29 July 2013

And That Was The Second Time I Died...

Not exactly a pleasant experience, but a good learning one. I lucked out and ended up rolling some fairly strong stats. Combat was only problematic when it came to fighting more than one opponent, but once you get a rhythm going becomes fairly intuitive. I may be completely misreading something, but it’s silly that your initial stat values aren’t supposed to increase even if you have items that add to them (isn’t that the whole point of items and weapons, or leveling in general?). I died twice not from failing in combat, but from trying to take on any main characters, including the main villain (or one of them, anyway). Moreover, the book seemed to keep sending me back on the task of finding the thieves’ guild, which was how I died the first time. It was like that Bill Cosby routine about the Lone Ranger, “Tonto! Don’t go to town! They’re gonna beat ya up again!" I would make the choice not to go, get jumped by something else, then practically get flatout told, “Look, just go to the Thieves’ Guild!" I mean, I think I know what I’m supposed to do in order to not die by poisoned crossbow bolt, but I really didn’t feel like going back down that same windy, linear path to basically get into a situation where I’d have to break character and let the book lead me by the nose through its one (UND PRECISELY VUN) correct path. I had this same problem with a D&D-themed interactive DVD, where it mentioned all the possible outcomes, only to reveal all but one as instant death and add insult to injury by all the character-building moments coming by way of making the totally out-of-character choice. You literally learn more about you when you’re not yourself. I want to say that’s some deep, philosophical thought experiment, but it simply reeks of bad (though more likely lazy) game design. In Fighting Fantasy’s case, I guess thinking in terms of alignments is simply too inflexible for its linear narrative… which doesn’t sound nearly as deep as the DVD’s issue. 
I guess the lesson to take from this is that books and discs make crappy DMs. Also, if you’re designing anything interactive that asks role-playing of its player, have more than one good ending. Otherwise, you may as well save time by having the player guess what number between one and ten you’re thinking of. If they win, they get to jam the dice up your nose and headbutt you to see if they’ll go flying out your ears. If you want that to happen, test your luck. If you know better and don’t want to sniff dice, add 2 skill points and take five to come up with some better options for the player.

Goodnight, and good lu—er… Turn to 400.

27 July 2013

Homemade Hanafuda

Seems like every time I come across someone possessing the most mind-boggling levels of incompetence, lethargy, and childish stubbornness, I end up making something related to card games. 
That's not actually true, I had this in mind and made long before I essentially drove someone to bawlete (you know what? I'm teaching that word to my auto-correct) their account by having the sheer gall and nerve to suggest that they do their own work and stop making excuses why they won't. I know, I'm such a complete and utter bastard of a troll. How dare I bully people into not leeching off others and standing on their own two feet for a change. Who do I think I am to write someone off as untalented because they say so themselves as an excuse as to why they post other people's work to their gallery? 
She'd been here for a year or so, posting over 250 uploads of advertising images from Korean fashion magazines, all with the same sentence in the description: (la imagen no me pertenece, créditos a su respectivo creador) 
See, merely saying, "not mine, someone else's," which is what that sentence translates to in simplest terms only goes to show what a stupid moron the speaker is, refuting ownership and then wildly suggesting that it may well belong to someone else, so she tries to sound smart by using a term like "respective owner." See, it has the word "respect" in it and has more than two syllables, which makes it dignified and sophisticated in the eyes of a stupid moron who doesn't know how words work outside of mimicry. What followed my calling her out on this was what you may well expect, everything from insisting they don't know any better to sharing for the benefit of the original to not being especially talented themselves to everyone else appears to them to be doing this as well all came out of the same rambling, incoherent pie hole as if she couldn't even decide how best to quantify her own parasitic laziness. 
Anyone who uses the excuse, "Well, lots of other people do this." when it comes to the wholesale copying of other people's work is absolutely worthless in every sense of the word. No, really, I mean that. It is such a pregnant declaration, putting the speaker's outlook into such crystal clear perspective that I don't even hear those words anymore. Instead, I hear, "I want attention, but I don't want to earn it." 
To be fair, let's be honest and ask, "What motivates us to do anything?" There's nothing inherently wrong in copying a formula (keyword: formula, as in the basic blueprints for something); mimicry is our oldest survival instinct, it's how we learn and adapt. We see a piece of art we like or we see people doing something that looks fun, there's nothing wrong with, well, wanting in on that. Copying is the gateway to finding our own potential, I wholeheartedly believe that. However, along with "formula" we have to take on board the other keywords, like "gateway" and "potential" when discussing emulation. It's simple evolution, really. Creatures that reproduce asexually have the same set of genes passed down from generation to generation. There may be the odd mutation, some typo in the genetic code, but it's rarely beneficial or even remotely with the fundamental flaw of asexual reproduction: the complete inability to adapt. Other creatures that reproduce sexually, on the other hand, mix and match genes, taking a little from column A and maybe a little more from column B and seeing what fits together and what doesn't. These are mutations, too, but since there's more code to work with, the typos are drowned out by the benefits of differing sets of successive genes that can adapt to change. 
This is how art works, you take a premise and run with it. You take inspiration from others, not the fruits of their labor. 

Some of you may be laughing or at least feeling very smug right now, given that here I am going on about originality when in fact this handmade hanafuda card is practically a reproduction of the "Full Moon and Red Sky" card from the Susuki suite, representing the month of August and one of the more valuable cards in a typical deck. It's all right here if you wish to see for yourself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanafuda . I'd heard of hanafuda cards before, but all I'd been told is that they're Japanese playing cards. It's like how people say Shogi is Japanese chess, which, while certainly apt, doesn't give you nearly as much insight into how the game is played as you may guess. More recently, I saw a video from YouTuber and avid Nintendo collector Lithium017 showing off a special set of Hanafuda cards Nintendo distributed to members of their points club. In that set, the "full moon" is a giant Boo-diddly (which is awesome). Going back to the original designs (which date back to at least 1800, putting them well out of copyright in case anyone feeling humorously smug didn't know), I really love this kind of artwork. I love its purity, its simplicity, its stark color palette, the contrast, and the way it all overcomes its own minimalist sensibility entirely on its own terms. Between this and the sumi-e inkwash paintings, every time I make a silhouette piece or a "red and black on white" piece, that's what I'm going for. That's what I'm trying to capture. This was a learning exercise, a test in patience and perception. So, yeah, I copied a design, but I did it to learn, and there's far more in my gallery that's unlike it than like it. It was also a way for me to finally use a piece of illustration board I had lying around that I was hesitating on using thanks to a nick in one of its corners from where my corner punch failed to bite through. 

In case you're wondering, no, I'm not going to make a full set of hanafuda cards the way I made this one. Even with it being well within my 50-piece limit (typical decks have 48 cards), that would take forever, illustration board is rather pricey, and I've got another card game-themed set on my to-do list I can take up if I feel like it. I do find it interesting to have the white be what draws your eye instead of the red (like in my BaRoW pieces), especially when it's framed by black, so while I won't make any more hanafuda cards, I will take some of its themes and ideas into other works. 

Rubeno Florajoj

I posted this to my aunt’s Facebook timeline. She can’t see it right now while she’s in the hospital (not to mention heavy sedation following the surgery for her stroke, which was while recovering from a previous surgery for removing a tumor), but she said she really liked my red and black ink pieces. I happen to like them, too. They’re a kind of comfort zone for me. 

Initially, there was green for the grass, and I tried a texturing technique involving marking up my fingertips and rolling them gently along the bottom to create leafy-looking streaks. It really didn’t turn out that well. These do look best when it’s only the red and black against stark white. There is a smaller trading-card sized version of this that does have green grass, and it looks okay there.

26 July 2013

Far From The Worst

Well, the operation last night was ultimately a success. Pressure was relieved in the cranium, so there’s no further damage as far as anyone can tell. My aunt is now heavily sedated and on a ventilator. The doctors won’t lower her sedative levels until at least Monday, when they’ll check her responsiveness and go from there. It’s all very “wait-and-see" while she’s hooked up and under sedation. 2-3 days of what almost amounts to a coma is quite a time, but at least it’s time spent recovering, which is what’s important. Not the best situation, but far from the worst.
Might try and paint something tonight if I feel up to it later. When I talked to her last Wednesday (before her Friday embolization), she mentioned really liking my black and red ink works, especially the one of the snowy forest with the mysterious blood spatter (she said she found it strangely comforting, even peaceful, which we had a good laugh about). She even bought prints of two of my earlier works a few years ago, which I was really flattered by. That style happens to be my sort of “comfort zone" when it comes to my art, and I had an idea for something while I was at work. Even though she can’t see it right now, I’ll post it on her Facebook timeline when it’s done.

25 July 2013

Very Worried

On Monday my Aunt Ruby went in for surgery following an embolization the previous Friday. She'd been having some difficulty swallowing the past few months, and speech problems in the past few weeks. At first, it appeared to be the result of nodes forming on her vocal cords, but it was later revealed to be due to a tumor at the base of her skull. The type of tumor, paraganglioma, is generally known for being benign, rarely cancerous, but its location does complicate things. 

The surgery itself went surprisingly well, despite being a nearly all-day affair. She was largely unresponsive the next few days, though seemed to be doing a little better. In fact, today (Thursday), she was speaking in full sentences and could hold a little conversation. 

Unfortunately, during a walk, her entire right side went numb, the result of a stroke. During a CT scan following the surgery, a blood clot was discovered in her interior carotid artery, which was a major area of concern. However, it was found that the surrounding tissues were still receiving blood normally, and there was no real harm being done, though doctors wanted to keep an eye on it and try to see if they could use anti-coagulants to break it up. The stroke has now been attributed to a clot in the external carotid artery. 

I'm glossing over a lot of the subtleties in terms of medical conditions and appropriate jargon, so bear with me if I sound like I'm skipping pages or generalizing or over-simplifying. In fact, I think I may have the carotids reversed. I'm getting told this through my Dad, who is there with her. He was actually supposed to leave today, as her condition seemed to be improving, but now he's cancelled his flight. He's a physical therapist, but while he gets this stuff, it's all a great big mystery to me. Again, I'm probably leaving out some important details, so I apologize if I sound like I don't know what I'm on about. 

In a situation like this, one of the most pressing symptoms is a swelling of the brain tissue, which requires a section of the skull to be removed in order to relieve pressure. The other issue is immediate brain damage as a result of the stroke. Fortunately, a follow-up CT Scan showed minimal damage, mostly to the frontal lobe and the speech center. As for the swelling, the operation involved is delicate enough without it coming on the heels of another surgery. As such, the staff is waiting until around midnight tonight to see if her condition gets any better. If not, midnight is the soonest advisable time to take action. 

I'm putting all this out there, mostly to help me collect my thoughts so I can keep up when my Dad gives me updates, but also to let everyone know what's going on. I know I'm not much of a social butterfly as is, but if I seem a little preoccupied or distracted, this is why. I love my aunt very much and I can't imagine what she's going through. 

Good night, and good luck. 

23 July 2013

The Big Two-Zero


PayPal Update (Surprisingly Good News)

I probably owe PayPal something of an apology. In my defense, they were as baffled by what's gone on with my account as I've been. The skinny on the situation, it turns out, is that all the way back in February I maxed out the number of times I entered my password (I forgot. You ever forget? It happened to me.) and was locked out of the system. At least, I was supposed to be locked out, and by locked out I mean I was supposed to be taken to a screen to verify some additional information if I ever logged in again. Instead, I got a vague error screen that looped no matter what I did. On top of that, I actually could log in to my PayPal account through the mobile app. My access was limited, but only limited, and quite possibly exposing a major security leak. 
Remember in Office Space how Milton was laid off years prior to the events of the film, but no one bothered to tell him, yet he still received a paycheck through a software glitch? That's more or less what happened to me. Speaking of paychecks, I got a very pleasant surprise out of all this. As I mentioned, I was in the middle of a transaction on eBay. I put in an offer on a lot of paperback books, not expecting for the offer to be accepted (at least not within a few minutes), and got locked into paying what I owed. Obviously, I was more than willing to pay for the books, that wasn't the problem. I had enough to pay for the books. Again, not the problem. The problem was that the mechanism by which I would have paid for the books had a wrench in the works. I attempted a transfer from my bank to my PayPal account, only for it to basically sit in limbo for way longer than these things should take. In fact, at the time of this writing, it's still processing. 
Here's the pleasant surprise: I looked at my PayPal account and saw a positive balance. My bank transfer was still in limbo, but I had a balance that was not there before, for exactly what I owed the bookseller. At first, I thought, "Great, now it's lying about my balance." Then, when I checked my e-mail (where I've been talking with the support staff), I learned that the guy who was handling my case issued me a courtesy credit. Essentially, it was to make up for all the fees I'd been paying by only being able to use my debit card to transfer money, but it just happened to be enough to cover my literary IOU. 
As of now, I can access my PayPal account, update information, and many other things I couldn't do before. On top of that, I had an eBay purchase completely covered by a tech support guy, and I appreciate that wholeheartedly. I appreciate it because he didn't have to do that. I've worked customer service jobs and I know for a fact no one likes issuing credits. Companies rake their employees over the coals for issuing credits to customers, however small and justified they may be. No one wants to open that can of worms. No one wants to give that potential mile-betraying inch. 
This was not a small favor. It was a small amount, but it was not a small favor. 
So, not only props to PayPal support, but specifically their Twitter support. As I said, the phone support was a complete dead end. Twitter got me results. 

21 July 2013

PayPal, eBay, and Haggling (UPDATED)

UPDATE: Issue is effectively two-thirds resolved as of July 23. There's still the small matter of them not acknowledging my bank as real, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. 

I've been having trouble with PayPal for some time now. In short, I cannot see my account. I get an error message every time I log in, no matter what way I log in, that my action cannot be completed. It's not a password error, and it's not any sort of lockout from entering the wrong password too many times. 
This has kept me from updating my contact information (including my physical address and e-mail address), seeing my transaction history, and making payments without incurring fees. As it stands, the only ways I can use PayPal are

* Via the mobile app on my Android phone
* if I know the recipient's e-mail address (so no eBay purchases) 
* and if I use my debit card, incurring a fee for sending money 

Here's the real kicker about that debit card. The last time I was able to use PayPal, I was updating my bank information, as I'd recently joined a new one. They told me my account information was invalid, that the bank itself didn't exist. They told me to wait until it finished processing (because that's apparently a thing that happens in a time when someone's entire financial history can be summed up in a text file of less than 50KB) and that the error message was merely a sort of default warning if a bank is not a major entity like Bank of America or Wells Fargo (in my case, a local credit union). However, albeit they can't verify, presumably after all these months I've been getting this error message, they have no problem processing my debit card which is attached to that "fictional" account, and certainly have no problem charging me a fee every time I use it. It's very hard not to be cynical about these things, especially given that PayPal is no stranger to a less-than-stellar reputation in the eyes of its customers. 

Their customer service, as you might guess, has been virtually helpless when it comes to my issue, ultimately resulting in them telling me to simply try again later and that everything to do with my account looks absolutely fine on their end. My most recent call to them ended with me saying that I was tired of hearing these excuses, because that's what they are by now, and that getting me the promise of an e-mail from an account specialist. I have not heard from this person. This could well be because it's the weekend, but if that's the case, why have I been able to talk with the support personnel on their Twitter account? I initially tweeted my grievances about the complete ineptitude I'd encountered without any expectation of a response. I was screaming at a brick wall, but the brick wall answered. A few Direct Messages later, and I got this e-mail:
This is only the first step in their troubleshooting process. After three different browsers, all with caches and cookies cleared, I got the exact same "Action Could Not Be Completed" error message. 
The worst part about all this is that I made a purchase on eBay and I'm now effectively making this guy wait longer than necessary, which wouldn't even be such a bad thing (I mean, the time limit is 7 days) except I made an offer for below asking price, which is tantamount to slapping someone in the face and demanding they give you a piggyback ride. It makes a bad customer out of me, not because I don't want to pay this person in a timely manner, but because I can't. If I lived near this bookseller, I'd happily stroll on over and throw down my cash for those old paperbacks. 

19 July 2013

Must Be Eighteen: We Card

Waged a sort of mental war while I worked on this one. Initially, I wanted it to have a sort of Tarot card vibe, but had plant patents on the mind, so this is the result. I nearly scrapped it as another "butchered" entry, but I think it mostly works. 


Finally got a rectangular hole punch. I'll still use the other one every now and again throughout the rest of this series, but this one simply feels right somehow, more authentic. 

Sweet Sixteen(th Card)

Had the idea for this one while having my car worked on, but kinda forgot part of it. 

16 July 2013

Fifteenth Card

Points of inspiration for this exact card:
How to Train Your Dragon
Mega Man 2
Old data entry job at an alcoholism center. 

14 July 2013

Card XIV: (Nothing To Do With) A Realm Reborn

Signed up for a chance to be in a beta for the PS3 version of FFXIV. As much as I can't stand MMOs, I've got a kind of morbid fascination with the downfall and much-discussed reboot of XIV. I probably won't get the full game, even if I do get to be part of the beta. In general, I have this kind of abusive relationship with RPGs: I love them, but I don't have time for them. At least with something like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I can play a mission or two back-to-back, unwind during the debriefing and upkeep phases, then save and quit for the day. If I am going to get involved in RPGs again (apart from the tactical strategy subgenre like XCOM or Valkyria), it'll be in the realm of pen-and-paper, which I've actually been ruminating on for a possible video project in the coming weeks. Nothing's solid yet, mostly on account of my car troubles (which I'm getting fixed this week), but hopefully things will mellow out and I can stay motivated to go back to producing full-on video works, if only occasionally. 

13 July 2013

Card the Thirteenth

Card Number Twelve

Eleventh Card

Tenth Card

Number Nine

Five Cards in Two Days (Motivation Lesson)

Fell into a bit of a depressive slump thanks to some annoying car troubles that left me feeling really unmotivated. I was feeling kind of down anyway, so this really didn't help. Anyway, as I've made five of these things in two days (held off because I wanted to get a traditional hole punch instead of relying on my blade to make the notches) and uploaded them all to my other sites just now, the next five entries will only be the embedded videos and the photos. There are no real "in progress" shots to speak of, apart mainly from the one where my Slice blade broke at the tip while working on one of the cards. I'll have to think of something else if I want square holes in future cards. 

09 July 2013

Eighth Card

Not only did I decide to use red in the color scheme, but I was considering not having any grid or graph paper whatsoever. Pushed a little too hard with my thumb for the print, but I guess you could say it's a blood spatter like in a type-testing kit. 

08 July 2013

Seventh Card

Discovered a small camera problem while working on these. Once before, I reshot a video because on playback it would hang in the same spot no matter what. I thought this may well have simply been in the phone and it would play fine once uploaded. Well, it's happened on both videos for six and seven, so I may have to upgrade my setup and use a different camera if I make more of these. 

Sixth Card

Last time I tried to make two cards at once, I butchered one of them, but this time was only slightly less painful. I cut the two outlying notches too deep, making them feel really flimsy, hence cutting off the entire corner and widening the one farther in for symmetry. At the end of the day, it simply feels like a paper skeleton key. 

07 July 2013

Fifth Card

Not sure how long this series will go on, but I'm certainly done with the "I Made A Thing" gimmick with the titles. The idea behind the tall, narrow slit (with very small off-center break) is from dealing with RAM upgrades, the way the chips have these little gaps between some of the contacts to keep them from being inserted incorrectly or in completely the wrong slot altogether. Had a bit of trouble with the glue on this one. I guess I didn't use enough, which is important when you're working with a smaller surface area than the previous cards (the butchered card worked out but that's because I put extra pressure on it from the thumbprint. Tried that with this one, but ended up nearly creasing the whole thing). 

I Made A Four Thing

After the "happy accident" with the torn tag, I set to work right away on a true and proper fourth entry in this enigmatically growing series. I really like how the perforated edges of these notebook pages look. I also wanted to use a bigger piece and have as little script as possible, almost pure data. The grid of small brown squares is an inkling of sorts into the stylistic direction I want to take future entries in this series, however far ahead that may end up being. 

I Made A (Butchered) Thing

Tried something a bit different with this one, and paid for it. Instead of gluing the graph paper to the card and cutting the notches and holes in that, I got the idea to put the notches on the end of the card without using the grid, giving the impression of an old key. Unfortunately, even with the aid of a ruler, the cuts were not very straight and made all the more obvious without the graph paper. I ended up ripping off the end in frustration, then stewed for a moment before resolving to finish what I started and simply make two cards in one night, writing this one off as apocrypha. The thumbprint, which was there from the start, turned out to be a very silly idea, at least in terms of execution. Years ago, on MTV's Cribs, Kathy Griffin showed off her bathroom, which used a lot of earthtones in its color scheme, including these textured diamonds of dark brown against tan along her walls. She commented that at first it seemed a neat idea, only to realize dark browns plus messy textures (coupled with being a bathroom) gave the almost unavoidable impression of, in her own words, "sponged-on poo." 

The print being a thumb doesn't help things much. 

06 July 2013

I Made A Thi(rd Thi)ng

Actually got a watermark for the reverse side on before making the cuts. Not sure what kind of society I'm creating with these symbols (the stylized crown, the blossom, and now dice), but they're either very far ahead of their time, or extremely set in their ways. The dice were a result of complete spontaneity. I had a flashback to going to a casino and seeing these "reward cards" that some of the more elderly patrons would insert into the video poker or slot machines. I don't know exactly what they were for, but I found it funny that they were attached to lanyards or those springy rubber coils. It reminded me of the keys for Jet Skis that attach to your life vest, so they kill the engine if you fall off. 

04 July 2013

I Made A(nother) Thing

I don't know if I'll make these kinds of entries (or videos for that matter) for every card I make, but it feels like a good groove to settle into for a while, so here goes nothing. 
This one's got a reverse side. Still not a "watermark" like I'd been planning, but as I'm still using pasted-on bits of graph paper, I guess these don't exactly lend themselves to that style. The "profile" in the upper left is the result of a rubber stamp rubbed along its edge with the brown Sharpie calligraphy pen (then filled in once stamped to help it stand out as it came out very light). I'm not quite sure it works, but it does fit in with the overall concept of the card. 
The story goes that Charles Babbage got the idea for using punch cards for his "difference engines" from train tickets that would have details about passengers punched into little tables printed on the stubs. It's kind of a simple genius, really, given that there really weren't photo IDs back then, and not everyone had the ability to forge tickets.