something like, "So, how many languages do you speak?"
Just for the record, I barely speak English. Now, languages I've studied - Spanish, Russian, Coptic, Nepali... the list gets bigger when you count 'languages I had problem sets about'. But that's not the point. Linguistics isn't really about speaking languages - what we would call 'competency'. That often helps, because linguistics is really about how languages work, and seeing how as many of them work as you can gives you a sense of what's out there. But your average linguist is not the most competent polyglot. Most linguists have a specialty, a particular interest in an aspect of language, or of one particular language, or in one or two theories, and this is what they focus most their time on. This could be something like the syntax of Malagasy, like the chair of my school's department, or how we say things without saying them ('pragmatics'), or how language changes over time, or even things like dialects, like Scots English or African-American Vernacular English. As you can imagine, there is a great deal of subjects which linguists address before you even get out of English.
Being an undergraduate linguistics major means that you spend a lot of your time making weird noises as you pronounce items from the International Phonetic Alphabet and being unable to have a full normal conversation when someone says something that is syntactically or semantically fascinating ('wrong' is also fascinating). You are also a huge target for criticism from psychology majors, who are just above the Science pecking order from you. You will counter that you do empirical studies with repeatable results, but it will not matter, because everyone you meet is an expert on language. But that's okay, because you can make really neat trees, and talk about the Sapir-Whorf theory.
Linguistics majors are misunderstood, although I will admit that lurking around the library making hissing and clicking noises is pretty creepy. But most linguistics majors I know, myself included, are genuinely entranced by the nuances and complexities of language, and quite capable of keeping themselves very happy without anyone else's approval. Linguistics majors are prone to bursting into excited tangents when they find something new, and because language is all around us, we are always finding something new. It makes for an exciting life of the mind.
That, and at least we're not sociologists.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Hi there.

So this is my new blog.

By way of introducing myself, hi. I currently reside in Portland, OR, which is a great town. I like baby animals, microbrews, William Shakespeare, and the Daily Show, amongst many, many other things. I even enjoy the occasional MMO.

I have been around the Internet for a while. Not going to lie, I, like many other kids in my generation, grew up on it. At present, I go by several names. No one has ever called me any of these in real life, but since my real-life nicks tend to be things like 'Amalamadingdong', I think you're better off just calling me Ofiuco.

I don't really have a plan for this blog, other than it will be mostly sanitary and hopefully interesting, so that I can give it out to all kinds of people, including my family, without worrying that they will be shocked by news that I am no longer twelve. Not that they would be, just sayin.

I look forward to writing rambling monologues about whatever comes to mind. That is what blogs are for, right?