Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

17 September, 2012

Emergency Post: Some Music

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Sometimes, there’s just no time, and sometimes there’s no inspiration, and on some unhappy days both of those things happen at once.

But I heard, through the walls, someone listening to the theme to Myst III: Exile. I love that theme. I can sing along to parts of this. So, to avoid a blank day altogether, here is a piece of music that I can never get out of my head.

21 June, 2012

I want a pad

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

I’ve recently started wanting a tablet. No, that’s a lie, I’ve wanted an iPad pretty much since they came out. The thing is, though, even though I am sent into fits of “ooooh, shiny!” and would really love to have a toy like that, I have not been able to justify to myself the expense of one. I want an iPad, but I don’t need one. I have a computer, I have a phone, I am already drowning in the conveniences of the modern West (so, yeah, when I say “need” I don’t really mean “need”, you know). A tablet on top of that would just be gilding the lily, getting something for no good reason but to play with it. And I don’t mind that in most cases, really, because I am a filthy wasteful materialist, but in this case the price tag is too high.

The last couple of days I have started to reconsider, though. Maybe I do need one. I’ve been sitting at work, bored out of my mind for long stretches of time when there are no tourists to mind (oh, as an aside, I recently started working as a tourist guard. Long, tiring hours, many of them empty). If I had my laptop, I would think to myself, I could do something useful with this time! This completely disregards the reality which is that if I had my laptop, I would be wasting lots of time. It’s all moot anyway, since my laptop is actually kind of big and clunky and not suited for taking anywhere nice.

A tablet, though, that might work. I’d need one with a keyboard, since I like typing at things, and would want to do some writing while I sat there. A tablet would also be a pretty good thing to have when I am going on my ill-advised trip to Crete this summer. Can’t bring my laptop there.

Do I have room in my budget? Would it get delivered fast? The answers to both are probably no. But I have gotten so far as to look at options. It need not be an iPad – in fact, I understand those don’t have the greatest keyboard solutions. I don’t know enough to make an informed decision, and I don’t feel like investing a lot of energy into learning about the field. The Asus Transformer Prime looks neat, and has a pretty awesome name, should I go for one of those?

I don’t know what sort of point I’m building towards here. Maybe the lesson learned is that my desire for shiny toys will always overpower my better judgement in the end. I’d ask for tablet recommendations, but who’s to say I would even read them. I am liable to just walk into a store and ask them for advice, even though I know how bad an idea that is.

Actually, it would be very feasible to go by the Apple store after work tomorrow…

No, I’m going to stop now and go to sleep before I end up talking myself into something stupid. Good night all.

14 June, 2012

Of Gods and Men

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

I have an exam tomorrow. I also need a post for tomorrow. In a beautiful union of rocks and birds, I’m going revise and write a post at the same time. I’m afraid the result might be a bit disjointed, lacking an overarching unity, or indeed point, but I’m going to risk it.

Gods crop up in plenty of religions, and certainly in all the ones I’m currently studying. They all have some different ideas on how the relationship between gods and men work, however.

Ancient Mesopotamia is probably the most pessimistic in its outlook: Humans were created as slaves for the gods, so that the gods wouldn’t have to do any work themselves. Tilling the soil, building irrigation channels, growing food and building temples are all really boring tasks that the gods didn’t feel like doing themselves. Serving the gods meant performing labour, and giving them its fruits. Prayers and rituals were about warding off misfortune, and keeping the god-kings happy. Such a cheery time.

The ancient Egyptians were also big on serving the gods, but with a less pessimistic outlook. The creation of Man wasn’t elaborated on much, but humans were part of the ordered cosmos the gods maintained. The gods also held back the chaos of the barren desert and lifeless night, maintaining the constant cycle of birth and rebirth in the universe. Priests, a special class, performed daily rituals of service and sacrifice in the temples, on behalf of the king, whose job it actually was. The king was both divine and human, the point of intersection that linked the two spheres.

The ancient Greeks were a bit unclear on the creation of Man, though the Orphic cycle held that human were created from the ashes of the titans that devoured Dionysus. What is more clear is the creation of woman – Zeus sent woman to men as a punishment, forcing them to endure them if they wanted to procreate and have their families live on. Zeus was a bit miffed at having been tricked into taking the useless bits of the animal as his share in a sacrifice, and then shortly thereafter having fire stolen from him by Prometheus. Here, the gods were rulers of the cosmos, who had shaped the world order and had great power over people’s lives. When an animal was sacrificed, the bones and fat were burned, while the people performing the sacrifice ate the meat in a feast – sharing a meal with the gods. Prayers were almost contracts – Man honoured the gods, in exchange for blessings.

The Romans took this further, there’s a reason do ut des is in Latin. There were gods all over the place, and if you honoured them properly, but not excessively, they’d smile on you. The Romans figured the reason for their prosperity was their great piety. They resembled the Greeks in their ritual practice, in many cases at least. They also imported gods and cults from all over their empire, so there was obviously some variety.

Making a leap north, and ahead a millennium or so, we get to the Vikings. Here, too, we have the gods as beings of order, holding back the forces of chaos – and doing an ever worsening job of it. Seriously, they keep giving away weapons and losing members and in general weakening, all leading up to the big collapse to come. Anyway, humans are in the middle, between the realm of gods and the realm of chaos, and can use all the protection they can get, and therefore sacrifice and hold festivals in the gods’ honour. Meanwhile, Odin collects dead people to boost his forces for the last battle – great plan, Odin! An army of all the people who didn’t survive their battles! Cream of the crop, I’m sure. Can’t go wrong.

I think I’m going to stop here. This did end up feeling a bit disjointed and rushed, but meh. I have an exam, what do you want from me?!

14 May, 2012

Emergency Link Post

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

I am out and about away from home and hearth, and with terribly unstable internet. Since I plain don’t have time to write a proper post, here’s some music to distract you all. See if you can detect the secret theme. Yeah, that’s right, this isn’t half-arsed at all, it’s a test!

I promise a more thorough post on Thursday, as I’ll have time to do some more Arkhosian history by then. Still a real test, though!

2 April, 2012

Ramblings on How to Play God

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

So, one thing I think the Myst series does very well is world building.

No, don’t go away! I’m not really making this into a Myst blog. This post is about world building in general, I’m just using Myst as a starting point, since that’s where my train of thought started in the first place.

When it comes to fiction, regardless of medium, my preferences tend to run towards what is nicely called speculative fiction, or more commonly science fiction and fantasy, or maybe even more commonly nerd stuff. A pretty common feature for this type of fiction is that it is set in a world which differs from our own. Sometimes it is an entirely different one, like in Narnia or A Song of Ice and Fire, sometimes it’s in a hidden one within our own, like in Harry Potter or The Dresden Files, but in either case it is something new and unknown. Since it is something the audience is unfamiliar with, the manner in which it is explained is important. My own fiction writing has languished lately, but when I do brush the dust of it I will end up writing in the same genre, and so I occasionally spend some time thinking of the best way to build and convey a fantasy world.

In fiction set in our own world, the writer can proceed on the assumption that everyone knows at the very least the basics of it. People will know what China is, and where Canada lies relative to Mexico, and roughly how much a dollar is worth, and how the Cold War caused international tension that still exists. No explanation is necessary, and so the writer can simply mention whatever he choses and move on. I think one of the most interesting approaches in fantasy writing is to proceed in the same way, as if the world was indeed familiar to the reader.

Since I started with Myst as an example, let me continue with that for a moment. As I’ve mentioned before, Myst is all about dropping you into its world and then refusing to explain anything, leaving you to figure it out for yourself. It is the epitome of showing, not telling. Have a look at the intro to Myst itself, it’s only about forty seconds long.

That’s all the context the game gives you. A figure fall through a crack, with a book. The figure disappears, and the book keeps falling through a star field, while a voice narrates that he realised the book would survive, contrary to his expectation. The book lands. That’s it. Next, it opens, the player falls through it, and finds him- or herself on a wooden dock on a weird island, with no clear objective.

But even though nothing is explained, everything has an explanation. This is the key bit, in my opinion. You don’t need to, as a player, understand exactly what happens in this intro. Indeed, Myst gives no explanation of it even at the end; to fully understand what happened in that sequence you must also play through Riven and read The Book of Atrus.  Further light on the event is shed in Uru, but even now it remains one of the central mysteries of the series – and one which will probably never really be explained.

Of course, this is a game series. It is one thing to drop an unexplained ruin in an interactive game, another thing entirely to convey it in prose. In prose, the imagined assumption of shared knowledge can get a bit much at times. If handled poorly, you just get a bunch of names with no reference point and it’s just off-putting. Sometimes it’s worth it to soldier through those dense sections until you do orient yourself – Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth-series of books spring to mind as an example of this – but more often than not I’ll not have the patience.

I think the key is to have a large knowledge of the world you’ve built, and then dole it out very gradually. Not with explanation, but with gradual exposure. I think you could make up a world as you go along, but the coherence and plausibility of it increases when it is all consistent and thought-through. In the work itself, the larger world should be implicit, but behind the scenes it should be explicit. None of this is revolutionary, I think; it is merely my stance in this. Of course, taken too far, you end up with hopeless perfectionism, and an inability to proceed without excessive details. That’s where I tend to end up.

2 February, 2012

I Am Not a Computer Guy: Technicalities

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

So far, the image of me presented here has been one of a hopeless Luddite, and I feel I should try to shake that off ever so slightly. I am actually kind of a fan of technology. I think gadgets are cool, like bow ties. Liking technology isn’t the same as knowing technology, a distinction I think I ought to make right away; I am only computer savvy when compared to my parents. On the Izzard technology spectrum, I am much closer to joy than to fear, though I do occasionally consult manuals. Sure, my desktop computer is currently not actually working, but I’m sure that wasn’t really my fault!

As a kid, I experimented a bit, learning very basic html, which I suppose has stayed with me. I’ve kept that up, and learned equally basic css, but never enough to be really good at it. I’m the kind of guy who knows just enough to be dangerous – I know how to go in and change things until it’s all messed up.

I’ve gotten better at balancing on that edge, though. With sufficient instructions, I’ve managed to make this blog look more or less how I want it, even though it required some messing about in code to do it. I managed to get the blockquote, seen in use in the previous post, to look good, at any rate. For the most part, though, I was happy to let the theme and WordPress do most of the work for me.

WordPress has changed a bit since the last time I tried blogging, gotten quite a bit more advanced. There’s all sorts of nifty new features I want to play with – like the whole widget set-up. So much simpler than fiddling about in codes. The standard set is fairly simple, but I think there are plenty of plugins providing extra functionality, and I am greatly looking forwards to experimenting with them and I have just become the Luddite lurching parodically into the present again, haven’t I?

Well, never mind. I still find the whole thing cool. I bet there are loads of interesting features I haven’t even found yet, and good uses for the ones I have found which I haven’t figured out yet. Even if I do share Patrick Rothfuss’s vague disappointment in the Omega button.

Beyond the world of websites, I am, as I said, fond of gadgets. My enthusiasm for my new phone a few posts back should prove that. I don’t have an iPad or some other kind of tablet, but it is mainly because I cannot justify the expense compared to the need. I already have a phone and a laptop, and unless they both break at the same time, I doubt I’ll get a tablet. Unless I win one. But give me a gadget, and I will find it cool.

So there, I am not opposed to technology. Not all of it anyway. I have techno joy. Now, if I could just find a twitter widget that filtered out replies, I would be all set.

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