Socialism Words for New Comrades

I’ve been reading a lot about the history of socialism. People throw around a lot of words that supposedly mean some things, but it can bog you down real fast. I decided to make simple definitions for what some of these words mean (although additional research is DEFINITELY RECOMMENDED).

The basics:

Socialism: A philosophy with the purpose of bringing about an egalitarian society based on shared ownership of the means of production and the removal of hierarchical structures. Has economic, political, and material implications.

Means of production: Anything that takes inputs of raw materials and outputs something valuable.

Labor: The human will acting upon the means of production, causing value to be created.

Proletariat: Manufacturing laborers. Often considered separate from “peasants” or agricultural laborers.

Wage Slavery: The result of labor relationships, where the laborer creates value and the owner of the means of production (who is not the laborer) benefits from the value created. The laborer is paid rent for their labor-time (i.e. a wage), which is now owned by the renter.

Alienation: The process by which a person is made separate and foreign to their own lives. The most famous is when a person rents out their labor, so that the work they do–and the life-time they spend doing it–does not belong to themselves.

Consciousness: The realization of one’s material status in the relational framework of a society. This definition of the word is specific to socialism, as this word means other things in other fields.

Revolution: The process by which the systems that maintain the labor relationships (and other hierarchies) within a society are broken down and replaced with a classless society. This looks different to different socialists.


Here’s a list of some current and historical socialist movements, and what makes these movements unique from others. This is not exhaustive, and does not attempt to outline every feature of each movement.

Communism: Socialism as envisioned by Marx and Engels. Relies upon a violent revolution of the proletariat, which eventually leads to a classless society based on something akin to direct democracy. Between the revolution and the classless society is the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, which is used promote the new social order and forcefully repress reactionary and anti-revolutionary action. (Note: I am aware that the word “communism” is also used to refer to the final, classless society, but in most daily usage, when people say “Communism,” they are referring to the Marxist approach).

Democratic Socialism: Believes that the revolution can be achieved through non-violent political action within a democratic framework.

Anarchism: A philosophy that believes that the state’s primary purpose is to impose the current status quo, and people would be able to organize into something better without the need for a state if it could be removed.

Anarcho-Socialism: Socialism and anarchism together. Seeks to achieve the socialist revolution and a stateless society at the same time. Can also be interpreted to mean a non-political revolution that occurs without the need for a political apparatus.

Vanguardism (aka Leninism): An implementation of Communism that uses a small group of conscious actors to form a vanguard party. The purpose of this party is to be professional revolutionaries to change the status quo for the benefit of the unconscious masses.

Stalinism: A variant of Vanguardism. After the vanguard party has seized control of government, form a totalitarian regime based off from a powerful bureaucracy that centrally controls all production.

Trotskyism: A variant of Vanguardism and alternative to (i.e. is critical of) Stalinism. After the vanguard party has seized control of government, planning is carried out by local democratically elected counsels.

Those are basically all the words I can think of to write definitions for today. I hope someone finds this useful, and maybe I’ll be back with a part two later on.


The callousness I’m seeing from the Right these days disgusts me. “The economy and freedom are more important than grandma!” they say.

What does that even mean? What’s the point of an economic system that squanders everything so that the instant there’s a crisis it goes belly up? Who does the economy serve anyway?

And “freedom.” Freedom for who? Freedom to do what? Freedom to work for someone else? Freedom to make money for stock holders and CEOs? Freedom to irrationally consume the outputs of an irrational system of production?

On top of all of this, they’re very literally selling out our families, our lives. This isn’t just some ideological battle, this is a homicidal position, but they just have the convenience of allowing something else to do the murdering for them.


It’s been a long time since I posted anything on this blog. There are many reasons for that, but it’s enough to say that “I’ve been busy.” The last few years have also been a time of deep reflection and absorption of ideas.

I have not been a political person for most of my life. That is to say, I have had political ideas, but I figured that I was too dumb or too weird for them to matter. I no longer feel that way, and due to the way that things are going, I don’t think it is possible for me to remains silent on the matter any longer.

So here is your disclaimer: in the future there will be political posts on this blog. The position I currently embrace is most easily described as libertarian socialist, and I am deeply opposed to current right wing ideologies and administrations, as I view them as being fascist (especially in the USA, Brazil, and certain European states such as Hungary).

Why I Practice HEMA

I started regularly attending True Edge South, a HEMA club, back in August. For a while I only went once a week, but I’ve started going as often as I can (which is only twice a week, but that’s twice as much as before!) Doing something two times  (for a total of four hours, plus a few hours of personal practice) a week may not sound like it would effect your life a lot, but I’m finding that I get lots of benefits from it. I’ll start with the more relatable things, and then dive into the personal dorky stuff toward the end.

First of all, it’s good for my body.

I’m not an extremely outgoing person (you may have noticed how dorky the topics I write about are), and so I have a hard time wanting to do things like going to a gym or going for a jog in public. Attending True Edge South has given me a way to get active in a way that doesn’t feel uncomfortable to me. This club has no elitism, no strong egos, and, in general, always has made me feel that–as long as I’m working with the club–I can go at my own pace and be as bad as I need to be. It’s been great, because I tend to self judge a lot, but knowing that nobody else is judging me mitigates that voice inside that tells me that I suck too much to even try.

My body is already feeling the positive effects. Before I began attending, my lower back and hip would ache for no dang reason. Additionally, I was starting to grow a nerd gut and I would sometimes feel breathless at stupid times. Since attending, my back and hips no longer ache, my gut has receded slightly, and I have way more energy than I used to. If nothing else, HEMA is a great workout that literally anyone could get into just for their health.

Second, True Edge South makes me feel like I’m a necessary part of a community.

I don’t feel like I’m just being put through the system, but that my attendance (even if I do nothing more than participate in the day’s curriculum) is important and valued. Feeling wanted is a great thing, and the people at my club have been the best at letting me be myself while making me feel like a part of the community.

That feeling is amplified when I help out. I had an unnecessary feeling of pride when I paid my club dues. I find myself hanging around after practice just so I have the opportunity to put stuff away, or getting excited about attending tournaments just to do trivial tasks (or do nothing at all except represent the club by being there). There aren’t a lot of things in life that give us the opportunity to feel like we are necessary contributors in a community, and True Edge South has allowed me to experience that feeling.

Third, the club fulfills an important social function for me.

I’m not a loner, I have several friends and I am on good terms with most of my coworkers, however, after graduating school I’ve noticed that there’s a kind of social interaction that I’ve been missing. I miss the spontaneous exposure to new people, I miss seeing new faces, watching how new people move, listening to new voices. True Edge South attracts a lot of interesting, curious people who may come just once to check it out, or who come many times. It allows me to meet new people in a natural, pleasant way and helps me avoid the social stagnation that I was beginning to slip into.

Fourth, HEMA challenges me in a unique way (slightly dorky).

I spend most of my time either performing creative tasks or in complete leisure. I’m either coding, writing, drawing, or something else creative. When I’m not doing that, I’m playing Zeld… I mean, I’m playing a wide variety of different video games, or watching My Little Po… That is, I watch TV made for adults with adult things.

My point is that HEMA allows me to focus my attention in a way that is neither high intensity, open form creative, nor completely mindless consumption. I can focus on specific things and track my progress as I practice. I don’t have to invent solutions, I don’t have have to worry about figuring out the problems, or just turn my brain off. I can just focus on executing as well as possible. It’s a kind of slow burn, low intensity concentration that allows me to relax while still pursuing a goal that I find meaningful. I really love that there’s a club near where I live that provides me with this kind of mental outlet.

Fifth, history is cool (getting dorkier).

I like history. I like learning about how people used to live, what they thought about, what they were scared of, what made them happy. I like learning about lots of different people. I’ve studied–though I would never say I’m proficient in–six different languages (French, Russian, Japanese, Welsh, Shoshone, and German, if you were wondering), and I took an elective Chinese history class in the history department for history majors (my degree is in Computer Science) just because I wanted to understand Chinese people better. Learning about people in other places, cultures, and times is a passion of mine.

What I like about HEMA is that it gets you down in the action of history. You’re not just looking at history, or thinking about history, you’re actually living it. You get to be a part of a tradition that comes down to us through the ages. You get to connect back to people who lived six hundred years ago in a much more real and visceral way than you could get by going to a museum or by reading a book. You get to learn what they did, perform the same actions, live a small part of the life that they lived. Thinking about it is making me emotional.

Sixth, HEMA is self actualization (severe dork warning).

I have been fascinated by the image of man bearing a sword since I was very young. I don’t know if it was an inborn archetype, or if I was programmed  by my mother’s intense love of Camelot (1967, Warner Brothers). Regardless, at a very young age I told my parents that I was going to grow up to be a knight, and I consumed literally any media with a sword in it. Since that young age, I have associated the sword with self actualization. Protagonists carry swords. People who get stuff done have swords. The sword became, to me, not just a weapon, but a symbol of assertive action toward one’s goals.

I’ve wanted to learn how to use a sword for pretty much my whole life, and I asked my parents to let me do fencing lessons, but my mother was opposed to me learning any martial skills. Eventually, I found other ways to occupy my time and other ideas of what it means to be a self-actualizing person, but the image of the swordsman always remained in my mind. For me it’s connected to something deep and primal that I can’t seem to cover up or replace with more “civilized” pursuits.

When I started doing HEMA I would come home happy, and for a little while I assumed it was for the first five reasons I listed here. While those definitely help, I think the biggest thing is that deep down, I WANT to be a swordsman. I WANT to feel assertive, self-actualized, and like the protagonist of my own life. For me, swordsmanship allows me to feel that way.

And that’s what practicing HEMA does for me. I’m so happy that I got over my anxiety and finally decided to become a regular member of True Edge South, and that the instructors (I’m talking about you, Chad) take so much time and effort to make the club happen. It’s been a great blessing in my life, and it’s made me a happier, healthier person. Thank you all for being so great, and I’ll see you at the next practice*.


* But not the one after that because I’m going out of town 😛


Master Sword: Additional Thoughts

After looking at several of the weirdnesses of the Master Sword, a couple can be explained as being Japanese influence. For example, katanas have relatively short blades for a two handed weapon, so the Japanese designers may think the longer grip looks right.* Additionally, the katana’s tsuba (guard) is usually a round or oval disk, so perhaps the Japanese designer thought having a round interface to the hand would makes sense. However, katana guards are VERY light–they don’t alter the mass of the sword much–and their grips have rectangular or oval cross sections for edge alignment. Lastly, the blade could also be influence by katanas, because the katana has a fairly simple wedge shaped cross section with a thick back edge. If the designer imagined a two edged sword as being basically the same as two katana blades pushed together back to back, you would end up with the thick, bulky cross section that the Master Sword has.

The grip wrapping is also somewhat reminiscent of the wrappings around a katana’s grip, however, similar grip wrappings can show up on European swords, so that’s really neither here nor there.

* It should be noted, that katanas do not have pommels. They do not need them to balance the weapon when the grip is so long compared to the length of the blade.

Everything Wrong with the Master Sword

Everything Wrong with the Master Sword

Let me just get this out of the way: I love The Legend of Zelda, and the Master Sword is an icon of much more value than its ability to murder monsters. I get that.

Regardless, today I want to look at the Master Sword as an object, outside of its place in the Zelda lore, or even outside of its place as an icon in the minds of its fans. I would like to inspect each of its parts, compare it to swords from real life, and critique it as a piece of steel created with the purpose of defending the life of its wielder and murdering scary things.

Here’s a handy reference of the different designs of the Master Sword throughout the ages. Obviously each game has a different take on the weapon, but I’m going to be looking at the Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword, and Breath of the Wild designs, because they are all very similar (and relatively recent).


The kind of sword that the Master Sword is based off from has three basic parts: the blade, the guard, and the grip. Each of these parts should be designed in a way to compliment the function and purpose of the sword. Let’s take a look at how real life medieval swords have accomplished these goals, and then compare it with the master sword.

First, let’s start with the blade. The blade is (obviously) the most important part of the sword, as it is the backbone which the rest of the components are mounted on to. Many different blade types have existed across time and geography, but the Master Sword has a few specific characteristics. It has two edges, which are basically parallel, that come to a triangular, reinforced point. The cross section is mostly hexagonal, but it has a rectangular ricasso. It’s rather broad, thick, has no fuller, and there is a small amount of decorative etching or engraving. Lastly, it doesn’t seem to be extremely long, probably about as long as what is often called an arming sword today ( 30-33″ or so).

I don’t know of any blade in real life that has all of these characteristics at once (if you know of a blade that does, feel free to share), however all of those characteristics exist in different combinations on different European swords from the European Medieval period and early Renaissance, so I think it’s entirely possible that this blade could have existed, although, I think there are some other things about it that might make it less than ideal.

My first critique of the blade is that it looks quite heavy. It’s very broad and thick. Normally, a trade off must be made between a sword’s broadness and its thickness. A thick, narrow, stiff sword is specialized more toward thrusting with the point, where as a broad, flatter sword is better for cutting. The Master Sword doesn’t seem to have made that compromise, resulting in a very heavy looking blade. The width and thickness of the blade doesn’t seem to taper at all from its base to its point. The edges and the flats of European swords taper along the length of the sword. Said another way, both the edges and the flats of the blade near the point are closer together than at the base. A fuller was also often placed in the blade to reduce its weight while keeping the edges of the blade stiff and sturdy. By adding these features in, the sword creator can control how the weight of the blade is distributed and reduce mass. The Master Sword has none of these features, so its blade is going to be very hefty.

Next let’s talk about the grip. The master sword has a narrow, cylindrical grip which is encased in some kind of blue material which is then embellished with some kind of green stuff. The grip is fairly long, which allows for the user to hold it in two hands. I assume that the tang goes fully through the grip and pommel, and is peened* at the end to hold the pommel in place.

A grip of this length on a blade of this length is not unheard of. There are many examples of “hand and a half” or “bastard” swords that still exist today, although they frequently have a “scent-stopper” or teardrop shaped pommel. The benefit of combining this pommel with this kind of grip/blade configuration is that it allowed the pommel to act as an extension of the grip when holding it in two hands. However, I don’t think the Master Sword needs to look like it can be used in two hands. Link always uses it in one hand, and, it is always used with a shield.

Given the huge size of the blade, the grip looks a little undersized to me. The end of the grip is used to offset and counter balance the blade. This can be accomplished either by lengthening the grip or by adding a heavy pommel, however, even with the longer grip and a reasonable sized pommel the huge blade of the Master Sword makes the grip look off balance.

My biggest critique of the grip, however, is that it is cylindrical and narrow. The narrowness is part of what makes it look unbalanced, and it would probably be uncomfortable to hold. The shape of a cylindrical grip is itself quite problematic. Straight, two edged swords, almost always have a grip with a rectangular, oval, or octagonal cross section. What this allows you to do is sense in your hand where the edge of the blade is at all times, just by the way the grip feels. Using a grip with a round cross section, it’s impossible to determine edge alignment without looking at your sword, and it’s easy for the sword to spin in your hand.

Lastly, there’s the guard. Honestly, the Master Sword’s guard looks completely ridiculous. Not only is huge and bulky, which, once again, messes up the weight distribution and total mass of the sword, but it actively blocks the wielder from using the weapon effectively. The round cone shaped thing beneath the cross keeps the fingers away from the cross guard, further preventing the wielder from knowing which direction the edge is pointing. Additionally, the round disk above the wielder’s hand prevents putting the thumb up on the flat of the blade, or wrapping their finger around the guard, two things which can be extremely useful.

Larger, heavier guards do exist in real life. They were invented at about the same time that people stopped using shields with their swords, and they are designed to protect the sword hand. Before the invention of protective complex guards, the shield was used to protect the hand. Swords that are meant to be used with a shield have smaller or almost non-existent guards (for example, notice that most “Viking” era swords have minimal guards). As noted above, Link always uses a shield with the Master Sword, so it would be reasonable to assume that the sword would have a light, reasonable guard to accompany it.

To summarize my points, the blade is too heavy. It is very thick and very broad; it should be one or the other, but not both. The guard is unpractical, being both heavy without providing extra protection for the hand, doesn’t help with edge alignment, and prevents the wielder from holding the sword in useful ways. The grip is the wrong shape–the user cannot feel the edge alignment in their hand, and the sword can easily spin in the hand–as well as too long and narrow for a sword that is used the way that the Master Sword is used. Overall, the sword looks too heavy. Medieval swords weigh about 2.5-3.5 lbs. The Master Sword looks like it would weigh about double that.

Thinking about how the Master Sword could be designed as a practical weapon, I came up with this:

Master Sword mk3 Cleanup-small

The blade is an Oakeshott type XVI**, which shares some similarities with the Master Sword blade. This blade is designed to give good point performance in the thrust with a minimum sacrifice to cutting ability. It’s a good generalist type of blade that would be the exact kind of thing an adventurer like Link would want. Like the Master Sword blade, it’s double edged, and comes to a diamond section, reinforced point. It’s different from the Master Sword in that the tip is longer and narrower, and the blade tapers, reducing mass toward the tip. Additionally, the blade has a fuller running through the majority of it which reduces the overall weight while reinforcing the cutting edges. In contrast to the bulky look of the Master Sword blade, this blade profile conveys the idea of a lively and dangerously swift weapon in the hand.

I kept the ricasso and decorative space near the base of the blade. While I have never seen a blade of this type with these elements, it doesn’t seem ridiculous to me to consider that somebody somewhere could have decided that they wanted to make a sword this way. By modifying the ricasso, the sword maker could manipulate the mass near the hand, and the decorative section were the Triforce is etched/engraved shouldn’t really effect the handling characteristics of the weapon at all. Additionally, the part of a blade near the guard is used almost exclusively in defensive actions, so making it more robust and removing a delicate edge actually makes a certain kind of sense.

The guard has been drastically reduced to a simple bar with upturned tips that imply the  wings on the Master Sword. This has the benefit of further lightening the look of the sword, and increasing its wieldiness. Additionally, this guard allows the hand to be in contact with the quillons, so the wielder can orient the edge of the blade more easily. Lastly, because the guard is so much smaller, it would be much easier to wrap a finger around the guard, or move the hand into many other useful positions near the guard. The simpler guard also matches better with the fact that the Master Sword is always paired with a shield.

The “gem” in the middle of the guard is there mostly just to make the sword more recognizable as an incarnation of the Master Sword, and it is made out of the same piece of steel as the rest of the guard. These kinds of embellishments are not unheard of on surviving medieval swords (although they were usually a quite a bit smaller). If I were to do another pass at this redesign, I would probably focus on that part of the guard specifically.

I’ve modified the grip by shortening it, improving its geometry, and adding a proper pommel. The shorter grip makes sense given the length of the weapon and the intended usage (with a shield). Rather than a straight cylindrical grip, it tapers from guard to pommel, following the shape of the tang which it encloses. Additionally, the grip is shaded to give an impression of having an oval cross section which would allow anyone holding the sword to immediately know which direction the edges are pointed at all times.

Last thing of note is that I replaced the Master Sword’s rather forgettable pommel with a striking wheel pommel. The pommel needed to be heavier due to the reduced grip length, and a wheel pommel is hefty while having a classic martial austerity that lends the design an implication of action and danger.

All in all, I’m quite pleased with the redesign. I feel that it keeps most of what makes the Master Sword unique and recognizable, while suggesting a practical weapon that looks like it could be used effectively in the defense of a Hylian hero’s life. Looking at the Master Sword artwork, I see a clunky, unwieldy object, but with just a little creativity and knowledge of European swords, the Master Sword can be reincarnated as something beautiful, iconic, and deadly.


* Basically, when constructing the grip, the tang is placed through a hole drilled through the pommel and it sticks out of the pommel a little bit. Then the sword maker expands the tang into the pommel by heating it up and hammering it into the pommel.

** Specifically, I based my drawing’s blade off the Squire and the Prince from Albion SwordsNext Generation line. Oakeshott typology is a system for classifying medieval European sword blades, and can be handy to know if you’re into that kind of thing.

“Fantasy”: A Useless Label

I had an interesting discussion with a friend today, and I figured I’d share the basic point of it.

Basically, I have a bugbear when people act like all the things we call “fantasy” are directly comparable. They are not. Saying that all things that use invented settings are similar is, at best, a useless classification. I could easily argue that ALL fiction takes place in an invented setting, because authors are themselves interpreters of the world they see, and the outward expressions of their observations are each unique inventions. If such an ambiguous thing is the defining feature for a set, it’s not a very useful defining feature.

There are many different kinds of stories that are lumped under the term “fantasy.” Some of them are genre stories that could happen in any setting, but because they tap all the fantasy genre boxes, they are called fantasy. Some have completely unique, invented worlds where the author has created a setting that is streamlined toward expressing deep emotional truths about the way they experience reality. Some are basically just normal drama stories, but they have a single werewolf so they’re suddenly “fantasy.”

And in this pile of things which we mark with the basically meaningless label of “fantasy” there is some high art. The most obvious of these is anything by Tolkien (whom I greatly admire/worship). You can argue whether or not your preferred piece of literature is high art if you so desire.

Now, I want to clarify some things. Almost every time I start talking about “high art” or “pop art” or the like, people start thinking that I’m making a value judgement. That is not the case. All art is created with purpose and is intended to be considered, understood, and possibly loved by its audience. The difference between “high art” and others is that with high art, the artwork is intentionally derived from and adds to an existing cultural heritage* and metanarrative.** There are loads of excellent art pieces that don’t do this. Pieces that are created to be experienced as is–to communicate on their own without the need for a deep understanding of the tradition that it sprang from. My personal favorite art pieces can do both at the same time.

So basically, what’s been bugging me is when people compare Tolkien to something like, let’s say, Terry Brooks’ Shannara . Tolkien obviously influenced the ideas in the Shannara stories, but they are created with a completely different purpose, and based on completely different literary traditions. Shannara is rooted more in thrillers and mystery novels than in the myths and fairy stories that inspired Tolkien. Shannara doesn’t make strides in exploring the literary sources from which it sprang. It just tells you the same ideas that existed before in an entertaining and amusing way. The art of Shannara isn’t the art of invention–it uses the inventions of other people. Its art is the art of story telling, the ability to display these ideas in such a way that people will happily spend their time considering them.

Shannara and Tolkien are not the same things. They were created for different reasons, and with different goals. A superficial similarity in that they both include dwarves, elves, and swords is insufficient to say that they are “the same kind of thing.” Comparisons can be made between them, but those comparisons must take into account these inherent differences, and acknowledge the fact that these are wildly different art pieces. The most fascinating thing about comparing them shouldn’t be their similarities, but that we see any similarity at all.

When we stop doing these meaningless groupings, we can start talking about things that actually ARE similar and actually start having some useful discussions. If nothing else, I’ll get better automated book and film recommendations on Amazon and Netflix.


* In much of art, “high art” is relegated to a SPECIFIC heritage and metanarrative that has been selected by boring rich people in order to mark themselves as separate from the “lower class” (aka poor people), but I won’t get into that here.

** That makes me wonder (and I’m very literally just pondering out loud now), what would a new story that explores and advances the tradition that Tolkien spent his life working on look like? I think it would have to experiment with and question the very core ideas of the tradition itself. It would have to experiment with the concept of “secondary worlds,” explore the relationship between mankind and divinity, and ask questions about things like magic and what that word really even means. To qualify as “high art,” these stories would need to intentionally address these ideas (and others, this is not an exhaustive list by any means), and attempt to add to the conversation. Simply repeating the arguments would not be enough.

Why I Read

There are uncountable articles online about why reading is good for you, and specifically about why reading fiction is good for you. I’m not going to repeat any of the empirical evidence or clinical facts about how reading is good (although it definitely does exist). Instead, I’d like to share my own personal experience with reading.

Reading, for me, began as a way to alleviate boredom. As a young child, I grew up in a sheltering home that provided everything I could want, but also simultaneously shielded me from risk. This shielding at times hampered my childish curiosity and desire for risk and adventure. I would often sit at home, staring up at the northern Utah mountains, wishing I was trekking through the high forest groves, finding unexpected nooks and crannies, climbing trees, making friends with bears, etc. However, my parents didn’t really have time to cater to those fantasies, and so I mitigated my yearning with reading.

As time went on, I settled into the circumstances that my life lead me into, and I became more independent so I could fulfill more of my own desires. As a young adult, I have gone on many mountain adventures, explored many nooks, and even met exactly one bear. The initial desires that drove me to read have been satisfied (and continue to be satisfied on a regular basis), but I had formed the habit. I continued to pick up books and chug through them on a regular basis, and I began to notice an interesting effect that reading was having on my mind.

Like so many people, I live in an over stimulating environment. I eat tasty food, listen to music with emotional riffs, play exciting video games, get involved in passionate discussions, worry about bills, and watch interesting films. Most of my life, I am in a state of emotional excitement of some kind or another. My mind is an anxious torrent of ideas, each displacing the last more quickly than I am capable of inspecting them.

The medium of literature demands that you focus your eyes and mind on the words and ideas of another person, that you take the time to figure out what they’re saying. When I read, my chaotic emotions are pushed to the periphery of my attention. There they can rest and, basically, just chill the heck out. It’s very similar to mindfulness meditation (which I also recommend for quieting the anxieties caused by overstimulation), except that you also get to have some fun while doing it.

There are a couple things you have to bring in order to have this benefit though. First, you have to read deeply. This means reading every word, comprehending every sentence, and building up the entire meaning of the author in your mind. Avoid reading first sentences and then skipping through the rest of the paragraph. To enjoy the calming benefits of reading, the reader has to try and fully comprehend the text.

Secondly, read books that don’t dumb it down. Get books that require in depth reading, that ask a little bit more of you. I don’t mean that they should be difficult or confusing to read, but instead that they simply ask that you pay full attention. Read books that require more than minimum effort to get the point of the story.  This doesn’t mean they have to be literary classics (although I do encourage reading those too). Something as fun and easy to get into as Harry Potter will have the same desired effect if read closely. Just read something that respects you and expects you to be smarter than a bag of bricks.

In my life, I’ve found that the ability to turn down the stimulation and put my anxieties out to pasture has been really helpful. Reading novels according to these two guidelines has helped me do that in an enjoyable and consistent way, and I hope it works for other people as well.

AI Art

A while back I saw a video of some Japanese animators trying to do a similar experiment, and both of these experiments have gotten me thinking.

When AI can create characters that are human enough, when they can render scenes that are realistic enough, and they can stumble into interactions between these objects that are interesting enough, will they completely replace human artists? Will entertainment basically become just watching an AI play a system like Minecraft (with much higher fidelity)?

On the one hand, it’s an exciting idea. Set up the right systems with the right kinds of actions and interactions (or heck, let an AI figure that out too, why not), and let the AI loose to explore all the different possible things that can happen. Create another AI that can recognize which of the possible set of actions would be interesting to an audience, and boom, you have an infinite content machine. You could do things like create a model of Middle Earth and have millions of stories about dwarves and hobbits (but not elves; they’d be removed by the interest recognition system).

On the other hand, it would rob the humans of the joy that comes from creating media. Like it or not, anything we can train a machine to do, it will do better than us. This is the whole reason we made them. I don’t think that the automation of media would effect the “high arts,” because the idea of high art is based entirely upon a social construct*.  The people who would suffer would be the people who do the media jobs that effect us all. It would harm animators, film makers, and game creators. It could very easily be a blow to illustrators, pop musicians, and novelists as well. These jobs require audience attention and retention in order to function, and if there are infinite content machines that can be tuned to create content that is massively appealing (or–even more dangerous–content that is specifically appealing to every individual), I find it very hard believe that human creators will be able to keep up.

A way to work against this potential outcome is that audiences come to value the people that are creating things as much as they value the thing being created. This may inoculate the pop music industry, for example, because pop music isn’t about artistic appeal, but human interest. The obvious problem with this, is that when value of media is determined only to the person performing it, you’ll end up with objectively simplistic media. Once again, see pop music. The media being created isn’t the product, the person is. The media is just an excuse for the audience to throw money at the one sided relationship with an idol.

Another thing that may happen is that human made media will continue to be consumed by niche audiences that follow it specifically for the meta-content that it contains. The story of how a piece came to be in the context of the culture and media tradition are what they’d really be consuming. I also find this troubling, however. I prefer as little context as possible when consuming content, because I like to let content speak for itself. I want to bring my own context, and have content speak to me on its own without being bogged down by meta analysis.

Anyway, it’s reality, and it’s problematic. Media creation has already been made crazy by the destruction of local markets, why not add some more craziness in by introducing robot creators as well?


* The AIs wouldn’t be able to prevent people from wanting to show their differences in class based upon their art consumption.

Castlevania Season 1 Review

Castlevania Season 1 Review

Castlevania is a pretty big freaking deal for me. I may not be the biggest fan of the franchise, and I may not have played every game (especially not the 3D ones; this franchise did not make an elegant transition from its two dimensional beginnings). Regardless, the 2D Castlevania games are creations that really get what games are and execute very well in that medium. So to say that I was excited when I found out that Netflix was getting a Castlevania anime* would be an understatement.

Does the show deliver on my expectations? The short answer, “In a way. Kind of. Mostly. Depends on what you focus on.” I’ll start with the stuff that worked for me, just in case you’re the kind of person who gets bored easily and doesn’t finish this short review.

What really worked for me, in general, was the aesthetic of this show. You can tell that the creators really poured over the source materials and pulled out all the inspiration they could from the artwork released with the games. The main characters’ designs harken back to the lavish artwork that came packaged with the games, and the setting had the same kind of atmosphere that you would get while playing.

This show is also very violent (and at times just straight up horrific), which doesn’t necessarily add a lot to the experience, but I feel like it’s one of those situations where to leave the violence out would have created dissonance between the goals of the story and its visual representation. There is a little gore just for its own sake, but for the most part it seemed like it was working toward the goals of the visual story telling.

Another thing that was pretty awesome was the animation… during the fight scenes. The gratuitous flourishes of the Hunter Whip filled my inner fanboy with delight, and the choreography was convincing enough that it never felt like a staged fight. As the characters battled with each other, they carried real weight and impact that is missing from so much fantasy animation these days.** Each footstep shifted the character’s weight, every parry and counter attack had momentum and drama. It was obvious that the people animating the action scenes had watched some martial arts and knew enough about it to make their scenes look like a fight.

Which is why the animation during the rest of the show is so disappointing. When the characters aren’t fighting or there isn’t some big magical effects show going on, the character’s motions are just ugly. They look like the cheap fast crap that you’d find on TV too late at night or too early in the morning. During these moments it became obvious that the characters were designed to look cool standing still, but when you try to get all those little details moving, it looked really bad. The walking animations were especially confusing. Why did everyone in the show stomp around like they couldn’t extend their knees all the way? They didn’t have that problem when they were fighting.

The writing was pretty bad, and despite the fact that Richard Armitage has the voice of a musky, angelic badger, most of the lines sounded really stupid. The number of times Trevor Belmont said, “I don’t care” to show us how non-chalant and “cool” he was (despite the fact that we know from the beginning that he was going to end up murdering a bunch of monsters because that’s what Belmonts do) was trite. Often a character would say something, just to have it repeated again by another character, or the conversation would just go around in circles to fill time.

The plot and pacing felt like a half hearted fan fiction more than a professional production. There was a lot of soliloquy and drawn out talking head scenes in the middle two episodes, which was particularly weird when you think about how the last episode rushes headlong through a battle and then an underground adventure all in twenty minutes. It seems like the pacing of dramatic moments could have been handled much better in order to prevent the need for filler blabber in the middle (especially considering that the whole series is under two hours long).

To end on a high note, I’ll end by saying that I liked all the parts in the first episode when they made Dracula’s head appear in various ways (first formed out of fire, and then created from a flock of crows/ravens). I also thought it was kinda cool that they showed him as more of a tragic character than a simple metaphor of “evil,” but I feel like the presentation of those ideas could have been more eloquent. Maybe trust the audience to pick up on ideas sprinkled tastefully throughout the story rather than smacking us with an info dump when all we really want to see is a Belmont whacking things with a whip.

And that’s pretty much all I have to say about that. The series is really short, so it’s hard to think of anything else right now. Trevor Belmont is sexy. Richard Armitage is my bishi. This show’s writing sucked, but I liked the parts with the whips and the swords.

* I’m gunna call it “anime”, because it obviously follows the Japanese animation tradition. Fight me.
** I blame computer games and computer animation. CG always looks so dang floaty.