Thursday, June 28, 2012

Airbending and the Spirit

Disclaimer:  This post has spoilers of the Legend of Korra season 1 finale.  If you are sensitive to spoilers and haven't seen the finale don't read this.  Otherwise, please read on.


Poster for the season finale of The Legend of Korra.
It's no secret I love Avatar: The Last Airbender and the Legend of Korra spin-off series.  Charming characters, cool martial arts, and intelligent story development.  Those familiar with the series know that it takes a lot of it's ideas from eastern lore and religion.  When I watch the series I don't expect to find spiritual allegories for this reason.  However, the first season finale of Korra surprised me with an allegory on the spirit.  It's important to have some Airbending Lore knowledge before I get into this allegory.  

The thing you should know about the Air Nomads is that they are the most spiritual of the four nations.  The Air Nomads would travel around the world and were the most peaceful of all the nations.  Their style of martial arts is very defensive.  When you look at it, it looks like a dance.  It is excellent at evading.  Although it does stop opponents it is the least lethal of all the fighting styles.

The cool thing about air is that you can't see it.  Fire, Water, and Earth are all clearly visible and tangible.  Airbenders use an element that in of itself is not seen but effects are.  The spirit and influence of Christ is very much the same.  When you go to share your testimony, act in service, or speak kind words, you can feel presence or influence of the Holy Ghost.  Even though it can't be seen, it's effects solidify truth.

What makes Korra so interesting as a character is her difficulty with Airbending.  Korra has mastered the other three elements of Water, Earth, and Fire.  In fact, she excels at the physical responsibility of being the Avatar.  While her talents in martial arts are incredible she has very little connection to the spirits of the earth, the past Avatars, and her self.  Aang, being an Airbender, was the opposite.  He had visions and was connected to his spiritual side from the beginning of the first episode.

Korra's struggle to connect to spirit makes up most of the first season.  Her decisions are sometimes rash and she desperately wants to connect with the spirit of Aang (the previous Avatar) but with little avail.  Her personality is arrogant in her abilities.

After Korra's up-hill-battle to learn Airbending she loses all ability to bend from Amon's Bloodbending powers in the season finale.  (Quick Tangent:  It's interesting that Amon, the bad guy in the show, is an expert Bloodbender.  Bloodbending essentially takes away a person's agency and tortures them.  There's a whole other allegory here I would write about more about but kind of already did in a previous post.  The best antagonists in storytelling will be so similar to the adversary.)

Korra loses so much more then her ability to bend.  She feels like she loses herself.  Korra, the expert bender who has prided herself on her abilities, her identity as the Avatar, has lost all of it.  Mako and her try to escape Amon but he quickly recovers from Mako's blasts to bloodbend Mako right to Amon's feet.  While Mako is forced to kneel down, Amon reaches for his forehead to take away bending from the talented Firebender.
Korra loses her ability to bend the elements to Amon!

Korra is humbled and weakened from Amon's attack.  Seeing her love in danger she lashes out with any energy she can possibly summon to unleash a fierce wind that sends Amon backwards.  "I can airbend?!  I can airbend!!"  Because of her humility and love for Mako, Korra connects to her spiritual side and is able to bend the element no one can see: Air.

This is what I get from Airbending and what it says about the Spirit and righteousness.  The first is that evil always underestimates the power of God.   The bad guys in this show always underestimates Air.  It is the soft yet powerful force of Airbending that defeats Amon.  The first time Equalist Chi Blockers try to capture Tenzin's family of Airbenders they are caught off guard by a form of bending they haven't faced before.  The same is the case for the power of God in our own life.

The spirit of God works when everything else fails.  Amon was able to take away all the powers Korra had except Airbending.  I wonder if Airbenders can even be effected by Amon's ability.  You'd think Korra's bending ability would be for any element.  But Air was strong when the others failed.  In our own lives we can always rely on the principles of the Gospel and the promptings of the spirit when we lose jobs, family members, or other hardships.


Korra in the Avatar State having finally connected with her spiritual self.
In fact, it was when Korra was deep in hardship that she was able to tap into her spiritual side and unlock her ability to bend Air.  Later, the spirit of Avatar Aang tells her, "When we hit our lowest point we are open to the greatest change."  Trials are rough but they are often blessings in disguise.  I know for me, if it weren't for the trials I faced I wouldn't be a solid friend, close to my savior, or have the other blessings I have in my life today.  When we are humbled, like Korra, we can unlock potential inside of us only our Father in Heaven knows exists.

I really hope you enjoyed The Legend of Korra as much as I did.  I know that as we hit that lowest point we can always rely on the spirit of God to help us out of it and unlock our potential.


-Stephen

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cryptozoologists, Ghost hunters, and UFO watchers

Anyone who knows me knows that I am into some weird stuff. It's true that I may not know who is currently running Russia, and I'm a little sketchy as to how to change the oil in a car, but if you want to ask me about the Mapinguari- the mythological giant sloth rumored to live deep in the Amazon, I can tell you about some pretty compelling evidence to make you believe that I should be committed. But don't call Arkham just yet! I'm not the only one who's into the paranormal world around us. What if monsters, ghosts and ET were real? What if we did live in a world with Bigfoot, flying saucers, and the legendary Brown Lady? If you're not a believer, you gotta admit it's an awesome thought anyway.

UFO watchers
This is one I don't really put a lot of energy to, but research ghosts and UFOs come up almost automatically. There's some interesting footage, especially the stuff that came out of Mexico City a few years ago, but I'm the kind of guy that until they land I'm not really that interested. Although some really freaky evidence is a painting made a few hundred years ago of the Virgin Mary and child. Check out right behind her left shoulder.
Yup. That's a guy.
Standing on a cliff.
Pointing at a UFO.
Cue the X-Files theme.


Ghost hunting
This is an interesting one considering my belief system. I know a lot of saints that won't give the idea of ghosts the time of day, but check this out:
Matthew 14: 24-26

But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.
 And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
 And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.
The apostles believed that the Savior was a spirit walking across the water. This is proof that back then they understood the concept of ghosts, and ideas that they could do things like glide over water and appear otherworldly. They're are accounts of Joseph Smith and the early saints dealing with haunted shacks in what would later become Nauvoo. Scientists who study ghosts, also known as parapsychologists, are now finding evidence that ghosts may not actually be spirits, but a yet unknown type of energy linked with the human brain that can leave behind imprints later to be charged by others. 
Personally, I fully believe in the existence of ghosts. Growing up I spent several years living at my grandfather's house, where every night they're were disembodied footsteps walking up and down the hall, voices in unoccupied parts of the small home, to even seeing apparitions a couple times. Live through that and it's impossible not to become a believer.

Cryptozoology
50 points if you knew this word before you opened the post. Cryptozoology is the study of animals that shouldn't exist for one reason or another. This goes from creatures that should be extinct but aren't, like dinosaurs being spotted in Africa, or creatures in places that they shouldn't belong, like the supposed black panthers in England, to even legendary creatures like Bigfoot. This has probably the best scientific backing of the three I've mentioned, since new and formerly believed extinct species are found all the time around the world. There's a fish with an early form of legs living off the Ivory Coast that shocked scientists when it was found, since it was believed to have gone extinct BEFORE the dinosaurs! They're are large stretches of unexplored terrain in Canada, Tibet, Brazil and southern Africa that could be teeming with unique and interesting critters, not to mention what could still be hiding in the oceans. 
And yes, if I can come up with a scripture reference for ghosts I can come up with some for monsters. Genesis talks about the world being inhabited by giants before the great flood, and Ether 9:19 talks about cureums and comoms, unidentified creatures which apparently benefit man. 

So are there monsters, aliens and things that go bump in the night? I'll say probably, but weather or not they exist it's a fascinating study nonetheless. Take a look at it sometime and see for yourself. 
Remember, the truth is out there. 
-JOE


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Building the Dream: Minecraft

A few weeks ago I made a post about the Minecraft for the XBox 360.  After one session, I was feeling the desire to play more Minecraft with friends, but couldn't at the moment.  In my boredom, I decided to fire up the PC version of Minecraft and play with it a little bit.

I spawned in a lightly forested area with many hills nearby.  I saw a nearby village.  I quickly picked a nearby hill and built a small hobbit hole inside, then raided the nearby village for wheat to make into bread so I had something to eat.  After that, I set to work on surviving the night, harvest more wood, and building some animal pens.  After I had done some extensive mining, I decided to turn the hole that I lived in, into a house.

After much digging and stone harvesting, I finally had this:


A beautiful stone brick house!

Before I had even finished the exterior of the house, I created some animal pens:
The chickens are basically escape artists (keeping them in the pens is very difficult!).  The cows are ninjas.  Every so often, I catch a cow wandering around my house.  I've even watched a cow glide through the fence that I set up to keep them contained in the pen...

Lately, my house got the addition of a contraption that creates smooth stone, as well as some minecart tracks that don't go anywhere particularly useful (well, one heads to the nearby abandoned village).


One of the things that I enjoy about Minecraft is the ability to imagine something, and then build it!  There's something enjoyable about creating something.  I'm not a particularly creative person, so my designs tend to be a bit on the functional side, although I'm loving the spiral staircase I built (feels like climbing up a castle staircase).

So, a question for all of you Mormon Geeks fans (I know you exist!): what would you like to see me build in Minecraft?  (A list of possible building materials can be found here).  Here's how this will work: leave a comment to this post.  Over the next few days I'll review the suggestions and select one or more of them to build.  So, start suggesting away!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Fact on Fiction

First of all, it annoys me to no end when I see something like this:

If  you're asking (non-sarcastically) "What is wrong with this?" then you may not want to read the name calling I'm about to do.

Also, I hope that "brian____007" is joking and gets his laughs from OCD nerds like me going ninja all over his post. If so, bravo to him.

Seriously, even Wikipedia has its facts straight on such things! That's saying something about a website most people say is full of junk. Shoot, it's where I go to first, then I use the links to verify the backup information.

Instead, I went to IMDB. Let's see: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone premiered November 16, 2001. And then the "copycat" The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring premiered...um...December 19, 2001. Okay.....

So let's jump to the next ones in the list. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets premiered November 15, 2002, while The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers premiered December 18, 2002.

Before I get to the 3rd movie in each series, let's pretend for a moment that neither series ever had a book out. Let's pretend these screenplays were written and filmed. The IMPOSSIBILITY of filming, editing, and marketing a movie in 33 days from the day "Thiefing Faux-Tolkien" went from seeing the HP premier to creating a movie of LotR's caliber twice makes my head hurt. It'd be such a whirlwind that the magician who can pull it off deserves every Oscar at that year's Academy Awards.

Oh, so let's look at the 3rd movie in each series. I'm not gonna go with precise dates.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban premiered in 2004. About a week after it premiered I got to see it. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King? Oh yeah, that was DONE being in theaters.

Now, people may take this to mean I hate Harry Potter. I don't. I love the series. Love the books. Love the movies. Especially a certain Molly Weasley line from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2.

What irks me more is when things I like get compared to things I can't stand. Like this example:



*headdesk* Really? That answer of "are you an idiot?" is appropriate. I'm gonna go ahead and define "idiot" as someone who doesn't take time to check their "theories" or "ideas" against facts, cause I'm bold like that.

I don't really need to go into too much detail here, but...HP had 2 movies in theaters and 5 books in print before Stephenie Meyere wrote "I'd never given much thought to how I would die..."

Another one that bugs me: The whole Shannara series (by Terry Brooks) is a ripoff of Lord of the Rings. No, only the first one is, the rest are pretty original stories by Terry Brooks, whether you like them or not. Also, only 2 of the characters from The Sword of Shannara (book 1) are in The Elfstones of Shannara (book 2). Calling ALL Terry Brooks' novels ripoffs from LotR would be like calling all epic fantasy ripoffs from LotR. (It's a geek blog, gotta stick with the geek knowledge.)

If you want to say "this is like that", then you may want to do some sort of research.

I'm gonna delve more fun into this. "The Monkees stole I'm A Believer from Smashmouth." Nope, other way around people. "Carl Perkins stole Blue Suede Shoes from Elvis." AMAZINGLY enough, wrong again.

Oh, and another one that bugs me...misquoting famous lines from movies and TV shows. For the 1,000th time, Vader did not say "Luke, I am your father." (FYI: Google "misquoted movie lines" and that is the 1st example.) Yes, it gives it better context, just don't tell me you "know Star Wars" and give me that line

Quiz time. Pick the proper quote:
1. Is it "Mirror, Mirror, on the wall" or is it "Magic mirror, on the wall"?
2. Did Kirk and company ever actually say "Beam me up, Scotty"? Or did they usually go with "Scotty, beam us up"?
3. Let's go with this grammar guru pet peeve: "If you built it, they will come" vs "If you build it, he will come"?
4. Does Dorothy say "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore"? Or "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
5. Does (this may come as a shocker to some) Dr. Frankenstein say about his monster (who is nameless) "He's alive" or "It's alive"?

I bet some of you would like the answers to above. Well, my snarky sarcasm should've given them away, but here you go: It's "Magic mirror, on the wall"...also "Scotty, beam us up"....and "If you build it, he will come"....Dorothy says "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore"....with Dr. Frankenstein saying "It's alive".

Okay, this nerdy, geeky rant is done. I hope you enjoyed it. If not, I'll always quote you as saying "This was one of the best blog posts ever".

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I'm No Superman

Hello ladies and gents.  I know it's been a few weeks since you've heard from me.  In my last post I talked about the life of the warrior and being outside of your comfort zone.  If you want to know where I've been the past few weeks.  That's where I've been.  Let me note now that this post will be a bit more personal then usual.

Today, I've been thinking about why it's been difficult for me to write.  Why I've been feeling sadness, stress, and numbness recently.  I've been feeling weak and feeling uninspired and this has crept into my work life, artwork, and even time with friends.  I've noticed I've been listening more then contributing and can't really describe why I feel the way I feel or what it is I'm exactly feeling.



I guess in some ways I feel discouraged and in other ways abandoned.  I've believed a lot in myself before.  Sometimes I've seen myself as a superhero (usually in a healthy, confident way) but what hasn't been healthy is unrealistic expectations I've had in myself.  Expecting me to control things that are completely out of my control.  Basically, I've been and I am being humbled.


There's a song that opens the hit tv series Scrubs whose lyrics go, "No I can't do this all on my own.  No I know, I'm no Superman.  I'm no Superman."  I don't have the answers to the predicament I'm in.  I don't have a formula to make me feel better or powerful again and trust me, I'm using every resource the gospel has to offer.  (Except maybe surrendering, but that's not what I want to talk about for today.)


I want to draw attention to the part of the lyrics that says, "No I can't do this all on my own."  A lot of superheroes do all of their feats and experience many of their adventures or trials on their own.  We also will experience many things on our own but then refuse the support of others.  We get this idea to ask for support is weak, we don't need others, or (the worst) we are not worthy of another's support.


Having friends can keep us anchored.
All of us need friendship.  As weird, disoriented, and up and down I've been feeling these past weeks I'm so glad I've had friends to support me through it all.  If I didn't have my friends T.J. and Shadow to go to the temple with, I would definitely be in a rougher spot.  If I didn't have Joe to always recognize when I'm having a hard time, and then call me out on it, I'd do an even worst job of taking care of myself.


The funny thing about this song is that even Superman needs friends. He's got the Justice League. You want to know who else needs friends? Our savior. The ultimate example in how to live our life had His quorum of 12 apostles to rely on for support.

Having friends is healthy and important to a person's life.  Sometimes I feel there can be such an emphasis on the family that the value of friends is often ignored or not even realized.  Just skimming through proverbs shows just how important it is to have friends in your life.

Proverbs 18:24 man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is afriend that sticketh closer than bbrother. 

A lot of geeks like to pride themselves on being loners and introverted.  Although there is nothing wrong with being an introvert I feel sorry for the guys that are friendless.  It may be that guy that refuses to bathe so everyone leaves him alone at comic con.  It may be the guy that makes pretentious and arrogant comments to feel powerful to convince himself that he doesn't need friends all the while suffering from loneliness behind closed doors and away from watchful eyes.  He numbs his loneliness in a sometimes online virtual world--shutting himself out from the real one.


Ladies and gents, it's okay for us to want and need friends.  It doesn't make us weak admitting that.  We are weak being friendless.  We are more susceptible to delusion without them.  Being vulnerable with our friends can be risky.  It can hurt.  Guess what?  Friendships will always hurt.  Not always intentionally and not all the time but it will hurt at times.


Despite the hurt that may come, friendship is worth it and vulnerability is completely necessary.  Our Heavenly Father's plan wouldn't work without friendship.  I know, for me, a lot of my prayers have been answered through having a friend. I've also learned a lot of life lessons through friendship.


I'll be writing more on this subject later.  I'm not going to go into how to make friends on this post but I hope you see how important it is to have them.  Love and Peace.


-Stephen

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer!

So by some miracle I somehow got a week off of school this week. The thing I've noticed though is that when I come up from my basement room to scrounge for food in the kitchen, usually in my underwear, that it's bright and sunny outside. Why didn't anyone tell me it was summer?! With school in session I'm usually too tired, or too busy, to notice all the summer stuff happening. Though I guess I should've got a hint when I took that trip to Vernal last week....
Anyhoo, what I'm trying to say is that as fun as Legend of Korra and non-stop Fallout 3 is, I really should take advantage of the summer while I've got it. I'm not one of those people who complain that summer is too hot and that winter is too cold, I focus my hatred directly on winter. I find snow to be offensive, just lying there on my lawn, not contributing to society, being all cold and wet and gross looking. It doesn't even get a job!
Sorry, hate got away from me there....
What I'm trying to say is what the prophets have been telling us to do for years: Go out and do stuff! There is so much to do with a summer that is inexpensive and awesome. Remember the drive-in? Did you know those things still exist? There's one right here in Salt Lake City, over on Redwood. The place is a dive, and I wouldn't go there without some sort of shiv, but it's still a nice way to enjoy the evening. Or have you ever played badmitton? $20 at Kmart get's you a set, which I would so get except my little back yard has a giant porch that for some reason is covered in sharp metal... Though I could use it as an excuse to trim down my Christmas list....
Hmmm?
Anyway, there's lots of things to do out there! Go paintballing and afterwards play "Who has the most bruises" with my friends while exchanging awkward photos. Go attend an outdoor festival (Utah Arts Festival starts tomorrow downtown BTW). Join me in getting away from my screens and keyboards and doing something to enjoy the summer. Like right now, I'm going to walk over to McDonald's and eat.... fat....
-JOE

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fun Card Games: Dominion

A few years ago, I went to an LDS fraternity activity and discovered some of the guys playing a very interesting game.  There were a number of piles of cards on the table named things like 'Copper', 'Gold', 'Province', 'Village', etc.  Each of the players had their own deck that were using to acquire these cards.  Each one was trying to build a better 'Dominion' than the other.

In Dominion, each player is the ruler of a small 'dominion' that consists of a few pieces of land and some coppers.  The goal of the game is to build up the 'dominion' or the deck, and ultimately purchase more valuable pieces of land (like Provinces).  Each bit of land is worth so many victory points at the end of the game.  The player with the most victory points wins the game.  In addition to trying to purchase land, the players can purchase more valuable treasures (silver and gold) to add to their collection.  They can also purchase Action cards that allow them to do different things.  For instance, one action called the Smithy allows a player to draw three more cards when they use it (and potentially draw more money to buy things with).  The Village allows a player to one more card and play two more actions on a turn (normally players can only play one action a turn).

Every game, a different combination of cards is selected to play with, so each game plays out different from the other ones.  In a recent game, we were playing with a card called  Laboratory.  I was purchasing a good number of them and cackling like a mad scientist.  Sadly, I lost that game, but I did enjoy playing it!

Each set of Dominion has a different sort of 'theme' to it.

Base set

The base set is probably one of the simplest.  Most of the cards are straightforward and useful.  When mixed in with expansions, the game gets very interesting.

Intrigue

Intrigue focuses around cards that allow players to make choices as they use them.  It also features cards that act as both action/victory points and treasure/victory points.


Seaside

In Seaside, many of the cards have an affect on the turn they are played, as well as on the next players turn.

Alchemy

Alchemy is probably one of my favorite sets that I've played with.  Alchemy adds a treasure card called a Potion.  It also focuses around decks that contain a large number of action cards.

Prosperity

The Prosperity set focuses around building decks with a large amount of treasure in them.  To reflect this, they added the Platinum treasure card and a Colony victory point card.  Many of the cards in the set are very expensive.

Cornucopia


I recently got this set as a gift.  It focuses around having decks that have a variety of cards (different types of cards) in it.

Hinterlands

Cards in the Hinterlands set have effects when the cards are purchased or otherwise obtained.

One of the advantages that Dominion has is the variety of cards that are available.  Each game played is different.  I find that sort of variety to be appealing.  One of the downsides of the game can be the learning curve.  New players have to both learn how to play the game and learn the interaction of all the cards.

Overall, Dominion is an enjoyable game.  If you haven't had a chance to check it out, I would highly recommend giving it a try (or two)!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Geeky Gadget: Nook Tablet


I've heard a lot of "blah blah blah Kindle Fire blah blah blah iPad blah blah blah best options for blah blah blah" lately.Well, for a while now, I've been interested in getting the Nook Tablet.

Well, my wife gave me a nice surprise this weekend and got me the Nook Tablet for Father's Day. It definitely made for a fun day. Of course, I downloaded free games and my 5yo took it over, but still, I'll get time to play with it...I hope.




Here are a couple of my thoughts on the tablets: you have the iPad, still the #1 most popular out there. The Kindle Fire is doing its best to maintain its popularity in the world of Android. And as much as I wouldn't turn my nose up at either of those, I still preferred Barnes & Nobles version of this ereader competition.

One big advantage for the Nook Tablet is it can come in either 8gb or 16gb and both are expandable up to 32gb of memory. Kindle Fire is only available in 8gb, but (from what I've learned) you can use (for a fee) the Cloud network, which has a pretty vast storage.

Even though I'm sure it's available elsewhere, there's a Dropbox app on the Nook that technically has given me more space.

Disadvantages? Of course, this wouldn't be reality if there weren't any downside.

B&N is pretty limited in its app selections. There aren't too many free ones (even demo ones at that). Also, it doesn't have an app for YouTube (which is kinda surprising since YouTube's everywhere, but I guess its free service isn't agreeable to B&N.)

To me, B&N has become the new "little guy" in an ever changing economy. Amazon and Kindle are constantly at the top of their markets. B&N is the lone mass bookstore now that Borders is gone and B. Dalton's and Waldenbooks are names of yesterday's mall.

So, as much as I was disappointed in what my Tablet couldn't do, I'm really excited for all the things it can do. Can't wait for more time to play/read.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Armor of God

Hay welcome to summer midterms week! Because of this, everyone's favorite Joe is a bit tied up this week, but I wanted to share this. Sorry it's coming late in the day!

So I was a super seminary nerd in high school, and one of my favorite parts were the cheesy as Swiss videos we used to watch. This is one of my favorites. Luckily, I found the full version, so sit back, relax, and check out this 90's flashback The Whole Armor of God!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ID9nKuh8wY8

I want you to take special notice on the guilt on the dude's face after the incident at the party. For all the cheesiness, it really strikes a cord. Plus the armor scenes = cosplay! :D
-JOE

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Game Review: Minecraft for the Xbox 360

Joe (yes, the crazy awesome Joe from Mormon Geeks) recently purchased the Xbox 360 version of Minecraft.  The primary reason?  Split screen multiplayer of course!  I played Minecraft in the beta version of Minecraft, but found that I would quickly lose interest in the game after a week or two of playing it.  Whenever a new version would come out, I'd regain interest for a moment, but again would quickly lose interest.  One reason was because I wanted to play the game with other people.  Most of the online servers were either really hard to get onto, or were complete chaos.  A version of Minecraft that promised multiplayer with a friend in the same room was definitely tantalizing!

Our hopes were quickly dashed by what I consider to be a very poor design decision on the part of the developers of this version of Minecraft.  We quickly discovered that multiplayer could only be done if the Xbox 360 was connected to an HD TV with an HDMI cable.  Any non-HD TV or an HD TV without an HDMI cable will not work (we did end up trying both).  A few days later, we managed to commandeer the roommate's TV for a trial run of the game.  Needless to say, the fun antics ensued after that.

One of the first things that bothered me about this version of Minecraft is that it didn't have all the upgrades that the released version of Minecraft has.  Another thing that also I found annoying was the control scheme.  I've found it difficult to pick up (after about 5 hours of playing, I still feel a little shaky on some parts of it).  Trying to operate furnaces are especially annoying.  The inventory management system is scarier that Resident Evil 5's system.  Well, maybe that's a overstatement.  Another drawback to multiplayer is that all the players share sounds.  If one player hears a zombie, all of them hear a zombie.

One thing that I absolutely love about the game is the crafting system.  All the craftable items available are selectable with a menu.  There's no need to memorize recipes or where items in the recipe should go.  The players simply needs to have the items in their inventory to craft items.  One thing I like about the controls is that holding down the mining button doesn't hurt my finger like the PC version does.  Another thing that I enjoy is multiplayer!  We had up to 3 people playing at once.  It was quite a bit of fun.


As a brief travel log: Joe and I started out in a sandy, snowy area.  We quickly set out to find some trees.  After finding one near our starting area, we spied an island (well, island in the middle of ice) that had more trees.  We quickly made that home and set about building a hasty house.  Our house was blown up the first night after a zombie and a creeper invaded our home.  After rebuilding, our house was later blown up again.  After those first few eventful nights, we were able to get established a bit more.  Our house now sports a small farm plot, three bedrooms, and a whole network of tunnels.  Sadly, our world seems to be short in iron.  We've found more redstone than iron so far!  That aside, it's been a blast! (From all the creepers exploding).

If you have a friend to play with and a HD TV with an HDMI cable and are a fan of Minecraft, I would recommend buying this game!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Finding Family Through Family History

At the beginning of this year, my wife and I started a family history class that my in-laws taught. Because of a few scheduling conflicts, the class finally ended this past week.

I'd like to share with you an experience I had while taking this class.

While the LDS Church geared up for releasing a family tree database online, it asked its members to review records and verify their accuracy. One of our classes was on the review website database.

Well, shortly before this class started, I got the opportunity to meet my friend Daniel at the SLC family history library and go through records. During this, I discovered my great-grandfather (Max) had a brother named Harry. When Harry died (supposedly, Max was told that Harry had gone missing), Max took on Harry's name as a middle name. This was prevalent in Max's 1920 and 1930 census records.

So, imagine my surprise when Max and Harry were combined in this family tree database. I thought, well, Harry's missing. They aren't the same man. The only person I knew who had touched that database was my older brother. After silently accusing him of not checking his facts, I noticed the name of the person who put those in. This person had the same last name as my grandmother's maiden name.

When I looked deeper, I realized this person must have been a member of the LDS church and was definitely not my brother, but somehow a distant relative.

This would be the first time anyone in my family would find a relative of my dad's that was LDS. So I did some googling. I had a last name and first and middle initials based on this site. It's FREAKING scary what you can find out online. Unfortunately, I could not locate an email address to see if this guy I'd "e-stalked" was really my relative.

Well, I did discover where he worked. I told this to my friend Daniel, who had a friend at the same place. An email was then located in this chain of friends and passed on to me. Did I have any idea what to say in such an email? Nope. So I just winged it and hoped the Spirit would guide my thoughts to not sound rude in the email. I felt prompted that I should put my cell phone number in the email.

Less than 15 minutes later I received a phone call. Ordinarily, if I don't know the number, I ignore it. This time, I didn't, and I was glad I didn't. For the following 45 minutes, I had a great conversation with my dad's 2nd cousin. (That makes he and I 2nd cousins, once removed, for those that are wondering what the term is.)

Honestly, it was such an amazing experience. Not only was I able to locate a semi-distant relative in this process, I discovered I had family in Utah.

This became even cooler as a few weeks ago, I got to bless my new daughter. Since my dad was able to be there, I thought it'd be cool if this 2nd cousin came too, so my wife and I invited him. And guess what, he came. I didn't get to talk to him that much, but he spent most the time chatting with my dad. That was more important for me.


Sorry, no photos today. I could put some random pic up that has absolutely no bearing on this topic, but in the end, I felt that words were more important.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Joe's top 10 saddest deaths in geekdom

With all the billions of bullets and swings of a sword throughout geekdom, death can become cheap and lose weight to it. In reality, every life is precious and every death is someone's loved one returning to their Father in Heaven. Even though they're fictional, storytellers can make a characters death weigh on us as though we actually knew them. When the tears well up, the heart aches, and the "Noooo!" comes from our lips, we know the story has hit a new high. So here's my top ten saddest deaths in geekdom, the stories that brought a tear to my eye and a tug at my heart.
WARNING: SPOILERS

10: Zaknafein from The Legend of Drizzt book 1: Homeland
LONG story short: There's a race of evil elves that live deep underground called the Drow. They're cruel, vicious, and value power and greed over love, kindness and respect. By their laws, a murderer is executed immediately if found out, not for taking another's life, but for being stupid enough to get caught. Into this society is born Drizzt, a young Drow born with the rare gift of a conscience. He spends his life training with his mentor Zaknafein, a tough but surprisingly kind weapons master who secretly shares Drizzt's conscience as well as being his father in secret. After they learned each others secrets they planned to leave their dark society behind, but Zaknafein was captured and sacrificed to the Drow's Spider Queen. Drizzt loses the only good thing his family or society had ever given him on that day, leaving him alone in the dark caves of his underground home.

9: Buck from Zombieland
Woody Harrelson plays a semi-crazy, mostly awesome survivor of the zombie apocalypse, driven by an insatiable want for Twinkies. It's established early on that he's pining over the loss of his puppy, Buck. About two-thirds through the film though it's revealed that Buck isn't actually a puppy but was Woody's young son, a toe head blonde no more than 5. We only see this character in a few flashback scenes, never hear any dialogue from him, or even see him die, but the comparison between how Woody acts with his son and crazy in the zombie infested world emphasizes how effected he was by his son's death. It's as if the horrors caused by the zombies are nothing compared to losing that one little boy.

Note: Yes, I know Zombieland is rated R.

8: Penny from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog
Dr. Horrible has two goals: Join the Evil League of Evil and have Penny fall desperately in love with him. The tragedy is that to achieve one he must sacrifice the other. The Evil League of Evil requires the bad Doctor to murder someone to join the club, and when his gadget backfires and explodes only wounding his original target, Penny becomes the unfortunate recipient of shrapnel. It's good enough for the League though, so he get's in only to see how empty and sad his life is without her.

7: Meg from Hercules
Of all the Disney heroines, Meg is probably one of the best. She's smart, sassy, witty, but at the same time damaged and almost broken from the mistakes shes made in her life. The woman sells her soul to bring the man she loves back from the dead only for him to leave her for another gal, thus she ends up alone and a slave to Hades. She's only killed as an accident, due to the destruction caused by her betrayal of Hercules, a proper end in any Greek tragedy. Though because it's Disney, Hercules brings her back from the dead in one of the coolest rescue scenes in Disney. Though she comes back from the dead, it's still sad to watch one of Disney's most three dimensional characters and best love interest die.

6: Any media ever that shows Batman's parents dying
Comic books, live-action movies, cartoons or video games, it doesn't matter. Whenever young Bruce Wayne is kneeling over his dead parents it's just tragic. This is the image of a child's entire safety net shattered in an instant in the most violent and senseless way imaginable. The results created a man haunted by his own shadow and pain near the point of madness. True, Batman is one of the world's greatest super hero, but all the hours of training, fighting and darkness all stem from that one image of a little boy mourning his mommy and daddy.

5: Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Before Edward and Bella we had Buffy and Angel, the original supernatural romance. It's also your typical tragic romance to boot. She's the one girl chosen to slay the vampires, he's a dark stalker of the night cursed with a conscience that reminds him of all the evils he's committed. They fall in love and Angel experiences a moment of perfect happiness (Don't ask how), and his curse is broken, losing his soul and transforming him back into one of the worst vampires to walk the Earth. Buffy's heart is broken, but she gains the strength to take him out when he decides to end the world. While Buffy and Angel fight to the death for the fate of mankind, Buffy's friends recast the curse on Angel to restore his soul. It's too late though, and Buffy watches her beloved Angel become restored right before she has to kill him to stop his end of the world... thing.... It's heartbreaking to watch her have to kill the man she loves, when she just had to go through watching him become her worst enemy. It's what Twilight never had, emotion, depth and risk with falling in love.

4: Sirius Black from Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix
Magic, broomsticks and potions are all well and good, but the thing Harry wanted most in the world was to have a family. He finally gets the semblance of one in meeting his godfather Sirius, after an entire book of thinking he had murdered Harry's parents. Sirius promises Harry that after his name is cleared they can live together and be a proper family. In book five though, Sirius is killed before Harry's very eyes in a very strange complicated way that has something to do with a curtain and the McDonald's arch. It's tragic because Harry is once again alone to face his destiny, without the guidance of a family to help him. Like several characters on this list, Sirius represents the love of family and how devastating it can be to lose someone so close.

3: Wash from Serenity
There are certain people that just aren't supposed to die. Somewhere near the top of the list is comic relief. Wash in Serenity and Firefly is the fun loving, beloved pilot who wears Hawaiian shirts, plays with Dinosaurs and somehow won the beautiful Zoey. In Serenity though, after a battle with Reavers and a crash landing on a planet, Wash is suddenly killed when an enemy ship rams into his, driving a metal spike through his chest. It's sudden and comes out of nowhere, adding intensity to the scene. We also see the normally tough-as-nails soldier Zoey break down for the first time at the sight of her beloved husband impaled in his favorite chair. having her lose it adds to the tragedy, as if a part of Zoey died with Wash.

2: The Kents and Lois dealing with the death of Superman
Superman's death was a sad and poetic moment, but the saddest part came during the funeral comic. Lois Lane at the time of Superman's death knew about his secret identity and was engaged to Clark. While the city grieved at the loss of their hero, Lois wept silently at the loss of her beloved fiance'. She doesn't allow herself to truly grieve until she finds Clark's parents at his apartment, settling in to be with her. There's a scene where they simply hold each other and weep for their beloved son and lover, relieved to finally have someone they can share their grief with.

1: The kid who committed suicide in New Mutants
I can't even find a name for this kid. The comic came out in the 80's, and followed a younger group of students at Xavier's Academy while the X-Men were away. The story follows a transfer student who attends the same high school Kitty Pryde does, and how he tries to hide the fact that he's a mutant from everyone else. He tries to fit in with the cool kids by spouting anti-mutant jokes and phrases which burns his bridges with Kitty and only earns him more teasing. The final straw comes when a group of bullies continue to call him a mutant and say that they're going to call the government mutant task force on him. Fearing that they truly have found out about his mutant ability, the young man kills himself that night. Kitty investigates afterwards and feels extremely guilty when she finds out that he was indeed a mutant with the gift to create beautiful sculptures out of light. The story has tons of underlying connotations of accepting people, bullying, and even a piece with adolescent homosexuality. It's moving, fascinating, and was a bold move by Marvel that paid off beautifully.

I hope that my list doesn't come across as morbid. The idea here was to show that fiction can act as more than just a way to kill time, but can actually hold special meaning to us as people. There are some that didn't make the list, either because I thought they're already talked about too much (IE Darth Vader and Aslan) and some because I just didn't want to go into too much explanation on extremely obscure characters (IE Jack Drake and Gertrude Yorkes). So remember, you're not less of a person because you cried when Bambi's mom died, you're less of a person when you were hoping that the hunters would bag Bambi as well. :)
-JOE



Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Game Review: Lost In Shadow (2011)

 While visiting my parent's house, I was poking through their Wii games and I noticed one called "Lost in Shadow".  The name obviously intrigued me.  Sadly, I didn't have time to play it then, but a few months later (I don't visit there too often).  I have to say, the game pulled me in pretty quickly.

The game's protagonist (at least I assume so) is a boy's shadow.  At the top of a tall tower, the boy's shadow is severed from his body and then dropped down to the bottom of the tower.  The boy then has to climb up to the top of the tower to retrieve his body.  The boy can only interact with the shadows though.  The entire part of the game that I have played has been entirely in the background of the environment.  It's a fairly interesting mechanic.

The game is fairly simple.  The player goes through each level searching for 3 locks.  Along the way, they must avoid or fight the shadow monsters as well as avoid the tower's defenses.  At times, the player is given the ability to manipulate the shadows by adjusting the angle of the light or moving 'real world' objects.

Overall, there isn't much else to the game other than that.  The game feels very simple.  The puzzles aren't too terribly difficult and the monsters (with the exception of a giant spider monster) haven't been too difficult to dispatch.  The environment and music in the game is very good for setting the atmosphere.  One of my complaints for the game is the controls.  One button controls both attacking and searching for objects to move. I found that to be somewhat annoying in some places of the game.  The tower itself is shrouded in mystery.  Most of the time, the game feels like a curious exploration of a new place.  At one point, it felt like I was in a terrifying escape from something I couldn't fight.  I am curious to see what mysteries the tower has yet to reveal.

The game is rated E (10+).  The game is probably appropriate for children of that age (who would probably find the puzzles more challenging than I did).  I would give the game a B rating.



Monday, June 4, 2012

Mahna Mahna

You're awesome if you just sang "do doo do do do" after reading the title of this blog post. (You're almost as awesome if you sang just now.)

I love the Muppets. And by love I mean I would hang out with them every day if I could, you know, without the hand up their backs.

When I was a kid, I LOVED the Muppet Babies. When Cinemax or HBO aired The Muppets Take Manhattan (cause it was still the newest movie), it would make my day. I loved that movie so much, whenever I saw this image



I would think The Muppets Take Manhattan was about to air. When The Muppet Show reruns aired I was excited. I was even more excited when Muppets Tonight started (REALLY ANGRY when it was canceled, by the way.)

Today, I'm going to countdown all the Muppets films from least favorite to favorite. Now, when I say film, I mean you had to go to a movie theater and pay money to be able to watch them. So Muppets Wizard of Oz and the Very Merry Muppet Christmas and all others along those lines are not on this list. There seven in all.

#7 Muppet Treasure Island


This is the only Muppet movie that I ever fell asleep during the first time of watching it. (More on that later.) I mean, this movie did have Tim Curry and "we've got cabin fever." Maybe if I was more intrigued by Robert Louis Stevenson's story, I would have enjoyed it more. Sadly, this just disappointed me.

#6 The Muppets


Don't get me wrong. I love this movie. It's classic tale of trying to make it big..again, echoing on the original Muppet movie from the 1970s. The human characters of Jason Segal and Amy Adams were a nice addition. Of course having Jim Parsons (or Dr. Sheldon Cooper as I usually refer to him) as a cameo made it more awesome.

#5 Muppets From Space

How could I possibly like what many call the "worst" Muppet movie this much more than the previous two? It had a unique story, is the first time we see the awesome Pepe, Clifford has a role in this film, and Bobo the Bear shows how he's a great anti-villain. Jeffrey Tambor as the main villain was also awesome.

The references to things that were popular in the 1990s, including an awesome Shawshank Redemption reference. I like Gonzo's story of finding a place, Piggy's tour as a newsanchor, and Kermit's ability to pull everyone together to rescue their friend.

Also, this is the ONLY Muppet movie I saw in theaters. I was too young for the first 3 (read non-existent for the first two.) My family didn't go to movies often in the early-mid 90s. At least, not for Muppets. I had to take my girlfriend at the time to see Muppets From Space. We may have even seen it twice in the theater, can't recall.


#4 The Muppet Movie


I put this on in the middle because in a way, I felt like it deserved this spot. Personally, for the first few movies, I thought they got better each time they made one.

There is something both nostalgic and classic about this film. Its humor is much more subtle than the other movies (maybe it's just old.)

The Muppets to me are about hope and dreams, and this film is what starts that thought and feeling. Both hoping and dreaming and connecting the rainbow is what this film is about.

#3 The Great Muppet Caper


It's just plain funny. Someone is trying to steal the Baseball Diamond (cause that's the name someone wants to give a valuable jewel). Miss Piggy gets framed. And everyone else steps in to rescue her and the diamond.

This has a "battle" scene, something that is so humerous and entertaining. Piggy escapes prison and rides a motorcycle to safety.

And of course, one of my favorite lines ever: "We're gonna catch these thieves redhanded." "Uh-what color are their hands now?"

#2 The Muppets Take Manhattan


This movie came out when I was really young. But I remember it airing on Cinemax or HBO for a few years leading up to 1990. It was my favorite movie at the time: the only thing I wanted to watch.

You have Piggy and Kermie getting married on stage (and for real). You have bears and pigs and chickens and rats and frogs and whatever else there was.

This movie builds off the storyline concepts in the Muppet Movie, but adds a few twists and turns as the Muppets try to get their Broadway show.

You've got a great chase scene when this moron steals Piggy's purse and she roller skates her way to getting it back. (For those who don't know, roller skates were what we used before roller blades.)

It's a "cute" movie. But it was still well done, a great story, and one of my favorites.

#1 The Muppet Christmas Carol

       
Yeah, I doubt people will see things my way here, but I don't care. This movie is AWESOME! Even the sappy song that Belle sings to Ebenezer that used to make me cringe, fast forward, or fall asleep. I can watch this movie a million times and I still could watch it one more.

Honestly, I think I have. I used to watch a movie when I was going to sleep. I cannot count how many times that movie was The Muppet Christmas Carol. I would try to hold off as long as I could during the year on when I'd start watching it. But that didn't work. I watched it whenever I wanted to.

Michael Caine does an awesome job as the old miser. The Muppets fulfill their roles in one of history's greatest Christmas stories. It's awesome to have an actor/muppeteer play a muppet who's playing a character. Where I felt like Muppet Treasure Island did a lot of things wrong, this previous installment did it perfect.

It helps that I'm a huge fan of Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol. Combining Christmas and Muppets, it was just a match made for me.

Well, that's my review of the Muppet films.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.