Smoke and mirrors

June 29, 2009

You know I really really love magic tricks. I even practice card tricks from time to time, although I am pretty horrible at it. I love how they make simple things so amazing, how such basic psychological tricks or sleight of hand can produce an incredible reaction from the audience. Because I have looked up how to do a few magic tricks and the art behind it I know the basics of how tricks can be performed but even though I know how to perform a trick it still amazes me whenever I watch it being done.

I don’t know what it is that intrigues me so much about this, and how even when I know that there is a trick to it that I am still so amused. Perhaps it is because I know how difficult it is to pull off sleight of hand without anybody noticing. Perhaps it is the sense of mystery that surrounds the trick. Or maybe because I am so focused on catching the act that I am taken away from my surroundings. Nonetheless, it is much more entertaining to be a member of the audience and believe that it is truly magic and unexplainable than to debunk the possibilities.

Magic fascinates everybody, children especially are so amazed when you pull a magic trick and they cannot explain what they just saw. It gives them a different view on the world, one which detracts them from a world full of rules and limitations. Even some adults prefer to believe than to question the trick for its secret.

Sometimes there are tricks which cannot seem to be explained. If any of you have seen David Blaine levitating then you know what I am talking about. That is not something that I could explain short of video editing. Or Cyril Takayama heating cup noodles with nothing but his hands. Sceptics will keep saying that it was an elaborate trick where everybody was in on it or there was a trick to it that have yet to be discovered. I’d like to think that there are some things that are better off not explained or believing that it is true magic instead.

Life is just so much more interesting when you believe in the impossible.

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I promised myself that I would write something every week, but unfortunately the quality is somewhat lacking this time. This poem is somewhat inspired by my new celebrity crush Megan Fox. She is currently the hottest person on earth and whoever says otherwise is a blasphemer! Unfortunately she is not much of a muse for creativity as you can see from my poem. I hope you forgive me and next week I will hopefully present something better!


siren

and so i found her
inbetween the ocean waves;
she was like nothing i have ever seen-

raven haired beauty;
her locks floating with the sea,
it lingers upon the waves like
a lover's afterthought,
as i reach my fingers out to save
the maiden beckoning to me.

eyes like diamonds
pierces the murky depths
with a blue that cuts through
poseidon's grasp.
her every breath draws me closer
step
        by
              step.

she is a goddess,
aphrodite lips whisper lusciously,
her hips sway with the waves
to the rhythm of her siren song-

countless sailors can't be wrong
to die upon her bosom,
i'd face death
and like the others,
follow her into elysium.

Life isn’t fair. You are born into conditions that you have no control over. If you born into the upper echelons of society you are given the opportunities to go even higher with very little effort on your part. If born into the dredges of low socioeconomic status then you are doomed to work harder than everyone else in order to claw your way up in the world. You are born into the world looking the way you are, those who are pretty will find success knocking at their door. Whereas those born ugly or with some form of disability will find it harder to live up to other people’s standards.

You can work for peanuts in fast food while your manager buys a new bimmer. You can be the most qualified person in your department and work call centre while the boss’s relative who flunked school is your manager. You can have a family to support yet your shifts are cut because they have just hired someone cheaper. You can have a physical disability and people will not give you a chance to prove yourself. Life isn’t fair.

There isn’t much you can do about it either because life isn’t in your control, you play a part in it yes but you never really control exactly what happens to you. You can plan your whole life ahead of you and things will always manage to get in your way or disrupt your planning. You can hope for so many things and yet receive nothing you wanted, maybe even have less than what you started off with.

What I have learnt is that no matter what life throws at you the one thing that is absolutely in your control is your attitude towards those circumstances. This is the “if life throws you lemons” philosophy. Think of you as floating on the ocean indefinitely, if you look up there is endless possibility in the sky. But when you look down, there is infinite darkness lurking below. You can choose to give up and sink further and further into despair or look up and appreciate the beauty of the situation.

There are many things that have messed up where I wanted to be, whether these circumstances are because of what I have done or are a result of forces outside of my control are irrelevant. But you know, I take all those situations and call them opportunities; failures are opportunities to learn, poor budgeting is an opportunity to be thrifty, bad relationships are a chance to make up. If you look at everything being a possible opportunity then more options will open up to you.

So even if you know your attitude won’t change the situation, it will still present you with more opportunities to make the decision you can be proud of.

It is amazing what we take for granted sometimes. Hearing is something that most of us are capable of but not all of us appreciate fully. I am not talking about musical taste because that is very individual, but rather the perception of sound quality and accurate sound reproduction. Being the elitist sound whore that I like to pretend to be, I like to think that I have a certain affinity to good quality music. I have no idea how I managed to “cultivate” this obsession, because I had never been a huge follower of music and SQ until recently.

When I listen to mp3s I can actually hear distortion and what I call sound artifacts, where certain parts of a song are muffled or where the instruments aren’t clear or are harsher than they are meant to be. I don’t know how I know that but I just have a feeling that it doesn’t sound right. Mp3s go through a process of compression, that is how mp3s are so much smaller than CD tracks. Through the compression there is a loss of audio quality because that is how the encoding process is. CD quality is as close to live music as you can get without going to a performance these days. And of course, you will need the quality equipment to listen to all this.

Your music is only as good as the equipment you listen with. You can have the best recording ever but if you listen to it through the earphones supplied with your ipod it will sound like absolute shit. I can tell you now, the best earphones will never match up to even a midrange decent sound system. Also sound processing is important when you want accurate playback, of which i find ipods are somewhat notorious for. The sound processing on those things are horrendous! I can listen to my 6 year old iriver and it sounds better than an ipod made today, with the exact same headphones! The difference to the average ear is probably not too noticeable, and to tell the truth I would have to listen to songs I am familiar with before I can distinguish the difference, but for what you are paying for it is just not right.

But when you listen to music through commercialised audio goods and then go to a specialist retailer you can just hear the difference. It becomes night and day and you wonder how the hell you ever listened to music through your old speakers/earphones. When I went shopping for my car speakers my ears were opened to the possibilities, after driving 15 minutes in the car with old speakers, then walking into a room full of high quality car speakers I will never turn back.

Do your ears a favour, buy some better earphones or speakers. When it comes to AV, when you haven’t heard of a brand then it is good. Koss and sennheiser are good for earphones as well as shure, these you might be able to find at a local electronic retailer. Speakers you will be very hard pressed to find good ones at your local harvies or JB, because that area is dominated by more mainstream audio which is at a fraction of the price. You would probably not be able to justify its cost against the perceived benefit. Decent speaker sets cost upwards of $900, for 1 pair. This would be more a floor standing unit with high and mid drivers plus a woofer, or a really good pair of bookshelfs. They say to spend twice as much on audio as you would on a TV, but in audio they say to spend as much as you would on speakers as you would the sub!

So being an self proclaimed audiophile does have its drawbacks… which is that it is a very very expensive hobby!

PS. on a completely unrelated note, here is an image I stumbled upon at work. Don’t blame me if you piss your pants laughing cos that is almost what happened to me at work today if I were a man with lesser bowel control. Image.

A quick note before we begin. Valkyries are norse angels of the battlefield, they take away the souls of those who have died valiantly in battle to Valhalla. Only those brave and courageous enough are allowed to be taken to Valhalla to become einherjar, warriors preparing to fight with the gods in ragnarok or the end of the world. This is just a short poem i whipped up, but please enjoy whilst I am busy taking apart my car again! I will have some photos of my deconstruction on the Monday hopefully!

Edit: My soldering skills suck massive nuts so I am going to give it a pass. Though I did take the thing apart and get some photos, as well as spend $70 on a bunch of cheapo soldering tools lol

Valkyrie

the angel of the battlefield
dances for me.
like an artist she waves and weaves
her way around the warriors,
painting a tapestry with blood and tears
shed for those who they fight for.

the sword in my side does me no favours,
and neither does the axe
that cracked shield and armour alike-
i would tear my very flesh from bone,
if only to be inebriated by einherjar mead.

she comes close now,
circling like a vulture she knows her mark
and i my destiny;
for the touch of a valkyrie
i’d die a thousand deaths to be collected
by the wings of goddesses.

“If you want something done right, do it yourself.”

I am a firm believer in that and I tend to do leave important things for myself to do as opposed to commissioning someone else to do it for me. Pretty much everything I have done with my car I have done myself; changing headlights, installing the sound system, changing my seatbelts etc. I will only shy away from tasks which are out of my depth or are much easier/safer for someone else to do. For example I will never do anything myself for the suspension of the car because that shit will cause irreparable damage if not done properly. Or I will never deconstruct something which I don’t have confidence in putting back together. Another reason is liability. If I paid someone else to do something for me, they are liable for any faults and I can expect compensation for damages that eventuate from poor workmanship. Whereas if I completed a task myself and something breaks then I only have myself to blame. On a very related note, DIY is a lot cheaper than paying somebody else to do it because the labour is provided by yourself.

In my eyes I don’t see the point of paying someone to do something that you cannot do yourself with a little bit of effort. If you have the time and aren’t lazy then taking tasks upon yourself is a real learning experience. You don’t always want to rely on other people to do things for you especially when you are able to achieve something with your own two hands and get that sense of satisfaction. Although it may be difficult to do certain things by yourself (like taking apart the front bumper) you feel so much better once you have the experience and have completed the job! I swore like a sailor while I was taking the bumper off but after everything was put back together (with the help of a friend) I couldn’t be happier!

My next DIY project is to resolder my climate control in the car so that all the LEDs work and replace the LCD screen. I have never soldered before in my life but now is as good a time to start than any other!

Right now I am playing a game called “The last remnant” on PC and I have to say that despite the story being full of bad direction and some dodgy graphics issues (vsync fail) I am loving the gameplay. In the typical JRPG you follow an unlikely hero who gets caught up in worldly affairs after some sort of accident prior to or during the beginning sequences of the game. This game unfortunately is no different from that tried and true formula. You will also have to rescue an unfortunate maiden of some sort in the due process of the game. Tick that one too. Add some invincible badass villain who kills a party member or someone dear to the main character and you have “The last remnant” in a nutshell.

There are a few glaring issues which I am having trouble coming to grasps with, one is that the main character is magically teleported away from his island without us knowing how or why; and there wasn’t even a cutscene! Secondly, one of the main characters David is so inconsistent with his behaviour that it just pisses me off when they try to develop him as a character. He chooses to sacrifice one of his soldiers in the opening sequence who is seemingly a mother figure to him and doesn’t seem to have much emotion overall. Personally I think this may have something to do with the terrible voice acting even when using the original Japanese VOs.

Where this game differs entirely is in the gameplay. Instead of having godly characters who seemingly take on hordes of enemies as is the usual, the game introduces to us “unions” led by members of your party. So you have a few leader characters and you hire or recruit soldiers to fill up those unions. At the end of the game (of which I am only halfway) you can have up to 5 unions and 18 characters split between them which is a pretty epic amount. So in any one battle you can control up to 18 characters on the field, although not individually.

Each individual unit has different skills and stats which build according to what skills you focus on which makes it a bit hard to control a perfect party, but this is why the game is so addictive for me. The sheer level of customization is just amazing and I can sit there hiring characters and individually changing what skills I want them to learn. Don’t get me started on the formations available as well! There are dozens of formations you can put your unions in and for example the catapult formation is great for spellcasters whereas the arrow of athlum is good for melee. Then there is the weapon customization and forging which is absolutely impossible to find all the items for! The choices are limitless really, which makes me lose myself in this game. This game is truly for the hardcore of hardcore with its emphasis on gameplay over story.

In comparison, I was playing Fable 2 just last week and have pretty much reached the end in a few days of gameplay. The key to Fable 2 is to have lots of money and lots of experience, there isn’t much depth in the gameplay besides zapping the living shit out of everything with Lv5 lightning after casting some ghosts and watching everything electrocute around you.

I have found that the trusty sword is a very boring instrument to use in Fable, since you can only target one enemy at a time with melee attacks (flourishes are very pretty but). The gun is better when you can target body parts to decapitate all your enemies. But what takes the cake is being a magic user because the game is then transformed into a barbeque fest once you level up lightning and have a level or two in summoning the dead. Summon yourself some minions and then cast lightning Lv5 and watch as the stupid enemies target your invincible monsters while you charge up an instant kill spell! To prevent death just buy yourself some resurrection potions which restore you automatically to full hp when you die.

Don’t get me wrong, watching your enemies fry is great and I love how fun it is, but it just doesn’t draw me in like The last remnant. The fault really lies in the fact that Fable is too short for its own good lasting at a rough total of around 30 hours if you power through the story. I have put an entire week into The last remnant and I am only halfway to the end and still with a million sidequests to complete! There hasn’t been a rpg that drew so much of my attention since KOTOR2, which says a lot about the gameplay. The story is seriously lacking, but if you can stomach weak plot and subpar voice acting and like JRPGs, then this game is right up your alley.

I will leave you guys with a few images from TLR because I cannot capture my gameplay images from xbox.

Poetry Friday?

June 12, 2009

I am forcing myself to write every Friday so that I keep my creative writing skills up to scratch. This is also more interesting than coming up with an opinion piece since I am not quite a man of infinite depth/humour/wisdom/stupidity and am already taking the weasle way out in my third week of this blog!

I tried to write about how music is never timeless, that I grow tired of songs and when that happens the artistry would have been spent completely. Even though new songs may take its place there are rarely any which are just as good as the ones I have previously grown fond of. A difficult concept to explain, as sound is the hardest thing to describe for me. I have tried many times to write a poem describing sound or music but the perfect piece always eludes me. I guess practice makes perfect. Enjoy!

this music
the music beckons to me with
her slender fingers,
passing through like a scented breeze
that lingers in the air-

this fair maiden who sings to me
is as beautiful as the cherry tree in bloom
and just as brief;
for like a thief she comes and goes,
stealing the hearts that she desires.

music is an fiery love affair,
a burning brand that dulls the other senses;
leaving me reeling in despair once she leaves-

i cannot stand the pain of knowing
there will never be another just like her;
my tears hide the rain,
and whilst i lay crying in the open
i am glad
that even for those few minutes in the day
her voice was heard.

Australia has been on the butt of a lot of racist criticism in the past, sometimes rightfully so, but recently there have been a spate of attacks on people of Indian descent which seems to originate from the suburb of Harris Park. In response, the Indian community has banded together in protest, leading marches to raise awareness about this travesty.

However, this has unfortunately degraded into a race war where the Indians feel they are being targeted by the rest of Australia and feel they must rain retribution. Several Lebanese men have been attacked during the Indian protest even though their guilt is to be determined; the Indians actions are only adding fuel to the proverbial fire.

I have heard quite a lot of comments from various sources regarding this issue and do believe that a lot of things that have been said are plain ignorant.

“Our people don’t say nothing until water goes up over the top… Police won’t do anything, but we’ve got to do something.”

No shit police won’t do anything if you don’t tell them about it. I have utmost respect for police officers who put their lives on the line in order to secure our neighbourhoods, but if they are not made aware of these crimes then they cannot respond! The earlier these crimes are reported the earlier police could work to solve these issues.

“There are thousands of people, thousands of Indians – international students every day robbed at Harris Park (railway) station”

I also find the above statement immensely hard to believe given the fact that the population of Harris Park is only in the thousands. To have thousands of people being assaulted in that one suburb would mean that almost everybody that lived there would be assaulted once a day. Imagine you just walked out of your house on your way to work and get mugged. Imagine it happening EVERY DAY. You wouldn’t even get this sort of treatment in prison let alone in Australia!

Are the police doing enough to protect citizens in Harris Park? Probably not. Has this event blown out of proportion? I’d say so. Considering the fact that the typical Indian lies in a demographic which seem to be easy targets for attackers according to police.

“The police are telling the truth when they describe the attacks as largely motivated by opportunism, because Indian students work late at night, live in lower-cost neighbourhoods, and are regarded as soft targets.”

People need to understand that although some of the fault lies with the way police deal with crime in trouble spots, the victims have to accept that the area they live in are not the safest and that these risks are escalated later at night. I am not saying that it is the victim’s fault, but rather that they should take proper precautions when travelling through certain suburbs. Or even work with police to find solutions which increase public safety.

Frankly speaking, there is a lot of shit that police officers go through and they don’t need the angry protests to encourage them to do their jobs. When they get out of hand it wastes already scarce police resources when they could be better utilized in finding solutions to these problems. Instead of working against each other and pointing fingers, they should work with each other to raise public awareness and find schemes to improve safety amongst Indian students.

Heres a story:

A man subscribes to a service with regular payments required for operation. He neglects to notice that the service has not billed him for a period of time. Service provider decides to back bill the man. Man cannot pay the entire amount at once. Who is at fault? (given the title of this post you can go where I am going with this)

Take the position of man. He would argue that billing is not his responsibility. Correct, the business should be able to bill him reliably on a monthly basis.

Conversely, from a business perspective, it costs money to provide a continuous service. If there is an error in billing then logically you will rectify it. If the customer was overcharged the business is obligated to reduce the payment accordingly, on the flipside, if the customer was not charged then the business has the right to backbill the customer.

From my perspective, the guy is a fucking dumbshit. How can you not realize that you have missed several payments for a service you are using? Even if you didn’t realize it, wouldn’t you know that you have an extra amount of money in your bank account every now and then? If he doesn’t realize he hasn’t been paying, how does he even know he has enough money to pay for a tank of petrol even? Imagine the consequences if the world was full of people who don’t check their bank balances regularly. Petrol stations would be blocked by people who realized they have maxxed their credit cards and cannot pay, shopping centre queues would be congested by housewives who realized their bank account cannot afford their kids’ junk food fix.

What this comes down to is learning how to live within your own means. It is fine not to check your bank account, AS LONG AS YOU BUDGET PROPERLY. If the above person budgeted properly he would have been able to pay the lump sum backbilling because the amount he budgeted would be untouched. Budgeting isn’t rocket science, it’s a crucial life skill that you have to learn in order to survive in the world. In a Darwinian society, people like these would fade out of existence as more money conscious individuals are able to survive longer than they in todays economy driven environment.

I have heard stories of people taking several loans at the same time for different goods. For example, they have taken a loan for a new plasma when they are still paying off their car. Haven’t they heard of one thing at a time? Even though you physically have the TV, you don’t OWN the thing, the credit company does! I can understand the car loan because it is a large object and you may actually NEED it for transportation. And houses too, they would be impossible to afford when you need one because let’s face it, you don’t want to live with your parents when you have kids and/or are married.

So please, don’t be a dickface and go spending money you don’t have. Think of the people who have to deal with you before you trouble them with your own financial ineptitude.