Thursday, August 30, 2012

School and Animation

Dear Readers,

I'm in school right now and I'm so glad I'm here.  I've been dedicating my life to my studies and it's taking a lot of time.  I recently moved to Provo and I'm glad that part is over.  I'm going to school at Utah Valley University studying Animation.  I need to be in a top percentage in my class to enter my program.

In short, I am promising you, the readers of Mormon Geeks, quality posts over quantity posts.  I shall post every other week with something great to read.  I commend all of you for your faithfulness.  I also promise to share all the deliciously geeky stuff I learn here at UVU.

Until then, I gotta head off to class!

Affectionately,
--Stephen

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What happened to Kingdom Hearts?

Once upon time, in the magic year of 2002 my parents told me I could have a new video game console for Christmas. I chose a Playstation 2 for just one game: Kingdom Hearts. That Christmas day I spent the entire day in my room falling in love with the Disney/Squaresoft classic. So a new Kingdom Hearts game came out earlier this month and I barely gave it a second glance. So why am I no longer excited about the franchise that helped usher me into modern gaming?
The story of the first game was pretty straight forward. Sora, a 15 year old Anime character teams up with Goofy and Donald Duck in a quest to protect the Disney movies from an invasion of evil shadow monsters called Heartless. The Heartless are controlled by a cabal of our favorite Disney villains and some guy from a Final Fantasy game. It's like if the Legion of Doom all got jobs at Disneyland. Your main weapon is a three foot long key that is somehow the only weapon that can stop the Heartless and lock the doors to other worlds...
Did I mention it was co-created by Squaresoft, the same people who made all the Final Fantasy storylines?
The game was extremely fun, with it's simple combat interesting story line and lovable characters, both old and new. It did have it's faults though, like Sora's feet being about three times the normal size as that of a normal human, making him both look and move like an awkward teenager, which only became truly irritating when you tried to jump platforms with him and could only guess weather or not enough of his giant feet made it on. Donald and Goofy were apparently suffering from major depression throughout the game since they keep throwing themselves head first into combat with no regard to their own health and I had to keep running around the field reviving them. Plus the minigame of flying a ship apparently made out of gummy bears to go between movie worlds was clunky and relatively useless. I don't know how many times I'd find a hidden chest, open it excitedly, only to find another piece to attach to my useless space ship. Despite all that, I truly loved the game from beginning to end.
When Kingdom Hearts 2 came out, my heart gave a little jump with glee. I picked it up as soon as it came out. I remember sitting down, plugging it in, and eagerly pressing the start button to jump into the action.
Three hours later and I was still waiting to jump in.
In between games, Squaresoft became Square Enix and had apparently taken over the production. Most of the game play was reduced to pushing a button to get to the next cut scene. In the three hours I had already been to four worlds and had been in three short combats. There had been a game in between one and two, and apparently you had to have played it for this to make sense, since the story had hopped in a bus and drove it off a cliff. Some new white guys who moved like they came out of the Russian Ballet's PCP nightmare showed up wanting to fight, and there's a group of guys in black robes saying stuff about Heartless and Nobodies and have something to do with the Matrix while everyone is apparently waking up from simultaneous nights of binge drinking and bashing their heads into concrete because nobody remembers anything. It was just this weird convoluted mess that felt like the same reason I'd been driven away from most Anime in the first place.
Then the sequels came. Oh the sequels.
They've yet to get to Kingdom Hearts 3, but they'res been a handful of useless filler games about Sora and his increasing army of Anime rejects as they add even more convoluted pieces to the story. Some fit between 1 and 2, others between 2 and 3, but overall it feels like milking the franchise for all it's worth. What's sad too is that they also changed the game play. In one game the battle system is based on cards, so essentially we're playing Yu-Gi-Oh! now. In another they combined the skill tree, inventory and level gauge for some reason into one equip type system, so essentially in my pocket I can have a potion, my ability to shoot fire, and my memory of all my previous battles, which implies that if I un-equip the level that it didn't happen or I didn't remember it...
Do you see what I'm getting at? To me this entire series is like a cake someone made, and everyone loved it. So the person wanted to make the cake again but believed that the reason the cake was so good was that he was gifted at making cakes and not the fact that he just had a really good recipe, so he starts adding things like onion and cow tongue to the cake, and after not getting it right he kept subtracting and adding ingredients trying to find a way to make the cake better than the original, when if he just went back to formula he may be able to get his friends to like him again.
In conclusion, I got a Playstation 2 for a game that was totally worth it, but after that nearly everything attached to the product has been completely ruined. The sad part is that this thing had infinite potential, since it could tap into any Disney or Final Fantasy game ever for interesting characters and plot lines. Kingdom Hearts 3 is confirmed to be the next game to come out, and I'm open to it being amazing and going back to the original recipe, but I'm not buying a PS3 for it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The GenCon 2012 Chronicles: Chapter 1

I'm planning on writing up some blog posts based on my experiences at GenCon.  First off, overall the whole experience felt like something of a time warp.  The week passed by very quickly, probably due to all of the fun that I was having!  I will probably divide up each 'chapter' into being one or two days.  The first two days are probably going to be pretty boring because I was traveling during those times.

13 August 2012

It started out simple.  I started packing.  I had some anxiety and had some difficulty sleeping.

14 August 2012

Spent the morning finalizing my packing and playing Guild Wars (quite an enjoyable way to spend a morning).  Around noon, I was off on my way to the airport.  The drive was really smooth.  The first 'hiccup' of the journey was that I nearly forgot my Gencon badge and tickets!  I was just pulling out onto the road out of my neighborhood so it didn't cost me very much time.

The second hiccup was far more entertaining for me.  I parked at Diamond Rental parking in Salt Lake City. (I had a Groupon, otherwise it would have been way too expensive).  Needless to say, I was rather pleased with the service.  I parked in their lot and a shuttle bus came and picked me up.  The driver was friendly and helped me load up my suit case.  They also had free water bottles!  I thought that was the most awesome thing in the world and thought I would enjoy my water bottle on the flight in.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

After I got through the security scanning, one of the TSA agents asked if the black laptop bag was mine.  I said it was.  That's when I learned that I had done two things wrong.  First, I had attempted to get through the checkpoint with a water bottle (I thought that was a bit ridiculous).  Second, apparently laptops need to be scanned separately.  I went ahead and removed my laptop and the TSA agent took my water away.

Water bottle, I barely knew thee.  I didn't even get a chance to name thee!

That aside, the first flight in was highly pleasant.  When I got on the plane, the person sitting next to me had already boarded. He said he was glad to see me because I wasn't a really big person.  I then joked that I was 'travel sized'.  Turns out that he was also LDS and had grown up in the same place that I had.  Sadly, he left before I could thank him for the pleasant flight experience.

Mike...Dave...whoever you were.  I barely knew thee!

I don't remember much of the second flight.  I think I was stuck between two other people.  The flight was really short.  I barely had time to get bored.

Two of my friends from Wisconsin came and picked me up from the airport.  It was nice to actually meet the two people in person!  The drive to their home was kind of long.  (They lived a few hours from where I flew into).  The drive was pleasant but I felt exhausted.  I thought I would sleep just fine.

Turns out that I was wrong.  Once we had arrived and settled in, I found I had a case of insomnia.  I ended up staying up till 4 in the morning (their time) before I was able to finally fall asleep.  We were up two hours later so that we could catch the bus.

15 August 2012

We were to the place where the bus would pick us up early.  The bus ride was largely uneventful.  I tried to do some reading and resist cringing from one of the movies that was playing.  It was called 'Gamers: The Fellows Hip'.  It was like a sad fan fiction/modern version of Lord of the Rings.  I was feeling a bit cranky by the time we arrived in Indianapolis, mostly because a lot of the people on the bus were talking very loudly.  I had a hard time concentrating on my book!
Bus pictures! (The store is 'Gnome Games', they arranged the shuttle bus and hotel rooms for us! It was awesome!)
Wisconsin is really green!

We finally arrived at the hotel and I took a look at the 'swag bag' that Gnome Games gave us.  Apparently Gencon used to do a swag bag, but it quickly devolved into the various vendors handing out papers to redeem at the vendor booths.  The bag had a number of tasty treats, but arguably my favorite item was the roll up blanket thing.  I promptly decided to wrap it around my head.  A friend of mine took a picture and said I was practicing my 'derka-derka'...whatever that is.




No trip is complete without my trusty laptop!
My friends and I then walked over to a nearby waffle house to enjoy some tasty food.  Here's some pictures:
Yep, it was pretty tasty! First time for me having grits too!
Waffle House!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Intelligence vs Wisdom, Part II, Reality Games

A few months ago, I wrote a post in response to an article that pointed out how wisdom can be better than intelligence. Today, I'll continue that concept.

What is intelligence? There's the old cliche that "knowledge is power". Absolutely, knowledge is power. I've worked in manufacturing for the past six years. Before that, I lived in a dorm where the 3rd floor was the "engineering floor". Why am I pointing at engineers? Well, for one, they've gotta be friggin' intelligent. Engineering is such a unique thing that it requires knowledge and creativity. My boss' husband is an engineer and came up with a design for something unique for something so ordinary. Can't say what.

But, I have also known many engineers who were not wise. Smart? Yes. They probably had genius IQs, 4.0s in some of the most advanced engineering courses, and past their SATs and GREs with flying colors. But that didn't mean they were wise.

Now I point to reality TV. Now, when I say "reality TV" I am referring to Survivor, Big Brother, The Amazing Race, and the Apprentice. I could let any of the singing/dancing/performing competition shows that grace our small screens. I'll permit the "originals" in The Real World and Road Rules. I am NOT talking about a Kardashian, a 'desperate' housewife, a diva toddler, or a mother with a bunch of kids. Maybe I should specify "competitive reality TV".

Specifically, Survivor and Big Brother are two shows where wisdom outweighs intelligence. The premise of Survivor is "Outwit, Outplay, Outlast". It is a show where the most intelligent people fall and the most wise people rise. Every season has seen a different type of winner.




This is Sandra Diaz-Twine. The picture on the left is from Survivor: Pearl Islands. On the right is Survivor: Heroes vs Villains. Sandra won both, the only contestant to ever win two seasons of Survivor. She is honestly one of my favorites from Survivor. Why? First, I like the sass. Sorry, if you're gonna argue, be sassy about it, at least it's entertaining. Second, she played a similar game both times, but she had different people to outwit.

Sandra is an unassuming mom. She's got the cliche loud Hispanic mama attitude and doesn't take crap from anybody. Her first time playing the game, she had an alliance, a rather good one at that. But then seen as the least threat, she kept staying, until she made her moves and won the game.The second time around, she didn't even have to make moves. She warned people about her "allies" and their deviousness. But no one listened. So she stuck with her unwanted alliance until they were too stupid to get rid of her and she won.

Sandra is someone who used a lot of wisdom to get to the end and to win.

And here's Rob Cesternino. Sadly, he didn't win. (He should have won Survivor: Amazon, in my mind.) Rob's someone who used his intelligence to his advantage. At the time, only 5 seasons of Survivor had been played and Rob knew them all like the smartest kid in the class knows a textbook. He did well to ride low enough at first. But then being a part of a plan to outwit a rocket scientist, getting rid of a cop, and then switching gears when he realized he'd be out of the game too early if he didn't switch plans got him to the final 3. Poor Rob just couldn't stand on a log as long as a beauty queen. But Rob played that season smart. He controlled everyone. (Yeah, I could point to a different Rob with this concept, but this one's my favorite, not the other one.)

In life, we can be the biggest brainiac. Nerds and geeks are not people to mess with these days. Guess what, they've got the money and the jobs, usually. But on the same token, it takes some wisdom to have friends and family that like you for who you are, not just what you do or how much you spend.

For me, the intelligent person considers success materialistically. The wise person looks at success from within. Knowledge is intelligence. Using that knowledge to society's advantage is wisdom.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that a new season of Survivor starts soon? Well, it does and I'm excited for it. Woot!

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Ruby Gloom

Have you ever watched Ruby Gloom? I bet most of you haven't. And shame on you. If you have a Netflix account, you better go search for it on their instant watch site, because it is there. Since I've had toddlers, my cartoon experiences haven't been that great. Dora the Explorer, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse , My Little Pony, Chuck and Friends, the list goes on and on. Each of my kids' shows have had their "this is for the poor parents forced to watch" moments. Ruby Gloom, on the other hand, knows full well that adults are looking and wants to keep them watching.




There's Ruby Gloom, our title character. She's just a little goth girl in her Victorian style mansion-house with a bunch of friends that easily could have been deemed "too awesome for the Addams Family." Ruby tries to maintain balance and sanity amongst her friends (neither one seem possible). She has an interesting cat named Doom Kitty that tries to help out in all the confusion. Unfortunately, no one really listens to Doom Kitty, would you?

If it was permitted for a cartoon to have a romantic relationship (without aging its audience), Skull Boy is Ruby's. You feel sorry for this mass of bones (literally, Skull Boy is just bones) as he tries to find out if he has any family. Kinda like a little orphan Annie...only 100x cooler. If you don't know who Annie is, don't worry about it. Just know that you feel sorry enough for Skull Boy to invest in his humorous search for his family.


Here's Iris. Yeah, ironic name, which is awesome. She fits the word "ditz", but she is one of Ruby's dearest friends, but definitely a big contrast to the title character.



Frank and Len are twins...of the Siamese sort. They share a body but have two heads. Together they make up a two-man band, kinda.



There's the appropriately named raven--Poe--who is this wise shrink that Ruby goes and sees. He even has siblings named Edgar and Allen. How more awesome could ravens get?

And then there's my favorite character: Misery. Misery is exactly what her name says. She has a touch of Eeyore syndrome, while maintaining the laissez-faire attitude of good ol' Lurch. Misery never smiles and walks around as if she's about to go to the funeral in the 1800s.

The show is just awesome with its witty writing and great characters. I'm sad it was on for such a short time, but glad that Netflix has let my kids find it so I can actually enjoy watching something for a change.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The History of Video Game Music: Introduction

If there's anything that makes me a total geek it's the music I listen to.  No, I'm not talking about the obscure bands I like that no one has ever heard of.  I'm not talking about the soundtracks to movies either.  I'm talking about (wait for it)... video game music.

"Video Game Music?  Are you serious?!" you say.  "All those beeps and bloops?"  Correct!  I listened to it from my pre-teen years through high school.  I can hear it now, "Stephen, how could you stand that stuff?"  Well, I'm going to ask you to drop any preconceived notions you had on music found in video games and listen to this...
Amazing.  Isn't it?  Rich.  Compelling.  Epic.  Unforgettable.  Yes, this song comes from the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64 released in 1998.  When we first heard it it didn't have the same build up.  It had synths instead of an orchestra.  But good music is good music no matter where it comes from.

So how did we come to that from this?


That's what my new series will be about.  The history and culture of video game music is quite interesting.  The music has inspired popular musicians, has had their own albums released, and I even went to a concert called Dear Friends Music from Final Fantasy in 2005. (It was mind blowingly awesome.  Blowingly is a word because I said so.)

Intrigued?  I hope so.  There's a lot to discover here that's a lot of fun.  Stay tuned next week where I'll share some of my favorite tunes from the NES and SNES gaming systems.

-Stephen

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Monster High


I try to be a good uncle to my 4 year old niece Bella, as such when she’s into something I check it out, that way I can be the cool uncle who knows who Flynn Ryder and Diego are. That being said, here’s the latest thing she’s into, Monster High.
In the 1930’s Universal Studios made a series of movies that brought a bunch of monsters into the popular limelight. It combined Frankenstein, Dracula, Werewolf, and others into the same world where they’d fight or occasionally work together to mess with normal people. After that they’ve revisited the idea about a billion times with stuff like the Munsters and that Van Hellsing movie. That’s what Monster High basically is. The relatives of all the big famous monsters are going to high school together where they can be themselves without angry mobs coming after them.
The main characters have names like Draculaura, Frankie Stein, and Howleen Wolf, and the puns go from there. The girls are part of a fear squad, go to home eek, and play casketball. It’s like a monster version of the Flintstones. They never end up being too painful, and can even be relatively clever, which the same can be said for the writing. Monster High is a series of 5-7 minute web cartoons about the spooky pre-teens as they deal with pre-teen problems, like throwing parties and friendship. As cheesy as the whole thing sounds it’s actually pretty harmless, and some of the jokes you can only get if you were a fan of the source material. The Twilight episode was pretty funny, since it both made fun of the teen mentality and the vampire/werewolf concept.
What I find cool too is the design work put into the Monster High characters. Usually American cartoons give each character one stock personality trait and a single color scheme and just leave it at that. Here though the characters each have unique styles, interests and personality flaws. This is miles above most other cartoons running around out there that are trying to teach tolerance and acceptance between people who look and act exactly alike.
Okay so it’s probably weird for a 26 year old guy to talk about a show targeted towards preteen girls, but geekiness is for all ages. Plus I thought it might be helpful for parents to know what’s out there. And no, we’re probably not going to be doing a Brony post anytime soon, though here’s an awesome Dora the Explorer thing. J
-JOE

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Triple anime movie review

I leave for my Gencon 2012 trip today.  I was planning on writing a simple post with pictures of my dearest Synthia with a brief 'See you in a week!'  However, I watched a pretty awesome movie over the weekend, and decided to treat you all with not one, but three (brief) movie reviews!  And for the record, Synthia is my car.

The three films I want to cover are all animated.  They could all be considered 'anime'.  Let's review them in the order that I've watched them.

Spirited Away (2001)

I can't even remember how I got introduced to this film, but I immediately fell in love with the world that it presented and with the characters.  The story follows the adventures of a young girl named Chihiro.  She is on a trip with her family when the stumble upon an alternate dimension that is inhabited by spirits and monsters.  Her parents quickly eat food that was not intended for them and they turn into pigs.  Chihiro then sets out to both survive in the world and rescue her parents.  Her adventures put her in contact with a variety of spirits, monsters, and witches.  It is a beautiful 'coming of age' story about what it means to be courageous.  I would easily give Spirited Away top ratings.  What's even better, is that the movie is pretty family friendly, although it's probably a little too scary for younger children.

Metropolis (2001)

The second movie I want to review is called Metropolis.



Metropolis is a very interesting movie.  It is set in a futuristic setting in which humans and robots coexist.  However, robots are treated as second class citizens and are not allowed in many of the same areas that humans occupy.  There are even groups of humans that are 'anti-robot'.  The film follows Kenichi and his detective uncle as they investigate a mad scientist wanted for organ trafficking.  The plot thickens as they discover a young girl in the mad scientists lab.  And that is all I will share.  The movie is rated PG-13 for violence.  I watched the movie many years ago.  I believe there may be some language and robot nudity as well.

Howl's Moving Castle (2004)



This movie was written by the same man who wrote Spirited Away.  I have to say, that I love the man's writing style.  Howl's Moving Castle is about a young woman named Sophie.  Sophie is a hatter and works making hats.  Her life is forever changed when she runs into a mysterious man on her way to her sister's house.  After that, she sets out on a magic charged adventure.  The animation in this movie is beautiful.  I especially enjoyed how the writer chose to represent magic being used by various magicians in the world.  It often was very subtle, but at times it seems like a massive shared hallucination.  Even though I had a hard time following the plot (it was complicated) or knowing what was even going on, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.  I'd give it the same rating and recommendations as Spirited Away.

And with that, I will see you all next week!  If I'm not too completely exhausted, I will have some pictures of my adventures of Gencon.  If I am too exhausted, I might post some pictures of my dearest Synthia.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Challenge Completed


If you read last Thursday's post, you will know that Stephen and I took part in the Cahoots Duo Challenge this past weekend. It was (in my estimation) a 4-mile course with obstacles placed throughout. Rumor has it there were 24 different obstacles through the course ranging from a patch of mud to a fifteen-foot wall. (The rumor is for the number, not for the obstacles. I know what was there.) All of the challenge obstacles (as opposed to roadblock obstacles) were scored. There was only 1 of those that we did not complete. And another that we didn't know until later that we had done incorrectly. (In our defense, there wasn't a sign or instruction that we had to slide down a tube into muddy water together.)

I have never ran in a race of this caliber before. And actually, I can't really think of any race I've run in before. Unless it's a race to be the first to the downstairs reception area to get a doughnut before my coworkers take all the good ones. Yeah, that's a race I know I can do great at.

Do you know what the most amazing thing about this race was? I finished. Let me be honest here, after about three minutes into the race I wanted to quit. The first obstacle we faced was trekking up a very muddy hill. Most of the racers (Stephen and myself included) did what they could to avoid the mud but not the hill. No matter what though, we went through mud and our shoes were sticky. We continued through and went jumping around large pits, the last of which was full of water. Not caring at that point, we jumped into the water. As soon as we were out, I had to walk. We still were trekking uphill and my body was already yelling at me to stop and die. I just couldn't do this to myself.

Throughout the course, there were many times that I was just physically done. If the hills were absent, I'd have done great. Really, it was going uphill that caused me the most problems.

But then we'd get to an obstacle and there'd be a line for it. Guess what, I loved those moments. Standing around, talking to the other teams (everyone was in a team of two) was just awesome. When it came to the challenge obstacles, none of them were overly difficult. The one we did not complete was scaling a 15-foot wall. Our mistake was that we had Stephen go up first. When it came to my footing, I could not get enough to get ourselves up. Being short for this challenge (plus the assistance beams being muddy) was not a good thing.

The challenge Stephen and I are most proud of is this one:



I honestly don't know who these people are. I do know that the team on the left passed us at one point. Anyway...see on the right how that girl has her feet on a blue board? See the yellow one below it and the red one above it? Well, that yellow board goes all the across the wall. There were two blue ones that you could go up to and back down onto the yellow on for better points. And then there was the red one that you could go up to instead.

Well, Stephen and I started at the yellow (which you kinda need to.) But when we got to the blue we went for it. Once there, we slid over (seriously, sliding was easier than stepping at some points.) We got to the red and went for it. Again, we slid over to the edge, stepped down to the blue. Slid over again and stepped back onto the yellow beam. When we stepped off, people were cheering for us because of having accomplished that. Most teams didn't seem to do it.

The majority of the challenges you had to have a partner to do them with you. The only time it wasn't really necessary was a zipline. This is one of those things that you hold onto a small bar (some teams did it together, but with my broad shoulders, I would have knocked Stephen off, easily. He wanted to go together and I said we needed to do it alone (especially after watching people fall off.) The zipline went over a bunch of dirt, followed by a pretty muddied area with water spraying at you until you cleared a mud hill to safety.

Let me tell you this, I love rock climbing, but the thing I hate most about it is that my hands get sweaty easily and I lose my grip. This was my fear with the zipline. Especially since it was already wet. I grabbed on, ran, and jumped, bringing my legs in front of me. The people in line (I swear we waited about a half-hour for our turn and the line only got longer) cheered as I zipped down. And I made it over the mud hill and landed safely on the other side.

In life, there are challenges that we face. And as much as we feel alone in these challenges, we don't have to be alone. There are people out there to help us if we just let them. Like in the challenge pictured above. The phrase "I got your back" never made more sense to me. In order for me to get across safely, Stephen HAD to have my back. And at the exact same time, I HAD to have his. If one of us tried completing the task faster than the other, we would've fallen. Especially when at the red level, we could have seriously been injured if we fell wrong.

When it came to doing the zipline, I just needed support. He could not hang on there with me. I could not have dragged him along. I had to do it alone, but my fear of falling kept creeping up. Yeah, it was a short fall, but I wanted to make it all the way across. So to have Stephen and the rest of the racers and some volunteers cheer me on, it helped me immensely. I knew I could do it, I just had to drop my fear and go.

There were times when I thought to myself, I just can't do this. And as soon as I ignored that annoying little voice of doubt, I got myself going and made it to the finish line. Our flag that Stephen mad (that was more cape than flag) was hung up at the end of the race with all the other finishers. We did it. We got medals for finishing.

I care about our score enough to know how well we did, but it doesn't take away from the fact that fat and lazy me who hates getting up to get water from his in-office fridge, actually faced a 4-mile challenge and completed it despite my thoughts of "I can't do this." I did it and I'd do it again...but give me a year to recover and exercise. Cause next year when we do it, it's not gonna take us 2 1/2 hours (unless the zipline line gets even longer).

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

In Cahoots!

This Saturday, two Mormon Geeks will be getting muddy, zapped by electricity, and will be worn out from intense challenges.  That's right.  T.J. and I will be competing in the Cahoots Duo Challenge!  The idea behind this mud run is that every obstacle is meant to be passed by teams of two.  The challenges not only challenge the physical but also your mental and teamwork skills.

Our team is the Super Panda Brothers.  We will have a flag to carry around as part of the competition.  I even came up with a design.  (Just got to find a place affordable to print it off.)

Basically, I'm really excited.  I know this is going to stretch me to my limits but looking forward to the experience.  T.J. is my best friend and I couldn't think of anyone I'd rather be my teammate.

We can't get through this world without being in cahoots with someone.  We need friends by our side to help us get through the tough times and to make life even better in the good times.

The sad part is that true friendship is very uncommon in both the geek and Mormon worlds.  It can be difficult to build bonds with other geeks when your only interaction with them is in a digital world.  (This is one of the reasons why tabletop RPGs trumps MMORPGs in my opinion.)  Members of the ward can find difficulty building trust and relationships with one another.  They may not have much in the way of common interests as well.

Friendship is a funny thing.  I have found deep close friendship with both people I share almost no common interests with and people I share many common interests with.  What works for me is simply being proactive, vulnerable, and being open minded.

Being proactive doesn't mean being extroverted.  Introverts have made some of my closest friends.  Being proactive essentially means being both willing to initiate friendship and willing to receive friendship.  It may mean stepping out of your comfort zone.

Being vulnerable is a little bit more difficult to describe and do.  Vulnerability is essentially allowing yourself the potential to be hurt.  Why would anyone do this?  Because you cannot feel pleasure or joy without allowing yourself to feel pain or sorrow.  For me, telling someone how I feel makes me vulnerable.  For you it may mean inviting them to lunch, to play a game, or doing service together.

You're never going to find someone that shares all of the same common interests as you or share all of your opinions. (Even if you did, would you really want to be friends with them?  You'd get bored.)  Being open minded means your open to trying something new or learning about something foreign to you.  For example, T.J. really likes WWE.  I don't share the same interest but have grown a casual appreciation for it.  No, I wouldn't watch it on my own but I could legitimately watch it with a friend and sincerely enjoy it.

Being open minded doesn't mean you'll love everything that your friends will.  It simply means your open to trying new things.  It also means that you won't hate your friends for not sharing the same passion you have.  I love playing Dungeons and Dragons but I have a number of different friends who stay away from it like the social suicide plague.  (Which, depending on your social circles, it is.)

I hope my friendship advice is helpful.  Wish T.J. and I luck on our run!
-Stephen




Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Joe's top ten best graphic novels

Collecting an entire story arch in comic books can be tricky on a good day and near impossible on a bad. Shifting for hours through back issues of Batman for that last piece to your collection is literally a needle in a haystack. Luckily, comic book companies happily supply us with graphic novels, complete sets of some of their most popular story arcs in a couple easy volumes, and you can pick them up almost anywhere. It's a great way to keep up with your favorite characters without spending a fortune or valuable time. For those who are interested in starting their collections, here's my top ten pick of best graphic novels of all time.

10. Star Wars Infinities
"What if" stories are hit and miss, especially miss. Infinities is definitely a hit by taking a look at three what if stories from the original Star Wars trilogy. The New Hope story is where you really get your money's worth. The what if is if the Death Star wasn't destroyed. Instead, Luke damages the main gun, so that instead of destroying Yavin 4 it just devastates the Rebel base. Leah and C3-PO are captured, Luke and R2 go to Yoda for training, and Han and Chewbacca go into hiding. Four years later, the gang gets back together when Leah is named as Darth Vader's new apprentice. I won't reveal the rest but needless to say it's just as incredible as the original story.

                                                       


                                                            9: Runaways volumes 1-3
I know Marvel has plenty of really amazing stories from it's more mainstream titles, but Runaways is just so accessible to new readers it deserves special mention. Six kids find out that their parents are an evil cabal of super villains ruling LA. They run away (clever title) after stealing a small pile of their parents weapons and finding out their own special abilities to do what's right. It's a great coming of age story as well as a really good super hero story. Best part is that the Runaways stories rarely cross over into any of Marvel's other story arcs, so someone who doesn't know their Galactis from their Green Goblin can jump right in and get it.

8: Emperor Joker
So here's a frightening thought: What if Joker was a god-like being? Well that's what happens when Superman's fifth-dimensional friend Mitzelplik is tricked into giving the Joker nearly all his power. Using what he has left, Mitzelpitlik protects Superman from Joker's galaxy-warping spells. It's up to the Man of Steel, the imp and the Specter to save reality before Joker unravels it permanently. It's fun to see the world as interpreted by Joker, like a bald Lois Lane ruling a multi-million dollar empire in Metropolis. I won't say what he does to Batman, but it shows why Joker is one of the greatest villains of all time.



                                                       7: No Man's Land volumes 1-4
This story actually was one of the influences for Dark Knight Rises, as well as Arkham City. After a massive earthquake hits Gotham City, the government decides that due it's record breaking crime rate in every crime known to man, Gotham isn't worth saving, blow the bridges, and exile it from the US. Arkham Asylum is opened up and the villains turn the city into a massive playground. Batman and his allies must then try to maintain order and find a way to protect the innocent people left behind. It's a dark tale that takes the Dark Knight right to his edge, and is the first time that Harley Quinn was introduced into the comic book canon.

6: Star Trek: Countdown
Plenty of movies get comic book adaptations in an attempt to squeeze just a little more money from the film, but few are as truly spectacular as Star Trek: Countdown. The story follows Spock as he tries to save the Romulan Empire from their dangerous sun. Along the way he runs into the Next Generation crew in various new capacities, suck as Picard being an admiral and Data v2.0 captaining the Enterprise. It's a nice farewell to the old universe that blends seamlessly into the latest Star Trek movie, as well as shows what all our favorite characters are up to now.

                                                            5: Justice volumes 1-2
Remember that silly Super Friends cartoon in the 70's? My personal favorite line was Wonder Woman at one point saying "Look, it's the Pacific ocean-and it's on fire!" Justice is the same characters, only with the legendary writing of Alex Ross and Jim Kruger, combined with Ross's incredible art to make it an amazing read. This thing is so good it makes Bizarro a creepy villain. The bad guys unite after they all have a strange dream where nuclear war ends the world and the Justice League is powerless to stop it. United, they incapacitates the league and start herding people onto space ships where they can rule over them, in an attempt to save them. It's dark, thought provoking, and great to look at.

4: Funeral for a Friend
Right after the death of Superman and before DC brought him back, the world grieved for the Man of Steel. Funeral for a Friend follows heroes, villains, and especially Lois Lane in how they live in a world without Superman. The funeral itself even has a guest appearance from President Bill Clinton, as well as a great scene of Batman in Metropolis. In my top ten saddest moments in geekdom post, I said Lois Lane and the Kent's mourning is the second saddest moment in geekdom, and it's in this graphic novel that you can find it. It's a touching moment well worth picking up.




                                                                     3: Kingdom Come
It shouldn't surprise anyone that Alex Ross appeared twice on this list, considering he almost exclusively creates graphic novels, and Kingdom Come is definitely his magnum opus. It's thirty some odd years in the future and the Justice League has gone their separate ways, either protecting their own cities or disappearing entirely. The world is left in the hands of a new generation of heroes with no regard for public safety, justice, or decency. When an accident destroys the entire mid-west, Superman has to reunite the league to try and restore order to a world he no longer knows. Slap in a psuedo-religious aspect to it and you have a great story worth checking out.




           
 2: Hush volumes 1-2
Batman is a hard character to write for sometimes, since he's a millionare/playboy/detective/ninja/inventor/mentor to underprivileged half-dressed youth. Hush though shows off all the aspects of the Dark Knight as well as showcasing some of his coolest villains. It's not even about a real murder mystery or someone trying to take over the world, it's just a bunch of the Arkham gang messing with Batman with a mysterious puppet master behind it all. It also explores some rarely unexplored aspects of Batman, including his relationships to Catwoman and Superman. If you're a Batman fan, this is a must-have.





                                                         

                                                              1: Identity Crisis
This comic sparked nearly everything that's happened in the last ten years in DC Comics. Someone is killing those closest to heroes, revealing that he knows their secret identities and is out for blood. The Justice League and allies must race against time before the madman strikes again, all while an incredible conspiracy threatens to destroy the League at it's core. What's really great is that Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are barely in this thing, focusing most of the storytelling through some of the lesser known characters. This comic was also featured in my Top Ten Saddest Moments post, and is guaranteed to make you call your dad by the end of the book. Check out this dark masterpiece as soon as you can.

For those of you wanting to get into comics but don't know where to start, there's ten good places to find something you'll really love and not break the bank doing it.
-JOE

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

On Fear

With my upcoming GenCon trip, I've noticed that I have a lot of anxiety about going on a trip that's nearly on the other side of the country.  Don't get me wrong, I am quite excited about going to Gencon.  I just have some fears about going.

I've heard once that all fears can be put into one of two categories: fear of the unknown or fear of what we can control.  For instance with my upcoming trip, some unknowns could be what the people I'm going to meet will be like, what kind of food I'll be eating, or even the layout of the convention center.  Some things I couldn't control would be if the plane crashes, if the bus crashes, or if it rains.  Most of those are just examples but you get the idea.

I decided to do a little research on fear.  Fear is actually different than anxiety.  Fear has a definite or certain external 'threat' of some sort.  Anxiety generally lacks that although the responses to fear and anxiety are the same, fear can be much easier to resolve because the problem is more immediate.

Fear (and by relation, anxiety) is actually a learned behavior.  Fear is generally acquired after a person experiences a traumatic event of some kind.  For instance, if a child falls down a well, the child could develop a fear of wells, water, heights, or even enclosed places.  In one case, an experiment was performed in which an 11-month old boy was conditioned to fear a small white puppy.  The fear even became generalized so that the boy would fear anything small, white, and fuzzy.  This even included cotton balls! (see here for more information on that)

I am reminded of a creature from Harry Potter called the boggart.  The boggart was a shape shifter that would turn into whatever a person into what a person feared most. (See here for more)

When a person is exposed to a stimulus associated with fear, their body will begin to produce hormones that prepares the person to either fight what they are afraid of, or to run away from it.  This is often referred to as the 'flight or fight' response.  Fear is typically viewed as a survival response to situations.  There actually are conditions where a person will totally ignore fear.  One example is a parent defending their child from a large predator.  Most parents would put themselves in mortal danger in order to protect their children.  This is considered to be an altered state of being.

To speak on a personal note, I have felt fear over a great many things.  I've felt fear about grades, meeting new people, going places, and travelling.  I've even mentioned my fear of being 'stuck' in a previous post.  Most of the times, what I feel is anxiety.  I've found that there are ways to deal with anxiety.  One of them is to stop thinking about what will happen and focus on what is actually happening around me.  Most of my anxieties are caused by trying to predict or forecast the future.  Focusing on the present helps to dispel my worries about the future.  I can deal with things as they come up.

In closing, I'd like to share some quotes about fear.

"Fear is the path to the dark side.  Fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering." - Yoda

"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear." - Mark Twain

“You always fear what you don’t understand.” - Batman Begins

(additional source for this article: Wikipedia)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Heroes Rising: Why I like the Dark Knight Rises the Best

The great thing about Mormon Geeks is that all of us bring something different to the table.  We have our own opinions and respect and love one another despite our views.  Joe wrote a great review last week on his review of the Dark Knight Rises.  I cannot say I agree with him.  Although this post is not technically a review it does explain why I like the Dark Knight Rises the best of the three Christopher Nolan Batman movies.  Before I get into the Dark Knight Rises let's look back at the central themes of each movie leading up to the finale. (Spoilers up ahead for the entire series.)


Batman Begins is the awakening of our hero.  Bruce goes on a journey to travel the world to learn martial arts and essentially find himself.  He runs into Ducard, a mysterious vigilante who introduces him into the League of Shadows.  It is important to note that the League of Shadows is a crime punishing organization.  They aim to stop crime and evil by punishment.  Bruce, in order to join the league, must kill a local thief.  Bruce responds, "I will stop men like this but I will not be an executioner."  Batman is born.  Batman has one rule to never kill.  The league then turns on Bruce for knowing their secrets and refusing to join.  He also learns of their intention to destroy Gotham City.  Why?  Because Gotham is a seedy and wicked place.  Gotham isn't much better then Sodom or Gammorah.  Thus, the League of Shadows seeks to simply destroy it and let civilization restore itself.

The central theme of Batman Begins is the idea of one man restoring an entire city.  Batman tries to convince the League, the organization that demands justice, that Gotham is worth saving.



The Dark Knight is where Batman meets his match, the Joker.  The thing about the Joker is that he is chaotic evil.  He isn't motivated by power, sex, or money.  The Joker is motivated by chaos in of itself.  "Some men just want to watch the world burn."  The Joker is scary because that's the realest evil of all of them.  Power, sex, and money can actually be good motivators, acquired in healthy ways, and used in ways to help uplift ourselves and others.  Evil for the sake of being evil is the most dangerous.  The Joker seeks to spread his chaos into the minds of others like Gotham's daytime hero, Harvey Dent.


Harvey is a good, respectable man.  He's handsome, likable, and puts a ton of Gotham's baddies in jail.  Batman hopes to someday put away the Batsuit forever due to Harvey's zealous pursuits as the District Attorney.  Then Rachel, Harvey's fiance and Batman's love interest, dies from one of the Joker's bombs.  The Joker uses this to reach down inside and unleash the villain in Harvey Dent, Two Face.


Gotham's white knight, their hero in shining armor, is now a villain.  Two Face kills some people and holds Commissioner Gordon's family hostage.  Batman stops Two Face but is unable to save him from a fall that breaks his neck and kills him.  Here comes the theme of the second movie.  How can they save Harvey's Reputation?  Gotham believed in Harvey Dent.  What would happen if they knew he became a villain.  If they knew that he succumbed to the evil that the Joker enticed him with?


Batman saves his reputation.  He takes on the wrongdoings of one man.  Gordon lies and says that Batman did all the things that Harvey did.  He does this to restore Gotham's faith in its leaders--in the heroes that it wants but by so doing becomes the hero Gotham needs.


Before I go onto the Dark Knight Rises I want to point out how these themes correlate with the Atonement.  Christ takes upon the sins of all mankind.  The power of the Atonement is both Universal and very personal. Batman, like other DC superheroes, is very much a Christ figure by saving others through sacrifice.  The reason why these movies are so great is because of this message.  The story of the Atonement is the most beautiful and wonderful story that is ever told.  It's why it is told again in Narnia, Spiderman, Lord of the Rings, Superman, and so many other wonderful works of fiction.


Now that we understand this, let's talk about the Dark Knight Rises.


In the Dark Knight Rises we have a new villain travailing Gotham City.  His name is Bane.  He is Batman's equal in every regard and perhaps even his superior in many ways as well.  He was kicked out of the League of Shadows for being too intense.  He comes to Gotham to essentially finish the job Ra's al Ghul started.


Bane ups the stakes and breaks Batman's back to force him to watch as Gotham eats itself apart.  The main character in this movie isn't so much Batman as it is Gotham City itself.  Gotham has experienced 8 years of nearly non existent crime up until this point.  It isn't the same city it once was.  It hopes that Batman returns and until then does everything within it's power to save itself.


But it isn't enough.


Just when Gotham has tried everything it can to save themselves Batman returns with a healed back to save the city.


So why do I love this movie so much?  Why is it my favorite of the three?  Because the theme of this movie is that anyone can be a Hero.  There are plenty of heroic characters in Gotham.  Batman even puts his faith in a cat burglar named Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) that helps transform her from a crook to an anti-hero to a heroine.  He inspires a beat cop to become a detective and then into something more.
The reason why I love the Dark Knight Rises the best is because the hero wasn't only Batman.  The first movie was about saving a city, the next was saving a man, and this one was about bestowing a hero energy on everyone to inspire them to become heroes themselves.  If we look at this in terms of the Atonement allegory, this is when I love the Atonement the most.


I'm so thankful that Christ died and suffered for me sins, afflictions, emotional pains, and trials.  I don't even want to imagine where I would be without his sacrifice.  Yet, I appreciate that transforming power even more.  The idea that I can be a hero--that I can be Christlike--is something that makes me feel even more love and even closer to my Heavenly Father.  Not only am I saved but I'm trusted too.  Even when Gotham's best wasn't good enough, Batman came in and made up the difference.  So too when we do our best and we've given our everything, when we've spent ourselves, our Savior comes in and makes up the rest.


This is why the Dark Knight Rises is such a great movie.  This is why it's my favorite.  Because Batman isn't the only hero it's Gotham City as well and therefore we the audience feel the potential to be heroes.  I left the theater feeling like I can make a difference even though I'm not a billionaire with a lot of stamina and crazy martial arts moves.
"A hero can be anyone- even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting their coat around a young boy's shoulder to let him know the world hasn't ended." --Batman
-Stephen

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What makes archery so cool?


I’ve noticed an interesting trend this year in movies. It seems that in a few of the big blockbusters they’ve had an archer running around shooting arrows into things, namely Katness Everdeen from Hunger Games, Hawkeye from Avengers and Princess Merida from Brave. Speaking as an archer myself, I want to delve a bit into why this ancient activity looks so cool on screen, and why we squeal every time we see a bow drawn.
First off, unlike guns and knives, archery requires skill to bring someone down. Say what you will, but a child can’t pick up daddy’s bow and hurt too many people. This comes up a bit in Hunger Games when one of the tributes tries firing at Katness with no luck, but this is especially illustrated in Brave during the suitor competition (This isn’t a spoiler, since this whole scene was a trailer for the film. Check it out! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4EZULqhP2E&feature=relmfu). The suitors, despite being “mighty warriors”, can’t get a bullseye to save their lives, and the one guy who does almost does it by accident. Princess Merida then shows up, spouts I think everyone’s favorite line from that movie “I’ll be shooting for me own hand!”, rips her dress, and systematically schools each suitor. She goes so far as to split the one bullseye’s shot in half with her own arrow! It’s a cool scene, and shows how bad to the bone she is, despite being a princess. I want to see Belle or Aurora try that!
Second, arrows are so much more useful than bullets. A bullet is good for putting holes in stuff. That’s it. Hawkeye and his fancy quiver (For those who don’t know, a quiver is where one stores arrows) could do repelling lines, smoke bombs, explosives, and a bunch of other little gadgets handy to get across long distances. And need we forget Legolas in Fellowship of the Ring, where he actually stabbed a charging Uruk Hai with an arrow in his hand before notching it and taking down another. It’s pretty tricky to take out two opponents with one bullet.
Third and final argument: A fully drawn bow just looks so chill. Anyone can pick up a gun, but not everyone can look cool doing it, but when an  archer has sights set on a target, it’s over. Game over man. Even wusses like Young Link, or people who normally aren’t supposed to look dangerous like Inara look scary with a bow. Even though it was a needless cameo and he didn’t do anything, most people remember Hawkeye’s debut in Thor just because someone was willing to shoot the God of Thunder with an arrow. And let’s be honest here, if it wasn’t for the bow, would it be just impossible to tell the difference between Arwen and Legolas?
Archery is a great hobby to take up, and even though I haven’t loosed an arrow in years, I still think fondly of when I did. It’s a skill that takes an afternoon to learn and a lifetime to master and is so worth it, because when you’re standing with a full draw on your target, for just an instant you feel like you can take on the world.
Then you let go, miss the target, swear, and try again.
-JOE