Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Losing the Ponds

In the epic science fiction television show Doctor Who the main character (called The Doctor) travels through space and time with the help of his trusted companion. The companions change occasionally. They get killed, The Doctor abandons them, they chose to leave choose, their memories are wiped, or they are otherwise disposed of, but the Doctor's companions never stay forever. I knew this about the show long ago, but I have a small emotional stress about it every time The Doctor changes companions.

My boyfriend and I both enjoy this television show so we re-watched a few old episodes for fun. Eventually, though, I told him I wasn't up to date on the newest season because I know the current companions, The Ponds, are going to not be on the show anymore. I don't know exactly how it happens, but I know which episode it occurs in and I've been avoiding watching the series to avoid that moment where there is no more content with some of my favorite characters. We got into a large debate about the logic of this. He was arguing that they had already been eliminated from the series and I was living in an unnecessary state of unease about a competed event. I was arguing the point that it was fine because as long as I didn't experience the loss of these characters they were alive in my imagination and I could keep them existing forever. We couldn't agree on that, but we did agree that "forever is an incorrect concept" (as John Green proposed) not only because the sun will explode and the universe will die a cold death when it expands to the point where nothing is interacting, but also because time probably exists outside human observation of its passing. With that I decided I could watch because I didn't have forever to do it.

It makes me think about the way I put off sad or difficult things in general. Any time I have to disappoint someone I can't write them an email or call them up and let them know. It would almost certainly be better if I did it earlier, but I never would be able to logic my way out of it. We're trained to avoid pain and it's so challenging to make yourself do stressful things that we don't do them. I hope in the future I can look at this and remember that sometimes The Ponds are already dead.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


I work for my college teaching preschoolers to swim so when the summer is over the vast majority of my business goes off to kindergarten and I never see them again. This is beginning to happen already and will be finished by the end of next week. I want to be done with my summer job so I can go home and see my family, but I absolutely do not want to see my little kids go. They are fabulous. I get a deep sad feeling when I think about the fact that they are leaving forever, but I also get a stranger and subtler fear that is harder to accept. I remember this fear from last year. I remember being worried that when the school year started and the preschool gave me new children to work with I wouldn't like them. I remember being worried that they wouldn't be able to swim by themselves, I couldn't teach them flipturns, and their streamlines would all be rubbish. This hasn't happened yet. Every time I've gotten a new batch of kids I've dutifully taught them all the strokes and by the end they leave with a mutual respect we all enjoy. It's a strange problem to intellectually know that and still be afraid that the next group will not be as kind and eager as the ones I have now.

I think it's mostly cognitive dissonance. It's at least partly the fact that I've put sixty-five hours into each one of these children and I know that if I put that much time into another group they'll be as good, but I can't imagine possibly having sixty-five more hours to give. I look at my fall schedule and don't see how I'll care this much during the year, but I know I will because I have before. This problem must be multiplied many times if you are a school teacher. Instead of sixty-five hours of effort you have put in about six thousand. I think I would be a good elementary school teacher, but I have no idea how I would deal with that. There are a lot of people I've been attached to in my life and left, but there is no one that I've taken care of for six thousand hours. I'm sorry for anyone who has to lose a person they love because I can barely send some little kids off to kindergarten.

Monday, July 29, 2013


I took dance lessons for about seven years as a kid. I was mostly really bad and I always took only a few lessons, but you'd expect that after seven years I could dance. You would be wrong. I can perform one very nice pirouette and my toes point quite a lot, but beyond that my dance skills are about average for someone of my social location. I was thinking about this the other day when I was scolding my five year-olds for not doing dolphin kicks off their walls. Will they remember any of it? Does teaching swimming that meticulously even matter?

My feeling is yes. I think all kids should be drown-proofed simply because drowning is the number one cause of accidental death in children, but when I teach swimming I usually go way past the point of safety. I make them do flips, dives, and strokes correctly. I challenge them to swim thirteen feet underwater and glide off the wall backwards underwater. These things are unnecessary, but what they get from it even if they forget the particular skills is a lack of fear. In the same way that I'm never afraid to dance in any situation my preschool-aged swimmers will try anything from sculling to butterfly. They'll jump off diving boards because I told them they would be able to. Even if they are too young to really remember how to do everything properly it doesn't matter because when they grow up and want to swim laps they'll have no fear.

I've met so many adults who want to learn to swim, but can't because they are afraid of the water that I've lost count. Every time I get somebody requesting swimming lessons, but prefacing it with, "I don't want to get my face wet" I have to sigh a little. It's impossible to swim without getting your face wet. It's impossible to really swim without doing some drills. If people tell me they don't want to learn anything other than front crawl I know it's because they are afraid of putting their body in different positions. They should have conquered that when they were little children, but they didn't. Nobody threw them in the way I do. It's sad.

I'm glad that I learned to swim and dance when I was younger so I can be graceful on the land and the water now. Walking along on your tip-toes and doing flips is surprisingly rewarding even if that's all I retained from years of lessons. I believe learning is worth it for its own sake. Sometimes skills are just good to have.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Real Thing

Today I went to the first bookstore I've been to in a very long time. My town doesn't have a book store so it's been a while. I was instantly like an excited little kid again who lived with the house rule "you can always buy books." I'd pick up books and show them to my boyfriend and say, "Have you read this one? It's so so good and you should try it" and then see something else to smell and remember. I still read a lot of books, but since the books I read are not the kind you buy in the bookstore it made me reminiscent of younger days. It made me want to hold a book in my hands even though I couldn't actually read that font. Children's books have really big font that I miss. When I take young adult literature next semester I am going to revel in the large font, paper pages, and nice bindings, but that's not the only way to read.

Since the sixth grade when I was confirmed by the State of New York to be visually impaired I've been given every book as either an audiobook or an ebook and I haven't read much that is actually words printed on pages constricted by a binding. I still own many books, but most of my reading is done on my computer and kindle. I have some friends who insist that the only way to love stories and reading is to have a massive library of paperbacks while I simply disagree. I get an ecstatic joy upon entering libraries and bookstores, but I think that those who dismiss readers for using alternate formats are being extremely unfair. I've talked about this before, but it's immensely important to me that people realize that books are not action figures. They aren't meant to be collected in order to live on a shelf as conversation starters and furniture. Books belong to their readers. They are about being used and shared and understood. I get irritated at humans and memes that devalue literature as only existing in paperbacks. It's simply untrue. If you can use the story or knowledge you gleaned from a book in your life then it is valuable whether or not you read the words off a page in sequence and then stored it in your house.

Sometimes the real thing isn't even better. My feelings about video games are almost identical. I don't need a disk as long as I can play the game. Steam (a service that has 2,000 games and 4,000,000 gamers) stores your data, gives you achievements, and allows you to talk to your friends while you play. I don't need the boxes on my shelf to get enjoyment out of a game in the same way that I don't need the books on my desk in order to have the story. I think people partly collect these things to show off their geekiness. Maybe they had them anyway, but it strikes me as a badge of onor to have a library in your house. It screams, "look how intelligent I am." I don't need it. My kindle and I are going to take on the world.

Monday, July 15, 2013

World vs. Kite

A recent Guild Wars 2 update is called Bazaar of the Four Winds. One of the achievements that goes along with this update is called World vs. Kite. ArenaNet hid these large kites all over the map and gave the players points for finding them. Six out of seven of these kites are in the PvE (player versus environment) area that is created to be completed cooperatively with other players. The one remaining kite is hidden in WvW (world versus world) area that is created for servers with real players to battle each other. I am guessing, but it seems the developers of the games put a major objective in the competitive environment so players who don't normally go into that area are forced to venture into the dangerous lands of WvW.

The developers make the game and can intend whatever they want, but the consumer of the product (the players) have quite a lot of control over what happens with that content once its released. In this case, the players could chose to play the game as it was meant to played and fight for control over the kite or they could choose to stop fighting in WvW so that everybody could get the achievement. I'm interested in what actually happened. I'm not sure if it's sociology, psychology, or something else that deals with crowd dynamics, but I'm sure plenty of people would have had fun studying the result when ArenaNet put an important achievement atop a hill and allowed players to kill for it with little consequence. The result was different on separate servers and varied slightly over time, but I can report my experience even if I didn't stand around for days with a clipboard recording interactions.

I was completing this with my guild. They were talking me through the whole thing and teleporting me past the hardest parts of the puzzle. I found that I could run around that area and not get attacked at all as long as I stayed largely out of the way. My guildees told me others weren't so lucky. What ended up happening where I was playing was that people were safe or unsafe based on their guild. People kept track of the major guilds on each server and whether they were being friendly or unfriendly toward people who were trying to get their achievement. My guild is full of kind, cooperative adults so for the most part we ran around unhassled in a part of the game that would normally have been a death trap. It reminded me that it's really important who you associate with. A lot of guilds were being killed on the spot and it didn't matter if it was only a subset of the members who weren't playing nice because the whole guild would be massacred. Even in video games it matters who you hang around with. It starts out with little decisions like what server you belong to or what college you chose to attend, but you can't ever complete your achievements if you don't get nice guildees to help. You always choose. You can always change guilds and switch friends. You don't have to hang out with the immature idiots who won't get on their mesmer characters and portal you to the top. You can find people who will enjoy your company and continue to fight for you even after you fail to complete the easy puzzle on your own.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Gamification of Writing

There are very few things I want more in this world than to be a writer. Perhaps more accurately I want to have written. The actual part of the process where I sit and type on a keyboard is intermittently fun, but I'm fairly ambivalent about that part compared to how much I want to have something to send to all the teachers, mentors, and professors that expect I will be an author-type. That is something I want passionately, but whenever it comes time to actually sit and write something I find myself much more excited about doing something else. I think the problem is that I don't feel rewarded for writing. I'll do it for school because there are grades, but it's something that's hard for me to do on my own. I'd much rather play Guild Wars than type elegant sentences because that game gives me points for what I'm doing while all I get for writing is a couple extra words on a page.

I hopped on NaNo for a couple minutes recently assuming that it would be really motivating and rewarding, but what I found was a pretty uninspiring user interface that could only really track your words per day. I can write down my words, but that's not what gamification is about. Gamification is about engaging users and making them actually want to do something. I think it's about time somebody gamified writing. I don't have the skills to do it, but I encourage somebody else to give it a shot. If someone could make a system that I could run in the background of my documents that gave me missions, quests, achievements, badges, and reward points for writing that would be fantastic. The missions can be epic adventures like write fifty thousand words as long as they have a nice progress bar. The quests can be silly things like writing sentences with thiry words or writing a paragraph without using a particular letter. The achievements should be correlated to the missions and quests you've completed and there should be associated points. The points don't have to be related to anything in the real world. It'll increase my motivation anyway. Virtual currency with absolutely no value is something I still feel the need to collect. I don't know why it does, but having a competitive ticker of points earned makes me significantly more likely to do something.

If this already exists please tell me. I need it. I really want to write, but it would be a lot easier with a progress bar.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

ArenaNet Blogstalkers

I know in theory that this is on the Internet and anyone can read it. Intellectually I can process that information but it always surprises me when people do take the time to read the blog. It's not like I ever just say, "oh, cool" when somebody tells me they read the blog. I'm incredulous and shocked every time. The voice in my head that tells me that what I say is not important must be pretty loud because even after people tell me that they read this page I still assume that they haven't seen any of the recent posts.Some people do follow the blog, though. Some of those people are from ArenaNet. I didn't tell any of the superstars that work for that excellent company that I wrote a post about the dedication of the new novel Sea of Sorrows, but they found it anyway. The Guild Wars 2 Facebook page linked my blog which was surreal to watch. My blog got 5,000 hits in the first hour and many more after that. Ree has commented, "you're welcome" and Neil Gaiman said, "I'm really sorry," without me contacting either of them. It's almost hard to process that information.

It doesn't make writing any easier and it doesn't shut the voice up in my head that says what I'm saying isn't worth reading even though it should. It makes it harder for me to write my review of Sea of Sorrows because there are parts of the book I'm critical of or think could have been done differently and I know that it will be read. It makes me want to go back and delete the negative things I said in relation to Neil Gaiman just on the off-chance he notices. That's bizarre because one of the reasons that the people at ArenaNet like me is that I'm harsh. When I went to the ArenaNet offices I told Colin Johanson (who is a Game Designer) that I hated one of the missions he designed, but he laughed anyway. I don't dislike Sea of Sorrows or Neil Gaiman, but when I have thousands of people critically looking at what I'm saying I do have to fight a feeling like I'm being tested.