Category Archives: Rants

Books Are On the Way Out (But Reading is Thriving)

old books mildew.jpgPictured: Old media collecting mildew

New media is consistently vilified as contributing to the stupidity of users and is presented as a sort of Pied Piper, hypnotically leading children away from books. Currently, the target is cell phones, and in times past they went after television and video games for the same reason.

But let’s take a step back and look at things critically: books are far from ideal as a form of media. When one considers their inefficiency, it’s easy to see just how great it is that they’re on the way out. They’re cumbersome to carry about, especially in quantity. A trip to the library is inconvenient, and the library charges a fee if they don’t get books back on time. A trip to the bookstore can quickly get expensive if you buy books new, and if you go for used books, you risk purchasing a book blighted by mildew which, if it slips your attention, can damage your entire collection. In light of all this, and the existence of alternatives, books have become impractical.

Those who would disagree with me might bemoan how difficult it is to get children interested in reading, imagining the days in which children would happily take a trip to the library. Their main motivation appears to be a quaint rustic feeling that comes with doing anything unsophisticated. But the fact is, cell phones and visual media are the reality of the present time, and it’s better to prepare children for the world that is, rather than some notion of what someone would prefer it to be.

Fast fact: reading is thriving. There is more reading today than there ever has been, and this is because it’s more efficient to get reading to people than at any other point in history. And here is the device instrumental to this reading revolution:

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That is a cell phone. Say “Hi”. It’s a wunderkind when it comes to reading. How so? Assuming the average size of a Kindle book being 2631 KB (source), 256 GB of storage on one of these can hold 102,027 books. A 1 TB MicroSD card increases that amount to 510,139. This is comparable to the most generous estimates of the size of the Library of Alexandria. And you can fit it into your pocket.

What’s that? Your cell phone doesn’t have that kind of storage? That’s okay, because you still have access to a boundless ether of literature if your cell phone (like most) has a simple program called a “browser”. You can use it to browse the internet and read countless pages filled with news articles, research papers, stories, discussion threads, advice columns, encyclopedia pages, and on and on.

While those desperate to justify their fix of outdated media may turn to public schools as champions of books, that’s not going to help them very much, as schools are increasingly turning to tablets for education. And why not, considering the ubiquitous use of screened devices in the adult world? Again, the idea is to prepare children for the real world, which involves familiarizing them with devices that are actually used in workplaces, both today and in the years to come.

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The fact is, books, textbooks, and libraries are on the way out. I, for one, welcome tablets as their academic replacement, as I have memories of continually lugging heavy textbooks about at the insistence of teachers and professors, in spite of infrequently needing to actually use them, which I understand to have been a typical college experience. Having to carry a small, glowing display screen that fits in my pocket is an excellent alternative to a bunch of cumbersome, expensive books.

One might ask, “Okay then, what if your phone breaks? Where are your books, then?” The answer is, I still have them. The books on a person’s phone or tablet are associated with the account that purchased them, so if a person loses their tablet or decides to buy a new one, their previous collection is available on their new device. To most of us, this is pretty obvious, but evidently not to the person who had to ask this question, which really goes to show how poor a job that person is doing keeping up. While the rest of us have access to a boundless sea of ethereal literature in our pockets, they’ve been assuming us to be senseless just because they don’t comprehend what we’re doing.

Even when I’m playing games on my cell phone, it’s helping me to be a smarter person. I’ve been playing an RPG that challenges players to work with limited resources over a long period of time, so that getting a single character to the point of being adequate could take as long as months. While playing this game, I’ve planned out my moves months in advance using careful calculations on a spreadsheet. My planning paid off when I barely unlocked a rare character within a strict time limit. This kind of care when it comes to resource management is something that a person can learn from if they’re not that great at managing their finances. Even those farming games that we’ve been making fun of can be played well with some careful planning. It’s too bad it’s much easier to assume that someone on their phone is playing some vapid bird-flinging simulator with all the depth of a puddle of rainwater.

So, to summarize: If you want a book, you have to take a trip to the store or the library for it. After that, you have to carry the cumbersome thing around with you if you want to have it wherever you go. Also, the library will want it back, and will charge you a fee if you don’t return it within a time limit, and in a condition that’s to their liking. However…

You can store hundreds of thousands of books on cell phones, not that that’s even necessary because these same phones have a browser that grants access to boundless information, whether a person is at home, sitting on a park bench, at a supermarket, or on a lunchbreak. Also, you can look at bright, colorful pictures on them, and even set one as your background. And you can ask some of them questions (verbally) and get answers (verbally). Also, movies and games. Also, navigation. Also, photography. Also, a bunch of other features so numerous that I don’t feel like listing them all.

In a sense, it’s like the old choice between beef jerky and celery. Most people would go for the sweet tasty delicious beef, and enjoy every bit of the experience. It’s one of life’s easy choices. However, there are a few who would go for the celery. They’d be more bitter for the experience, and afterwards stew over how much happier the people are who went for the beef jerky. So it is with technology: the people who embrace it get to benefit from how much better it makes their lives, while those who refuse get to savor whatever vacuous platitude that prevents them from being happy.

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Books have had an important place in history, what with the invention of the printing press expediting the propagation of ideas. However, for the propagation of ideas, books and the printing press have long-since become obsolete. The obsolescence of old media may make people feel like they are being left behind, but the reality of the matter is that they are only doing it to themselves.

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Book Review: Men’s Society: a Guide

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When you think of a self-improvement guide on how to be more manly, what do you think of? You’d probably think it would include, among other things, a few useful how-tos on tasks like jump-starting a car. Maybe you’d think to find an outline on an exercise regimen. You might even expect something philosophical to get you to consider what you stand for and how strongly.

If you’re expecting anything as useful from Men’s Society: a Guide, then you’re already set up for disappointment. Like it or not, there is a new kind of manliness in town; a kind that is obsessed with image and with defining your identity with what you buy, rather than your character.

Men’s Society: a Guide comes to us from menssociety.com, and it largely reads as an advertisement for items featured on their online store. I mean, their website, because their online store is their top page. The commercial agenda screams “ethics” as loudly as some energy scam kiosk right inside the doors of a grocery chain.

Let’s keep it real here: real manliness came to be because the traits associated with it were what was necessary for men to get by in times when resources were limited. Real men are strong, smart, skilled, nimble, adaptive, and strong of character. The new form of manliness that’s obsessed with an outward show of old-timey rusticness is nothing more than a sham that was crafted to get people to spend money on things.

Where does Men’s Society fit in the scheme of things? To find out, let’s look at the topics discussed in this book, one at a time:

  • Grooming – a few fundamentals and a list of grooming supplies for you to buy
  • Drinking – a list of alcoholic beverages for you to buy
  • Style – a few staples of outward appearance for you to buy
  • Culture – a list of books, films, and other media for you to buy
  • Travel – a few pointers about getting from one place to another, so you can continue buying things somewhere else
  • Manners – the part of the book that was rushed because it’s not intrinsically conductive to you buying things

Whether it’s consumption of media or consumption of products, the main point of this book, again and again, is consume, consume, consume. The commercialization of manliness weakens manliness in the same way that the commercialization of Christmas led to the weakening of the Christian identity.¬†Commercialization is nothing more than a means to an end, that being to line the pocketbooks of a few with leafy greens at the expense of the rest of us. To the entrepreneur enriched by this endeavor, any identity weakened in the process is considered an acceptable expense.

The authors of Men’s Society are British, so the perspective of this book is from that of a British man. There are a few points in this book that indicates that real manliness in the UK is in serious trouble.

For one thing, there is a section in this book on how to survive a flight. Fast fact: surviving a flight is easy. Flight is considered the safest way to travel, and it’s no mistake that nearly everyone who attempts flight survives the experience. All there is to surviving a flight is to sit down and not make too much noise. Do it right, and none of the other passengers will have much reason to throw you out a window.

There is a paragraph that discourages manspreading. Non-ironically. It opens with this gem:

MANSPREADING

This is a derogatory term that you don’t want used to describe you.

Sorry, Men’s Society, “manspreading” is a verb, not a noun. You have failed.

And it gets worse, as three pages later, the book includes a similar section on mainsplaining. Again, non-ironically. The term “mansplaining” was obviously invented in a cynical effort to shut down productive conversation because feminists can’t stand being proven wrong. A willingness to hold water for the intersectional agenda is a sign of weakness and isn’t a trait of one qualified to teach manliness.

When the advice isn’t bad or geared towards marketing, it’s usually lazy. One can imagine that a book packed with advice on men’s style would include at least a few informative pages about hats. Instead, there’s a short paragraph at the end of a chapter which says little more than that it’s acceptable to wear baseball hats and “street-style go-tos” (whatever those are), and that if you were to wear any other style of hat, “you’re a bold man.”

Really? That’s all that Men’s Society has to say about hats? What a cheap cop-out. There’s a lot more to say about hats, but I suspect that the brevity to this section is owed to the fact that I found no hats in their online store (but two pages of shaving products and three pages of haircare products). I imagine that they’d have more to say about the style of a derby or the protection of a bucket hat if those were products in their online store.

This is a bit of an aside, but Men’s Society has an obvious obsession with mint tin kits. I get it, pocket-sized kits are awesome. But here’s the thing: you don’t need to buy them. Mint tin kits are packed with cheap items that would usually set a person back just a few dollars altogether if one would construct them themselves.

Men’s Society understands the profit behind giving some trial-size products their own label then selling them for 25 British pounds (about $30), and here’s an example of one from their website:

men's society beard removal kit.png

Yes, a beard removal kit. They think so little of your ability to accomplish the task with the items you have on-hand that they put together a kit designed to assist you toward that end.

Speaking of shaving, people can stop patting themselves on the back for using a razor to shave, as though that were any kind of accomplishment. Technology should be embraced as an expression of how adaptive and nimble men are, not shunned for that smug glow of superiority that comes with refusing to keep up. I use electricity to shave because I’m not a luddite.

You don’t have to pay piles of money for mint tin kits. You can make one of your own. Assembling one for yourself shows ingenuity and is rewarding when you finish one up. It’s so simple, I can give you a short guide right here:

  1. Procure a mint tin. An Altoid’s tin would work.
  2. Throw out those suspiciously non-Kosher Altoids mints and wash the mint smell from the tin. (Is there pork in them, or something?)
  3. Put what you want in them, whatever would reasonably fit. Fishing hooks, band-aids, twine, it’s up to you.
  4. That’s it. You now have a mint tin kit, and didn’t pay someone $30 to do it for you.

While we’re at it, here’s an article on how to make mint tin kits on Art of Manliness, a much better page on manliness than Men’s Society.

Part of the book that I found myself sometimes liking was the “Don’t Be That Guy” sections, which added a little bit of humor to an otherwise commercial experience. A couple of my favorites include “Don’t Be That Guy: You know, the guy with longer hair who thinks he’s Kurt Cobain?” and “You know, the guy who leaves the top four buttons of his shirt unbuttoned?” However, these are short blurbs in what is otherwise a paid advertisement (one that the reader paid for, not the marketer).

As it is, Men’s Society: a Guide could be more appropriately called, “Men’s Society: A Buyer’s Guide”. It’s written with the expectation that if you’d pay for a book to tell you how to be manly, then it can suggest a bunch of other things for you to buy, leading you down a deep rabbit hole of continual spending in a vain attempt to find identity. And that’s assuming that you’d want a bunch of posh blokes telling you how to be manly. Men’s Society brings to mind the words of an Asian proverb:

“The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell.”
-Confucius

The time has come to give this book it’s score. Men’s Society: a Guide gets a score of Don’t Be That Guy out of ten.

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Because the Don’t Be That Guy sections make up around 1% of this book, that comes to 0.1 out of 10.

Why do people laugh at activists?

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It’s likely that, at some point, you’ve run into an activist. You know who I mean;¬†it’s the kind of person who makes a point of identifying as a feminist, a desegregationist, or any of a variety of flavors of activism currently promoted by Tumblr.

Because they understand no setting as too inappropriate, they’ll work the conversation into activism, and drive themselves into a fit as they labor the points they’re trying to make about the issues that they perceive as being a matter of life-or-death. The people around them will try to keep their distance, and once they tire themselves out, they’ll retreat to their base of operations (their mother’s basement) where they’ll work out their next scheme to save the people of the world from themselves.

But you don’t actually have to meet an activist to see signs of cringe. In fact, it’s a snap to see those signs of cringe outside of people’s houses, usually in three different languages, because apparently inclusiveness means being poly-lingual just to read a platitude that does nothing more than express a feeling.

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Even on social media, it’s easy to find an activist meltdown, and it provides an opportunity to watch it happen from a safe distance. If you’re like most people, whenever you see activism, you laugh, cringe, watch in fascination, or at least keep a safe distance. But did you ever wonder why?

Why do people laugh at activists?

When one hears their stated causes, they seem just. They want equality between the races. They want sex discrimination to be illegal. They oppose religious discrimination in the workplace. Their causes are like this, and most people wouldn’t argue against any of these things.

But here’s the deal: These kinds of discrimination are already illegal. If your employer discriminates against you because of your biological sex, for example, you could take them to court. If you could demonstrate that it happened, it would be an open-and-shut case.

Also, if there were any people out there that were sincere about their racist, sexist, or otherwise discriminatory views, they are afraid to be up front about it. This is because they know that their views would make them an outlier, and they’d quickly become a pariah if they were to come forward with them.

When you consider all these things, do you know what they collectively mean? If you need to be brought to the finish line, I’ll tell you:

We’ve won.

Equality of virtually any kind exists throughout the civilized world, and is actively enforced by the strength of the law. The major civil rights battles have already long-since come to their conclusion.

Yet, the activists of today still continue to complain. They continue to fight against their own imaginary enemies in an obvious effort to look good in doing so. Even though all the major civil rights battles have already been won, they continue to live in the past, as though they’ve never been properly informed of the reality that the civilized world has been living in for decades. Because of this, people have a hard time taking activists seriously.

In the sixties, people took to the streets in protest of various injustices. They also spent a lot of time getting high. But eventually, they won.

In the seventies, people continued to protest injustices and they got high. But they won.

In the eighties, people took it easy, listened to cassettes, and got high. Because they won.

In the nineties, people listened to CDs and got high. Because we’ve long-since won.

In the 2000s, people listened to music on their iPods, and a few of them listened to music on Zunes. Needless to say, they also got high. People accepted that the major social justice battles concluded decades ago, and things were generally nice. Those victories would probably have come much sooner if people spent less time getting high. We still don’t have the cure to cancer, by the way. I’m just sayin’.

In the 2010s, things stopped being nice when a bunch of Social Justice Warriors appeared on the scene, bent on chasing down the boogeymen that they themselves imagined. People laugh at their stupidity and also get high.

While the rest of us laugh, play, work, and enjoy life, activists work themselves into temper tantrums. They’re missing out on the good things of life so they can savor the cynical sense of satisfaction that comes with fighting a battle that doesn’t even need to be fought. That is both hilarious and sad.

While the rest of us work for college educations, meaningful jobs, and take home paychecks that allow us to afford decent-size homes, cars, families, beer and many other good things that we appreciate, activists are on a mission to achieve a greater level of cynicism and misery. Eventually, they’ll have to look back on what they’ve accomplished over the course of what would come to be the most regrettable years of their lives, and come to the realization that they haven’t really accomplished anything, except maybe pick up a criminal record. Maybe they’ll also realize that everyone else has been laughing at them, cringing at them, or even egging them on as one would an ignorant source of amusement.

One could make the case that humans are well-conditioned to having enemies. In light of this, it’s understandable how, in a lack of a major long-term conflict, a person can still regress into a form of tribalism. We see this all the time in how many people identify themselves with what media they consume, the cell phone they own, their brand of automobile, their fashion choices, and so on. Ironically, the many fad activists that we see today exercise the same in-group thinking of the kind that they accuse other people of practicing. Psychological projection provides a tidy explanation for this behavior.

You know what’s better than activism? Here’s a list:

  • Having sex
  • Watching anime
  • Being great at your job
  • Being great at someone else’s job
  • Driving a car that doesn’t need restarted each time it comes to a stop
  • Performing a benchmark of reps in a workout in one go
  • Playing video games
  • Whiskey

The list could be amended, but the idea is that anything that’s either fun or meaningful belongs on it. Activism does not, not just because the list was constructed specifically to exclude it, but because the trendy form of fad activism that accomplishes nothing really isn’t about having fun, and a pretense of meaningfulness doesn’t satisfy the condition of being actually meaningful.

I know it seems like I’m laboring the point that there are better, more awesome things to do than make yourself miserable for the non-existent returns of activism, but that’s what it really comes down to. Suppose you were given the choice between a pack of beef jerky and a bowl of celery. If you’re like most people, you’d go for the beef jerky. It’s tasty, while the celery is not. It’s one of the obvious choices in life. However, there are people out there that would choose the celery, thinking themselves better than the plebs that go for the tasty beef. As they munch away at the green, bitter limpness, they stew in resentment towards those that are happier because they chose the beef jerky.

We chose right, my friends. We chose the beef jerky. Not only that, we chose the prettier women, went for the jobs that paid better, and live in homes that aren’t parked outside Walmart. When it comes down to it, living happier begins with choosing to live happier.

You know what else can make someone happy? Schadenfreude. And for a steady supply of that, we have activists. So, if activism is your thing, you’re giving the rest of us something to laugh about.

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Not that it would be to your own benefit, of course.

Expensive Tech as Fashion

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Apple is attempting to market AirPods as fashionable. I get the idea that fashion is supposed to be intrinsically difficult to figure out, because I’m having a hard time comprehending how fashionable it is to look like white plastic solidified while oozing out of someone’s ears. It’s like the earwax of nightmares. Gross.

The audio industry has long been a scary place. To start with, there’s “ordinary” headphones that a person can easily find for something like $20 at places like Target, then there’s the stuff of elites which can set a person back something like $300, which supposedly offer a superior audio experience. When a person is considering dropping all that cash on a single piece of tech, they’d want to be sure they’re getting their money’s worth, so they start doing some research to find which pair of headphones are right for them.

Then they’d find out that there’s many, many different varieties of elite headphones that each cost tons of money, and they’d have to do more research than they thought. They might attempt web searches to narrow things down, and find some blogs making direct comparisons between headphones on the market. Can we trust their opinions? When we see their pages littered with Amazon affiliate links for these products, it becomes apparent that these are for-profit blogs, and their opinions may be largely informed by what brings in the greater ad revenue for them.

The audio industry is intimidating, but lately, it’s gotten worse. The Beats brand of headphones has previously been marketed using endorsements by Dr. Dre as Beats By Dre. Since then, the Beats line has dropped the Dre endorsement, and was purchased by Apple, a company that already had a reputation for producing questionably expensive luxury tech.

That’s not to say that they’re no longer into the idea of celebrity endorsements for Beats, as the Beats brand has been endorsed by a number of celebrities, with even a special edition commemorating an endorsement by Justin Bieber. What sets these headphones apart from other headphones in the Beats line? Their color. That’s pretty much it.

These headphones are pricey, so one would imagine that they are some high-quality headphones. Instead, they are panned by audiophiles everywhere. The high price of these headphones is driven by the force of the demand generated by celebrity endorsements. The audio industry has found yet another way to liberate people from piles and piles of cash: with the words of people that are rich and famous.

And now, people are wearing Beats headphones and even AirPods with the belief that doing so would make them more fashionable. With tech companies standing to profit, I wouldn’t expect them to discourage this, but I’ve been noticing an increasing trend in the audio industry of encouraging style over producing a quality product, which provides another obstacle to avoid having spent hundreds of dollars on an inferior product.

I admit that if I were to spend a lot of money on something, I’d have a desire for it to look appealing. But when someone places undue importance on fashion when purchasing headphones, they just look like a sucker that caved in to marketing.

Noisy cars don’t impress anyone.

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If an air conditioner makes a ton of noise, we don’t think “power”, we think “inefficiency”. The same goes with washing machines; if a lot of noise comes out of them, that indicates lots of lost energy that, through more careful engineering, could have resulted in clean clothes in shorter time and lower energy bills.

And, to fulfill the imaginary requirement for an arbitrary third example, we don’t associate a noisy computer with more processing power. When a laptop sounds like there’s a jet going overhead, that usually means that it’s time to clean the dust out of its fan.

So then, why does anyone still hold on to the misguided notion that a noisier car means a more powerful, effective vehicle? My guess is that there are still a few people around whose primitive minds are stuck in the early fifties, where a loud revving sound indicated a more powerful automobile.

These are the chimps who drive down residential streets making sure that their cars let out a loud roar, because they want everyone to know that they are fast, and they have the car noisy enough to prove it.

The sad truth is, they’re not really impressing anyone. I can tell you what people around them think when they tear off near elementary schools. It would sound something like this:

How annoying. I want to put a bullet right in his tires. If he had the money, why didn’t he buy a better-sounding car?

A noisy car is the sound of inefficiency. I know what some of you are thinking: “But Raizen, if cars can be made that run quieter, why don’t they make those?” You know those Mustangs that meatheads like so much? They actually can run quietly. That revving sound that you sometimes hear from them? It comes from speakers in the car. The engineers didn’t want to sacrifice performance, but still wanted those meatheads to enjoy the sweet, sweet sound of an ancient and poorly-maintained jalopy, so they faked it. That Mustang effect is actually more like a Bose effect.

Even sadder still is the fact that some people spend tons of money to mod their cars so that they sound inefficient and annoying. Intentionally. They’ve got all this money for modification to their automobile, and the intention of the modification isn’t to substantially increase the performance of their car, it’s to produce a sound to the satisfaction of only themselves.

As frivolous as that is, the modding community does do even worse. Some mod their cars so they can achieve some ridiculous top speeds. Two hundred miles per hour? Give me a break. When is a person going to go 200 MPH, even ignoring the fact that a person would have to break the law to do so? What justifies putting huge piles of money into achieving a benchmark that’s not even legal to attain? In cities and suburbs, one must come to a complete stop too often for achieving a high speed to even be practical. So, no one should care whether your car can go really fast, including you.

To ensure that their cars look like they go fast, they also throw money into aesthetics, such as flame decals, racing stripes, all that stuff that helps them live out that Speed Racer fantasy.

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Nothing says “spraypaint” quite like gold hubcaps, right?

The best car is the most dependable one, and that would be the one that doesn’t spontaneously break down when you go out to get groceries. This is most easily achieved by buying something modern and efficient, and not letting a bunch of kids monkey around with it.

Sports are boring.

Old people seem to wonder why young people don’t seem interested in sports anymore. You probably already know why, it’s because sports are boring. The sports in question would be games like baseball, football, and basketball, rather than the interesting stuff like cycling or rock climbing or MMA.

If you’ve ever wondered why your dad or granddad seemed so interested in sports, it’s because back in their day, it was pretty much all kids had for entertainment. They didn’t have cell phones, so cell phone games weren’t a thing. And video games were the thing of hobbyists, they weren’t mainstream like they are today. When a sports team came to town, it was the main thing people around town talked about for weeks beforehand, and for weeks afterwards. If you got tickets, then you were hot stuff. Anyone who couldn’t go but wanted to know what happened had to turn to those who did.

Did anyone do anything other than sports for entertainment? There were movies, but they were mostly films that kids wouldn’t appreciate. Superhero movies weren’t as mainstream as they are today. Movies were mainly geared towards grownups, so a kid either had to develop grownup tastes, or find something else to do. Oftentimes, it was sports, because that was one thing that was accessible to everyone.

The selection of toys was far more limited, too. If a kid got a Pogo stick, he was considered the coolest kid on the block. Everyone wanted to hang around the kid with the Pogo stick. There wasn’t much expectation that the kid would let anyone else play with it, except his close friends. If he chose you, it felt great, even if you fell off the thing. If another kid on the same block got a Pogo stick, then the kids started taking sides. Because suddenly that cool kid with the Pogo stick got a rival.

By the way, if you’re wondering what a Pogo stick is, here’s a picture of one:

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And yes, those things were for real.

If you want evidence of how boring sports are, try attending a sporting event. You’d probably have an uncomfortable seat tightly nestled between other seats like sardines. If you attend a large event, you likely won’t be able to hear the game itself over how noisy the crowd is, and you’ll have just one view of the game, whether it’s ideal or not (almost always not).

It used to be that if you went to a game, you wanted front row seats. Nowadays, you’d want skybox seats. That’s because there’s a party going on up there, with no one really paying much attention to the game.

Simply put, sports are boring. If I had a choice between a sporting event and playing a video game I like, the video game would win, pretty much every single time. But I can’t go to a sporting event any time I wanted, only when one is scheduled, and when one is going on, it’s still immediately competing with anything else I could do for fun, nearly all of it I’d rather do. Even if I were to play a sport, I can think of things I’d rather do.

Not only are there video games, I can watch anime on my phone any time I want, even selecting the episodes I want to watch from among multiple seasons. Or I can do redneck science and blow stuff up for fun. That’s just a few examples of the things that sports has to compete with for my attention. The fact is, sports are boring.

Here’s a thought experiment. Think up a few things you really like doing. Then, imagine yourself at a sporting event, squinting at a game you can barely see, and can’t hear over a screaming crowd. Would you rather be at the sporting event? If so, you’re boring. Otherwise, you now understand how boring sports are. QED.

The Naysayers Were Wrong About Pokemon Black and White

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I recently set out to add another installment to my series on The Right Way to Play Pokemon, this time focusing on Pokemon Black and White. It had been a few years since I’ve picked up and played either game. But from what I remember, this game was pretty big, and the selection of pokemon was immense, so I carefully researched recommended team members and even went as far as doing damage calculations to ensure that these team choices would work well. Then, I set out to test my findings on a copy of Pokemon Black.

I have fond memories of Pokemon Black and White. In spite of this, the fifth generation of Pokemon receives a disproportionate amount of hate from certain segments of the community. If they were to be believed, gen 5 was the worst generation of Pokemon, and a person would be better off spending their money on something different.

Hearing all these complaints, it sounded as though they were talking about a different game than I remembered. But then again, it had been years since I’ve played the games, so maybe I remembered them wrong. But as I did my research for to prepare my article, the complaints didn’t match what I was actually seeing.

These games seemed fantastic.

For starters, the selection of Pokemon just for the playthrough was huge. Not only that, the game was intentionally designed so that only new pokemon were available for the player to capture prior to the post-game, making players come out of their comfort zones and try something new.

Because, you know, Pokemon. That game series that’s known for its themes of science, technology, exploration, and making new discoveries? These versions in particular even went as far as to ensure that the games didn’t just boil down to the typical old experience of picking Charmander, catching Pikachu, then playing through the game with the same-ol’-same-ol’.

Video games are about challenge, after all. It’s not much of a game if what you’re playing is the same comfortable experience every time. We decide we want something new eventually, so the Pokemon series is only going to get so far by repeatedly pandering to a sense of nostalgia. Life isn’t just about looking back, it’s more about looking forward.

Not only that, the experience was very balanced. Just from researching team selections, one would get the idea that GameFreak saw to it. These games were packed with pokemon that would have made excellent team choices. The starter pokemon, as well as many pokemon you can catch, were varying degrees of great. Lillipup? That’s a great pokemon, available at the outset. Drilbur? Great pokemon. Sigilyph? Scraggy? Joltick? Archen? Petilil? There are so many pokemon that would make great team choices, that narrowing down the selection to just a few was a challenging task.

To make things more interesting, GameFreak redid the exp. formula so that low-leveled pokemon gained more, while pokemon that were higher-leveled gained less. This meant that freshly-caught pokemon could easily catch up with the rest of your team, making it harder to dismiss certain pokemon by reason of not already being a member of a team for a long time. It also made it less likely that pokemon that haven’t been performing as well would fall behind. Better yet, it also helped to keep your team from becoming overly centralized around just a couple battlers that would otherwise continually get high amounts of exp. because they’d win every battle. And to make it easy for lower-level pokemon to catch up, it’s easy to gain levels from wild Audino, which frequently appear.

Then there are the themes. To start with, the game opens up with a coronation:

 

I don’t know about you, but that intro really makes me want to play the game. Who is the guy in the freakish robe? Who are the sage-looking guys who look on? Who are those two women who also seem well-designed enough to be of significance? Who is the green-haired kid, and why is he being declared king? What is going on? If you want to find out, keep playing the game!

Pokemon Black and White actually have a story. I’m usually pretty cynical about stories in video games, as they usually amount to hack fiction that serves as little more than a pretext to continue playing the game, as though the game mechanics didn’t do a good enough job. Pokemon games usually don’t have much in the way of story outside of “you’re a boy in a red hat who beats up an evil team on the way to becoming champion”, so it’s a change of pace to see a Pokemon game that has a story, and a surprisingly well-developed one.

The source of conflict is a man who runs an organization that sets out to free pokemon from humans. He sets up someone else as leader so he’ll have someone to hide behind and act through as the man behind the scenes. His organization also challenges what players have been doing in Pokemon games for years, making them think about what they’ve been doing all this time. It’s more complex than just a case of “bad guy wants to take over the world”.

Also of note is the story involving the character of Bianca:

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As cheerful as Bianca looks, her story isn’t as cheerful. While most characters in Pokemon have the support of their parents, Bianca set out on her Pokemon journey against the wishes of her dad. While it’s easy to write him off as a stodgy curmudgeon, he is actually very protective of her, and considering that she projects vulnerability all over the place, it’s easy to see why.

If you’re used to chasing dreams because of so many games and movies that encourage you to do so, the conclusion of Bianca’s story hits like a dose of reality. Bianca finds out that she’s not well-suited to her goals, and that her endeavors were almost certain to end in failure, however enthusiastically she may have tried. For how cheerful the Pokemon games usually are, that’s a difficult lesson to have to contemplate. Oftentimes, people learn the hard way that they’re not well-suited to their career choices, and a person might not end up doing what they want to do, however much they may have wanted to do so.

Adding to the replay value is the fact that the seasons in Pokemon Black and White change depending on the month you’re playing the games. This can change the accessibility of certain areas and items depending on when you’re playing, and can make things slightly more or less convenient. A player can actually stand on a snow bank that otherwise wouldn’t be there if it weren’t winter in-game! Not only that, there’s a different tileset for most overworld locations depending on when you’re playing.

That’s well beyond what’s necessary for a game that’s already huge, and adds yet more replay value to a game that was already gushing with it.

Conveniently, there’s a battery indicator on the HUD on the bottom screen. As in, an indicator of the battery level of the system you’re playing on. That’s such a great convenience, that I wonder why more games didn’t implement it, and why more games don’t do it now. And not only that, it tells the time. And the strength of your wireless connection.

Come to think of it, why do these games get dumped on so heavily? When was it that these games came out? What does the Wikipedia article say?

pokemon bw release dates.png

Oh. That explains it. Pokemon Black and White were released when the hipster movement was in full-swing, and it was considered trendy to dump on anything mainstream, regardless of how high-quality the products may have been.

But hey hipsters, you got to dress in trashy clothes and bash on stuff that was actually great. That’s what you were going for, right? If so, mission accomplished, you missed out on some excellent games just so you can be a snot.

Stop hating on things just because a bunch of other people have arbitrarily decided with one accord to bash on it. You have a brain, use it.

So far, this article has only considered the first Black and White games. After these games were released, there would be direct sequels. While Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon were basically re-tiles of Sun and Moon, and GameFreak is famous for releasing¬† Kanto remakes, with Black 2 and White 2, new areas have been woven into the setting, which made the games feel like a new experience, even though the setting was the same as in the previous games. What’s more, the pokemon selection has been amped up by integrating older pokemon before getting into the post-game. Lucario fans, rejoice.

While most Pokemon games start you off in a small town without a pokecenter or gym, but with a convenient professor’s lab, BW2 starts you off in a decent-size town with it’s own gym and pokemon center, and the professor’s lab is located somewhere far off. That’s right, Pokemon actually tried something different. Not only that, the main character’s mom is a retired pokemon center nurse, so there’s an explanation for why she’s able to heal your pokemon that goes beyond mere game mechanic convenience.

Also, Challenge Mode. The sequels give you the option to play a harder game. That’s great for players like me who wanted an additional challenge. The only complaint would be that it’s only available in one of the two versions, and not before the post game, but the sharing of unlock information can make this available to players with the other version regardless of whether they’ve made it to post-game.

That’s right, there’s a feature that enables the sharing of version-exclusive features with someone who has the other version. That’s another feature that hasn’t been implemented into a Pokemon game since the fifth generation, probably because a lot of petty naysayers dumped on its many attempts at innovation, resulting in the GameFreak that we see today that seems hesitant to try anything new.

There’s also Pokemon Dream Radar, which allowed players of BW2 to have tons of items, pokemon with hidden abilities, and legendary pokemon, right at the game’s outset if they so choose.

So many exciting features, and such well-made games that are packed with content. Why does anyone pick on the fifth generation of Pokemon?

Oh yeah, the hipster movement. That’s another one of those fads that I’m glad is over.

If you’ve made the choice to actually play Pokemon Black or White, you have chosen well, and you’ve done well to resist the discouragement that comes with all the undeserved hate that these games get. If you’ve yet to give them a try, you’ll find that they are true gems in the 3DS library.

I’m smarter than your dog.

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Have you ever been driving down the street and you see one of those cocky bumper stickers that says something like “My dog is smarter than your honor student”, and you thought to yourself, “Man, how arrogant can people possibly be?”

Okay dog owners, if you’re so proud of your inbred abomination and are so sure of its abilities, then how about having a go at it? I actually did graduate with honors, so if you want to compare what your dog can do with an actual honor student, then let’s see you put your dog’s smarts to the test. Not that I expect your dog to compete with even an average kindergarten student in terms of intelligence. If your dog can write compelling essays, interpret data from a scientific study, and perform integral calculus, then we can talk.

What’s that? Are you saying that that’s not reasonable to expect from a dog? That’s just my point. Just about any human student, regardless of education level, is smarter than a dog, and if a dog were to enroll in a public school or community college, the expectations of its owner would be shattered, while the poor animal wouldn’t even be able to comprehend what was happening to it. Though if a college were to offer a course on learning to crap on paper, then perhaps your dog really could rock that GPA.

Dogs aren’t just stupid, they’re annoying. Sometimes, I’d walk down a street in my neighborhood, savoring the sunshine and the gentle breeze, when suddenly it’s ARF ARF ARF Here come some genetically-engineered pile of muscle and teeth! You might be saved by the chain-link fence separating you and the monstrosity, but not if the heart attack it causes gets you first.

Is this what dog owners mean when they say that their dogs are smart? Then, after the dog nearly scares you to death, the owner comes out and yells at it, as though they expected anything different from a degraded wolf that is biologically predisposed to barking at everything that moves. Dogs are even worse in the city, where people are just about everywhere, so dogs almost always have something to bark at.

If you’re considering getting a dog, understand that there will be days that it will annoy people who just walk down the street, who will then entertain fantasies of shooting the thing.

That might even be what the dog wants, too. Dog breeds are various degrees of degradation of the wolf specie, many of which continually tremble, labor to breathe through bunched-up snouts, and in some cases, they even spontaneously die.

poodle.jpgIts entire existence is pain.

Humans have monkeyed with nature, breeding a range of detrimental characteristics on a victimized specie for our own amusement.

And they still aren’t very smart.

Stop complaining about learning math.

One of the most annoying things that I hear in an academic setting is someone asking a math teacher “when am I going to use this in life?”

It’s even worse when the math teacher doesn’t seem to have an answer for them, or they don’t seem to want to answer. The teacher has a perfect opportunity to explain their efficacy to society and at the same time smash one of the stupidest and most persistent questions in the history of academia by answering it with a set of well-made observations, but they don’t take it. It’s a tragedy.

The reason people ask this question is because they’re not in the mood for something that doesn’t give them an immediate dopamine rush, and they feel justified in dismissing something abstract, the application of which isn’t immediately evident to them. They’ll happily play complex JRPGs on their phones wherein they manipulate multipliers to give a statistical advantage, but when it comes to learning basic algebra, it suddenly becomes a chore. Then, afterwards, they’ll brag to one another about how bad they are at math because for some reason that’s something that they’re proud of.

You don’t learn math in school because someone is going to make you use it in your theoretical job, you use it to prove that you’re not an ignoramus. As a potential employer sees it, if a person is good at math, they are good at following procedures and solving problems, which is pretty much what math is. As hiring managers see it, if one applicant knows integral calculus and the other is a D student that barely passed high school algebra, and they’re both asking for the same pay, he’ll pick the one that’s not a doofus, even if the job doesn’t require the use of calculus.

The fact is, knowing more advanced math makes you more competitive.

When a person asks when they’re going to use the math that they’re learning, what they’re demonstrating is that they don’t have much insight as to how competitive they’ll have to be in a job market where having a college degree doesn’t guarantee one a well-paying job shortly after graduation.

People who think that math is boring simply don’t know about the history of math. You may have heard about the Pythagorean Theorem, it’s the geometric formula that goes something like this:

a2 + b2 = c2

The Pythagoreans were a gnostic cult, which means that they believed that there was an advantage to be had in keeping certain information secret. If the Pythagoreans had it their way, they’d have kept the formula to themselves. They actually killed someone after one of their members leaked the formula to someone who wasn’t in their sect. Knowing this, it’s kind of hard to want to credit the Pythagoreans with this formula, as they would have left us to try to figure it out on our own.

So yeah, someone actually died over this. And now a bunch of disinterested kids are doing what they can to get out of learning it because they think it’s boring and they don’t comprehend how being better at math can make them more money in just a few years.

People say that they like science and technology because they want people to think that they’re smart, but when it comes to learning the math that scientists, engineers, coders and technicians must learn, they’re suddenly reduced to being mere hapless witnesses staring at the dry-erase board in the front of the classroom with glazed-over expressions.

If you think you’re so smart, prove it, and learn some math.

The Agony of Paper Towel Dispensers

This might seem at first blush to be yet another E/N post about something that doesn’t really make a difference. But when you’re in a public restroom, when the stakes are high over sanitary conditions, it matters more that paper towel dispensers work properly.

For some reason, it seems like I’m the only one for whom these dispensers will work. The ones I’m talking about look something like this:

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You see it, right? It says right on these machines that you’re supposed to pull down on the paper towel with both hands. When done right, the next one loads, and that’s one less surface in an unsanitary restroom that we have to come into contact with. But hold on, the one in the picture uses an illustration instead of words. So, there’s even less of an excuse to mess this up.

Yet, people still do. Oftentimes, some meathead will go in, do his business, then after washing his hands he’ll yank down on the towel with one wet hand, tearing away at the towel, and leaving the next guy with the onus to turning the knob to get the next towel to dispense.

We don’t want to turn the knob. It’s usually a moist germ farm which, upon contact with it, would necessitate washing one’s hands again.

Why even install mechanical paper towel dispensers in the first place? Why is so much mechanical complexity even necessary for something as simple as providing paper towels? You know what would be a lot more efficient? Just leaving a stack of paper towels on a shelf. It would be a snap to just take one, and it would be much easier for the janitorial staff to replace them. Sometimes, the best solution to a problem is the easiest one.

And no, I don’t want to dry my hands with those blow driers. You know which ones I mean, they’re the ones where you hit the button with your elbow to get it to run for a few seconds. They also have the motion activated driers, but you’d have to nearly touch your hand to the machine to get them to work. Then you’d have to rub your hands beneath them for about a minute-and-a-half, then maybe they’ll get dry, but not likely from the air supplied from the machine itself, but from the friction of rubbing your hands together.

The makers of those blow driers must know that they’re junk, because they went an made an “improved” version: the jet drier. Those ones blast your hands so hard that you can see an indentation from the air blowing from the machine as you put your hand under it. Is all that force really necessary? I don’t want to get stretch marks just from drying my hands.

If it’s really worth getting your hands dry, then sometimes it’s worth sacrificing a few trees. I know that the pretext is saving the environment, but when I’m in a public restroom and my hands are wet, it’s paper towels that get the job done right.

I know I’ve been doing a lot of complaining lately, so I think it’s about time I present a solution: to spread those paper towels around. It goes like this: If you see a public restroom that uses garbage mechanical dispensers or those smug air driers, make note of it. Then, next time you visit the establishment, take some paper towels with you and set them out. It might be somewhat inconvenient, but you’d be making public restrooms slightly more bearable for the rest of us.