11th Grade Activities

I found today’s xkcd (also titled “11th Grade Activities”) a little ironic.

You see, I spent my 11th grade year doing comparatively little in the way of classes and homework. Thanks to lymphoma, I was on homebound most of the year, which meant I got homework as teachers had time to send it to me. Which was either in large batches that I could put off and then do all at the last minute (Pre-Calc), or not at all (Economics–I swear the teacher only sent 2 or 3 assignments the entire semester).

Which means my time was filled up with many other entertaining activities. Like screwing around with Visual Basic 4 and HTML. And creating Doom levels. And playing Chrono Trigger. And chemotherapy and doctor’s appointments, of course.

I suppose this would be funnier if I actually drew out a parody comic but (a) I’m lazy, (b) I’m not really sure what metric would be funny as the Y-axis*, and (c) freehanding with the mouse in GIMP makes it look more like a stupid looking rip-off than a parody. So just imagine I created a chart out of that last paragraph.

Incidentally, all this nostalgia reminds me of a funny IT/business-related story from 8th grade, which I should post later.


* All I know is, Chrono Trigger has to be the largest bar. After all, the whole point of this post is gloating that Chrono Trigger comprised a majority of my 11th grade education.

Book Synopsis (not review!): Surprised by Joy

First, no, I did not rip off Nathan’s book review post idea. I actually finished this book today and was thinking about writing a… well, synopsis. I don’t call this a review because, honestly, it’s something of a classic and I can’t quite justify the implications of the word “review.” More like “here’s a book you’ve probably never heard of and I recommend.”

I will admit that reading Nathan’s review got me motivated to actually write something. I have the “I should blog about this!” moment every time I finish a book or movie or anime, and then I never do. (Mostly because it will end up written off as a “Dylan anime” or “Dylan book” or “Dylan movie” anyway, so why bother?)

People who know me will be shocked that I actually read, because it’s pretty well-known that I don’t. Actually, I suppose that’s sort of a mischaracterization of my reading habits: I read, but very rarely, and only books I really want to read. I’m sort of a perfectionist about book choice, so I don’t read anything that I don’t think I’m going to complete. And I know the chances of me actually sticking with a book (or game, or series, or whatever) long enough to complete it are slim to none. So I’m very picky, and tend to read books by authors I already know I like.*

Anyway, I should probably explain how I got around to reading this book. I’ve read through several C.S. Lewis books over the past… oh, probably year or two. I picked up Mere Christianity at McKay’s a few years back and really liked it. I picked up The Screwtape Letters a bit later, and similarly enjoyed it. Still later, after seeing them referenced in an online discussion, I read through Till We Have Faces (highly recommended if you like fantasy) and The Great Divorce (more fantastic than fantasy). I recommended The Great Divorce to my sister (I can’t really explain why, but it seemed like her type of book), and in the course of showing her where it was in Borders picked up The Problem of Pain (also highly recommended if you want to get philosophical… or want a good argument why theistic evolution is not teh devil) and this book more or less on a whim. So there you have it. And no, I’ve never read any of the Narnia books.

What I find really interesting about Lewis’s work is his sense of pragmatism and honesty. There’s also something assuring about reading a book that puts into words things you’ve thought. And given the polarizing opinions people have about religion (and more specifically, Christianity), Lewis seems to tread a very rational middle ground. His logic isn’t always airtight, but it’s clearly present and it’s not antagonistic. He says a lot of things that would make religion more palatable to those who strongly disagree with it; conversely, I think a lot of Christians in America today would strongly disagree with some of his conclusions if they read anything more than Narnia. (To my discredit, I have a very morbid curiosity about the weird things people believe, so I may not have an accurate picture of what constitutes mainstream belief in either case.)

But none of that actually has much to do with this book, and I don’t want to get hung up on summarizing it. There’s actually quite a bit that’s applicable to modern life, or at least the geek subculture.

The book itself is an account of Lewis’s conversion from a nominal Christianity, to atheism, and then back to Christianity. This isn’t a tearjerking personal testimony (“As for what we commonly call Will, and what we commonly call Emotion,” Lewis writes, “I fancy these usually talk too loud, protest too much, to be quite believed, and we have a secret suspicion that the great passion or the iron resolution is partly a put-up job.”1) In fact, it’s mostly non-religious details about his early life, and it’s occasionally very philosophical. I don’t mean the common use of the term philosophical where a person rambles on about supposedly weighty matters, I mean discusses actual schools of philosophical thought. As a business/CIS major who decied to take Logic for his philosophy course requirement, it’s quite over my head. It’s also a product of 1950’s Ireland/England, so there’s a lot of context taken for granted.

Even if you don’t agree with his conclusions or his beliefs, there’s something fascinating about watching someone examine their own life. It’s a sort of vicarious experience: you identify with them in the faults you share, and you discover new faults that you’ve completely overlooked. And then there are things you would never dream of thinking of as wrong–which you might attribute to going with the flow, or playing the game, or trying to fit in–that Lewis berates himself for. Still, you cannot witness someone else’s introspection unscathed.

There’s also some measure of frustration involved; Lewis wrote this with decades of hindsight that, as a 27-year-old, I just don’t have right now.

Central to the book is Lewis’s encounters with the sensation of Joy. He first encounters this in Norse mythology; there is something he sees in the imagery and the “Northernness” of the epics that is unattainable and indescribable, yet something he desires. It’s something outside of himself. What’s fascinating is that, the more he tries to recapture this sensation by immersing himself in the books and music, the more he realizes it’s impossible to recapture. The more he tries to probe the sensation through introspection, the faster he loses it. Joy, as he calls it, is not controllable, nor is it in the object so much as it is the desire.

There’s something oddly familiar about this and his other descriptions of literature. Maybe it’s because of DragonCon and AWA being so fresh on my mind, but there’s something about this that reminds me of fandom. Lewis had his literature; we have science fiction and anime and comics. Whatever it is that hooks us, it’s often so strong that we make it a part of who we are. But even as we chase it down by buying merchandise or rewatching or rereading the material or learning every bit of trivia, we’re never going to fully capture it because we’re chasing the incidentals.

To completely switch gears, we geeks are also a sarcastic and opinionated lot. Seriously, count the number of times you’ve said that something sucks or laughed at people who like something. (You can make this a drinking game if you’d like.)

So it’s an eye-opening experience to watch Lewis talk about how, as a young man, he was surrounded by people who didn’t share his taste in literature. (Even among geeks, I have this problem myself–as will probably be evidenced by people reading this blog post and saying to themselves, “You seriously read that? WTF?”) As soon as he entered school and discovered that his tastes were actually considered good literature, this changed completely–he discovered there were more of his kind, and they carried some measure of respect. And good taste meant, naturally, a sense of superiority. I think you see where I’m going with this.

I have, by the by, made this quote my signature on TVGA, just to challenge people who mock my enjoyment of “wuss rock” and crappy anime:

“The moment good taste knows itself, some of its goodness is lost. Even then, however, it is not necessary to take the further step downward of despising the ‘philistines’ who do not share it.”2

There’s probably more I could expound on, but honestly, there’s so much I forget about this book. In trying to write a blog post about it, I feel like I should read it a second time just to take it in. I wouldn’t even say it was the most fascinating or weighty of Lewis’s books. But the narrative was compelling, and if you’re looking there are a lot of very surprising little conclusions and details.

1 p. 237

2 p. 104

* Also, given the length of this post, it should be said that when I read something, I read and enjoy the hell out of it. There is something to say for perfectionism and attention to detail.

Soy Latte Is People

Some of you may remember the photo I took of the Soy Latte is People sticker at Dragon*Con, and then turned into a wallpaper. Some of you may not, but that’s because you don’t pay attention to the random crap I spew out on my blog. For shame.

Just got this email:

Hey there,

Just wanted to let you know it was my roommate, Faith, who tagged that pole you shot the photo of in Atlanta, GA, last year at D*Con. We were walking around in the tee-shirts selling them to whomever walked up to us and asked us about them.

It’s always nice to see someone else online who appreciates our humor! We’ll be back again in August/September for another round, and with more shirts and stickers.

Kudos,

James

Wow. Holy crap. Random email about a random photo I shot at a con. Suddenly I feel so connected.

Also, I think I’ll be getting one of those shirts or stickers when DC rolls back around this year.

Weekend in Johnson City

I spent the weekend in Johnson City visiting my sister. She was up there with her boyfriend in the master’s program for education at ETSU, but dropped out because she decided she didn’t really want to teach. (She majored in theater, and I guess assumed that was all she could do with the degree.)

She was still able to take part in the play this weekend, however, which was pretty good. It was a short play called Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All. It’s a play billed as a satire but actually ends up being an over-the-top rant about the Catholic church. (I dunno, maybe I’d understand more if I was Catholic.)

That’s not to say I was offended, or that it wasn’t a good play. (Apparently several people walked out after the scene where a baby Jesus is velcroed to a cross. Yes, you’d have to understand the context to get it.) It just didn’t seem to me to be effective satire. Sister Mary obviously skipping the “If God is good, why is there evil in the world?” question twice is satire. Having a former student go on a rant about how her mother died from cancer, and then how she was raped that very same day, which is why she had to have an abortion, and that makes her question God and hate Sister Mary… not so much satire. (Unless maybe it’s satirizing the other extreme as well.)

Johnson City’s a pretty nice place. I’ve never been there before. It doesn’t seem quite so big as Knoxville or Chattanooga, but it is certainly bigger than Athens or Cleveland. As a side note, if you’re ever there, make sure to eat at Russo’s, a Cajun place where my sister works.

I noticed some oddly interesting things around town while I was there. Like the liquor store with the “No commies allowed… ask Jimmy Hoffa for details” sign. Or the crazy graffiti proclaiming “ART IS RESISTANCE!” (No, moron. Art is art, resistance is resistance, and graffiti is illegal.) Or Steve Taylor Insurance (no, not that Steve Taylor).* Almost wish I’d carried my camera with me.

Other than that, played a lot of Wii Sports with my sister, her boyfriend, their roommate, and my parents.

* You know what’s really depressing? I’m the only one I know who could possibly get this joke. *sigh*

Of Entertaining Domain Names

My friend Chad has been out of work since the end of the school year. In addition to the normal process of looking for teaching jobs, he’s been trying to get a few things published in various magazines (mainly gaming related). For the last couple of weeks, I’ve tried to convince him to put up a site, and just post some of this stuff online. (If you can’t get published and you’re wanting to do some professional writing, the next best thing is to put samples of your work out on the internet.)

Yesterday, I finally convinced him to get started, as we discovered that DerKlown.com was available. (Der Klown is the alias of Beelzebozo, one of Chad’s many online personas. It’s also apparently German for “the clown.” Really.) That’ll probably end up being another blog site like this one, built on the same code as dylanwolf.com.

Chad also recently discovered a GWAResque Finnish band called Lordi. And in the midst of listening to their song “Chainsaw Buffet,” Chad said, “I wonder if that domain name is available.”

It was. I’m still not sure what we’re going to do with it, but… we’ve created a logo and some art. And even if we do nothing else with it, it’s still pretty cool as is. In fact, I think this may be the pinnacle of humor that either Chad or I will produce. It’s all downhill from here.

Book: Things A Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About

I picked up a book called Things A Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About by Donald Knuth a few weeks ago in Borders. It was really more of an impulse buy, which is odd coming from someone who doesn’t buy a lot of books, because I know I’ll never read them.

The book is taken from a series of six lectures Knuth gave about religion and computing. The topic isn’t as speculative as it sounds–it’s not a book about how new technology is going to impact our lives and ethics and morality, as one would probably assume from hearing the words “computing” and “religion” in the same sentence. Rather, it’s a more personal approach. That’s not to say there’s not a lot of math and logic in the book–it is, and it’s quite over my head. But it’s the details, not the heart of the work…
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The 8-Week Plan, Week 0

“The Plan” is the latest, and perhaps greatest, attempt my roommates and I have made in our usually-on-again-off-again attempt at fitness.

But “The Plan” is not merely a fitness plan. No, “The Plan” is a way to organize one’s life so that one may do all of the things one really means to get done.

“The Plan” does not require fancy exercise equipment, or gym memberships, or self-help books. “The Plan” is so fiendishly simple, you probably remember doing it in kindergarten. In fact, all the plan requires is a piece of posterboard.

Yes. A piece of poster board. This is our new hope, our panacea.

OK, seriously. It’s just a new angle on forming good habits, and the accountability to keep those habits going. And it’s probably not going to be a 100% success. But it’s some measure of organization, which is better than nothing. So here’s the plan…
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