I'm just an animal looking for a home

November 21, 2012
by mitcharf
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Skyrim

I’m finally playing Skyrim, almost a year after I bought it.  It is perhaps the best open world role-playing computer game I’ve played.  That said, because of the size of the world and it being so open, I think it does suffer a bit on the role-playing side.  They seem to have hired a ridiculously small number of voice actors given the number of people in the game.  But overall it’s a very enjoyable game.  Some of my favorite parts are the small absurdities that you encounter.  I will give two examples.  I suppose they will be semi-spoilers if you haven’t played the game, although not in any big way.  They both involve optional side quests which don’t have any importance to the main story.  Anyway!

So I’m walking around the city of Markarth when I learn that there is trouble afoot in the Hall Of The Dead (which is basically a combined funeral home and mausoleum).  Apparently there have been strange noises and some of the corpses are being eaten.  I briefly consider the irony that they have chosen to bring this problem to me, a vampire.  On the other hand, nobody seems to realize I’m a vampire, although they sure to love to comment on my extremely pale complexion and the disturbing hunger in my eyes.

ANYWAY, I agree to investigate their little problem.  I’m not in the Hall Of The Dead five minutes when a woman named Eola appears from nowhere and begins talking to me.  Without me saying anything, she seems to be under the misapprehension that I’m a fellow corpse-eating enthusiast.  She agrees to stop eating the bodies here, but wants my help clearing out some zombies from a nearby cave.

I meet Eola at the cave and we merrily slaughter all of the zombies lurking within.  Having done this, she suggests that we have a feast to celebrate. My guess about what sort of meal she has in mind is confirmed when she asks me to lure a priest from Markarth (the same guy who told me about the corpse-eating problem) to the cave, so we can murder and eat him.

I’m already a vampire.  In for a penny, in for a pound, right?  I head back to town and persuade the guy to follow me, under the pretext that I need him to protect me from evil things in the cave, and with the promise of possible treasure.  Needless to say he is quite surprised when we get there and he finds a bunch of people sitting around a dinner table.  Eola performs some sort of hypnosis on him and he docilely stretches out on an altar.  I am then instructed to kill him.

A quick word about vampires in Skyrim.  Unlike with people, the longer you go without feeding, the stronger you get.  But there’s a catch.  If you go too long, you become blood-starved.  In this state, people CAN see that you are a vampire, and this makes them scared and/or angry.  So generally you need to feed regularly, or else sneak around a lot.  Or murder everyone who sees you.  Anyway, it’s easiest to feed on someone when they are sleeping.  If they are awake, then you aren’t given the option to feed on them unless you first use “vampiric seduction”, which is a lot less sexy than it sounds, and which doesn’t work on more powerful people.

Okay, so back to the feast in the cave.  I noticed that I’m given the option to feed on the priest.  I’m guessing the game considers him to be either asleep, because he is lying down, or seduced, because of the hypnosis.  Whatever, I’m not one to pass up a free meal.  Feeding won’t kill him, so this shouldn’t interfere with Eola’s dinner.  So I feed.  This brings me to the first moment of absurdity I want to share — the game promptly informs me that there is now a bounty on my head.

(When you commit crimes in Skyrim, provided they are witnessed, you generally gain a bounty in whatever major city is nearest.  This means that guards will harass you and attempt to arrest you.)

Now, I was aware that if someone saw you feeding, then it was considered a crime.  But:
1) The only witnesses to this crime, other than the priest himself, are members of the cannibal clan who asked me to lure this guy here
2) I’m about to murder this guy anyway

Rather than anger my new friends, I reloaded an earlier saved game and just murdered the guy outright.  This made them happy, and Eola insisted that I take the first bite of the feast.  I felt it would be rude to refuse.  A good time was had by all, and Eola agreed to be my companion.

Days later, Eola and I find ourselves on the other side of the continent, where we encounter a cult in the mountains.  The cult leader tells me that in order to prove myself, I need to show that I am a good liar.  How am I to do this?  Simple.  Convince someone to follow me out to this cult, lead them to a nearby pillar, get them to touch it, and then murder them.  Seems simple enough.  I walk over to the pillar in question, just to get an idea of the lay of the land.  Eola, my faithful companion, having heard this entire conversation, and having already seen me murder one stranger at the behest of another, calmly follows me.  We both stand there regarding the pillar in quiet contemplation.

I decide that I like Eola too much to murder her, so I tell her to head home.  I go to a bar in a big city and hire a sellsword into my service.  He obediently follows me back to the pillar, and touches it without question when ordered to do so.  This causes him to be paralyzed in place by some power, and I murder him with a dagger that the cult leader gave me for this purpose.

A few days later I’m walking around some city when a courier runs up to me.  He informs me that I have inherited some money from a friend who died.  He gives me money and a letter.  Reading the letter, I learn that my faithful sellsword left me 300 gold in his will.  Funny because:
1) In the day between the time we met and the time I murdered him, all of which was spent traveling from the city to the cult, he was able make out a will, and
2) Chose to leave me 300 gold, and anyway
3) I’m not sure how anyone found out he was dead, since I killed him in a pretty remote mountain location (and later killed everyone else in the cult, at the behest of the demon they worshiped).

Oh, Skyrim, you make murder and betrayal so amusing.

November 16, 2012
by mitcharf
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Bluetooth keyboard for Android

I want to write blog posts from the comfort of my bed, buried beneath cats. I generally leave my laptop on the kitchen table, tethered to monitors, speakers, etc. I am writing this entry using the WordPress app for my new Samsung Galaxy S3 Android phone. I’m liking the phone, and before it, I liked my iPhone 3GS (despite its lack of a camera flash at a time when even the cheapest phones had them). However, typing on a virtual keyboard is, for me, much slower and more prone to typos. The prospect of writing a lengthy blog post on here makes me long for the sweet release of death. While many would doubtless cheer anything which would induce more brevity in my writing, this sentence alone demonstrates how foreign to my nature that would be. The voice dictation system on this phone is surprisingly good, but still prone to mistakes, and not good with proper nouns. So I’ve decided to look into Bluetooth keyboards. I don’t have much more to say about this at the moment, since I haven’t done any research yet, and the true motivation for this post was to test out the Android WordPress app. But I’ll try to remember to post and let you know what I end up getting, in case anyone else has a similar need to be freed from virtual keyboard hell.

October 15, 2012
by mitcharf
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Martyrs

This post is about the 2008 French movie Martyrs.  This post will contain spoilers that will absolutely ruin the movie for you if you have not seen it.  This movie is not for everyone, however.  If you do not like horror movies, then I suggest you avoid it.  Even if you DO like horror movies, a lot of people find Martyrs to be pretty disturbing on a number of levels.  I do not put it in the category of movies whose sole goal is to shock you, I do not think it is an especially gory movie (by the standards of modern horror), nor do I feel it is torture porn, but I am aware there are people who would disagree with me on those things.  In fact, that is part of what motivated me to write this post.  I am interested in discussing certain aspects of the movie with other people who have seen it.  If you do choose to see this movie, I highly recommend you avoid reading anything about the movie before watching it.  That’s how I first experienced it, and I think that it’s the best way to see this movie.  More than with most movies, knowledge of the plot will ruin things for you.

If you want to buy it, it’s available on DVD and Blu-ray on Amazon.  It may or may not be available for rental at your local video store.

There are significant spoilers beyond this point.  If you have not seen the movie and ever plan to see it, I strongly suggest you stop reading.

Okay, so I have three main things I want to discuss.  I’ll start with the ending of the movie, since that’s what indirectly led to me writing this post.  So, at the end of the movie, the old woman who appears to be the head of the “cult” kills herself after hearing the testimony of the martyr.  We are told that the martyr’s testimony lasted for quite a while (I forget the exact duration, but over an hour I think).  Before the old woman kills herself, she has had some time to digest what she learned from the martyr, and she has a brief conversation with another guy in the group.  I am paraphrasing here, but I recall her conversation with the guy being something like this:

Him: There is something after death?
Her: Yes.
Him: Was she clear?
Her: Yes. Her testimony was clear enough that it cannot be interpreted in multiple ways. Can you imagine what awaits us after death?
Him: No.
Her: Good. Keep doubting. <kills herself>

The question, of course, is why did she kill herself?  What did the martyr tell her to cause this reaction?  I saw three main possibilities:

1) The martyr told her there was nothing after death.
2) The martyr told her that when you die, it is an utter paradise.
3) The martyr told her that there are terrible things waiting after you die (either for everyone, or perhaps just for people who had done evil like the cultists).

Option #1 would likely fill the old woman with despair, which could explain why she’d want to kill herself.  My initial reaction is that why would you kill yourself if you knew for a fact that there was nothing after death, but I guess for some people that could be an incentive to do it.  If you are deeply unhappy, then perhaps the only thing stopping you from killing yourself is the worry of being punished in the afterlife.  Or just the uncertainty of it.  I guess the knowledge that death would definitely mean the end of suffering could lead one to be more likely to kill themselves, especially if that person (like the old lady cult leader) had devoted a long time to learning what was after death.  She seemed convinced there was something, so learning that it was all for nothing could be quite a blow.  HOWEVER, she clearly states to the other guy that there IS something after death.  And if there was nothing after death, it would be weird for the martyr’s testimony to take so long.  I suppose she could have lied to the other guy, so as to let him live with some (false) hope.  And maybe she questioned the martyr for that long, trying to make sure that there was, in fact, nothing after death.  The more I write about this option, the more it makes sense to me as a real possibility.

Option #2 would explain why the woman was in a hurry to die, but it does not explain why she wouldn’t bother to share this knowledge with the others first.  Why tell her associate to keep doubting?  Presumably this kind of revelation is exactly what they were all hoping for.  So I’m inclined to discard this option.  It does explain why suicide would be desirable, but it doesn’t explain why she didn’t tell the others first.

Option #3 was my original conclusion after seeing the movie.  I took the woman at her word that the martyr saw that there was something beyond death.  I assumed that whatever it was, it filled with woman with such despair that she couldn’t go on living.  But as a kindness she tried to give false hope to the others, rather than tell them the truth.  Does this make sense?  Well, if you knew that eternal torment awaited you after death, would you kill yourself and hasten that?  I guess maybe, if you were truly miserable in life, and you had a “let’s get on with it” attitude.  Perhaps the revelation from the martyr was that the actions of the cult were so horrific that they would suffer eternally for it.  Presumably the cultists felt that the ends justified the means, and that’s how they morally justified their actions to themselves.  To find out that the ends did NOT justify the means, and that they would be held accountable for their crimes… I could see where that could cause the woman to be consumed with both despair and guilt and regret.  So that could prompt her to kill herself both out of despair and ALSO as some kind of penance.  But does it explain why she would lie to the others?  Is she trying to offer them the gift of brief false hope before they too die and suffer eternally?  Possibly.  But you’d think that if what she had learned was so awful, she’d want to say or do something to shut down their cult.  Otherwise they may go on trying to create martyrs.  Although maybe that’s what she meant by “Keep doubting.”  That could be her way of telling them to stop trying to achieve certainty about the afterlife — since clearly such certainty drove this woman to kill herself.

Okay, having worked through this by writing about it, I could see option #1 or #3 as equally plausible.  If anyone reading this has any opinions on this, I’d love to hear them in the comments section.  Is there a possible explanation that I overlooked?  A flaw in my reasoning?  Or do you think one of the above options is the right one?

I recently re-watched Martyrs with my friend Jen C, and of course we discussed the ending.  Today I decided to Google it, and see what other people thought.  There were a number of discussion threads about it, but almost all of them quickly got off topic.  They would switch to discussing two other things, which are the two other things I want to talk about here.  Many people made the following two assertions about the movie:

1) The movie is extremely misogynistic.
2) The movie, especially the scenes of the eventual martyr being tortured after being captured by the cult, were excessive torture porn and served no purpose.

These two points are kind of related, as some people claimed #2 was evidence of #1, since the martyr was female.  But that wasn’t the only evidence offered for #1.  The other main evidence offered was the movie’s claim that women were easier to martyr than men.

I’ll kind of talk about both points at once, I think, since they’re kind of entwined.  In terms of the misogyny, it is claims like these which make me think I may not fully understand what the term means.  I have always taken it to mean “woman hating”.  There is a long tradition of female victims in horror movies.  And there are definitely some horror movies I watch where I find the violence against women to be disturbing.  Usually this is because it really feels like the film maker is intending the viewer to be enjoying it, as though they expect it to be titillating.  And that’s very disturbing to me.  I never got that feeling from Martyrs.  Neither the camera nor the cultists perpetrating the violence seemed to be enjoying the experience.  The violence was delivered in a very impersonal way, and the camera seemed very impersonal as well.  It didn’t move to get reaction shots of the woman’s face, nor was it shot as though from the point of view of the attacker.  It was just an observer in the room.  I am not saying that the scenes of violence were not disturbing.  But people compared them to movies like Hostel, and I really couldn’t see that.

I also didn’t feel that the scenes were unnecessary.  I thought they established a couple important points:

1) The cultists did not enjoy the torture.  True, they did seem inured to the pain they were causing, but at no point do they give the impression of enjoying it.  It was a means to an end for them.  I am not saying this as a defense of the cultists.  In fact, I think it makes the entire situation MORE chilling and disturbing.  It’s one thing to assume an evil person is committing evil acts because they are just evil and enjoy causing pain.  It’s another thing to think that a group of people could do terrible, terrible things while thinking it’s serving a greater purpose.  I think that latter is even harder to witness.

2) If you did not witness the progression of the eventual martyr from her starting point to her eventual martyrdom, it would be very hard for the view to accept such a strong, resourceful person as completely giving up and letting go.  I think the viewer had to see the experience from the martyr’s point of view, in order for the transformation to make any sense.

Anyway, readers, I’m curious if you thought Martyrs was misogynistic, was excessive in its violence/torture, or engaged in torture porn.

I will close by saying that I think Martyrs is a great movie for a few reasons:

1) It leaves you with things to think about and does not neatly explain every last thing
2) It takes very unexpected turns and is almost three different movies stuck together
3) It’s original — I watch a lot of horror movies, and it is rare for one to truly surprise me

Okay, I’ve run out of steam here, and I need to go home and feed the cats.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the movie!

October 10, 2012
by mitcharf
0 comments

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

“But as to how the food is conveyed to her,” exclaimed Miss Greysteel, “no one knows for certain. Signor Tosetti believes that her cats carry it up to her.”
“Such nonsense!” declared Dr Greysteel. “Whoever heard of cats doing anything useful!”
“Except for staring at one in a supercilious manner,” said Strange. “That has a sort of moral usefulness, I suppose, in making one feel uncomfortable and encouraging sober reflection upon one’s imperfections.”

From the wonderful novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.  Thanks so much to Nikki for recommending it to me.  It’s historical fiction about an alternate England in the early 1800’s.  In this world, it is generally accepted that magic was real and used to work, but for some reason no longer does.  Until, quite without warning, it begins to return.

If fantasy isn’t your thing, fear not.  For me, anyway, the real pleasure in the novel is the dry humor and use of language.  The book DOES have footnotes, in case that’s a turnoff, but don’t let that stop you from reading this great book.

June 28, 2012
by mitcharf
0 comments

So many monitors!

I’ve been meaning to write a quick post about this for a while now.  Rarely does a week go by at work that someone doesn’t remark on my workstation setup and asks how to do it.  Behold it in all its nerdy glory!

In some cultures, the number of monitors a man uses are a sign of his virility…

Why so many monitors?  I tend to do a lot of multitasking at work and have many windows open — source code, telnet sessions, web browsers, etc.  It’s nice to be able to find things at a glance, rather than have to shuffle between the multitude of open windows and applications.  For a long time I muddled along with just my laptop and one external monitor, which was all that my laptop supported.  I added a docking station but was disappointed to learn that this did not allow me to use additional monitors, even though it did give me additional graphics ports.  What was a frustrated nerd to do?

Finally I found this lovely device:

It is a USB graphics adapter.  Each one connects to a USB port and allows you to add an external monitor.  In my current setup I am using two of them, and I am considering adding a third.  You can buy them on Amazon for around $45 (they are the same price on newegg, last I checked).  Highly recommended to anyone who has longed for extra screen real estate!  I wouldn’t recommend them for PC gaming, and I haven’t tried them for HD video, but they have served me well for general use and productivity.

June 25, 2012
by mitcharf
4 Comments

Dragon Age sale (and other computer game stuff)

If you like story-rich computer role-playing games, and if you haven’t played the Dragon Age series, then I recommend you check them out.  I mention it because they’re on sale for a ridiculously low price on Amazon right now.  They’re selling Dragon Age Origins: Ultimate Edition and Dragon Age 2 together for $9.99. (the Ultimate Edition includes all expansions/additional content)  You can also buy Dragon Age Origins: Ultimate Edition by itself for $7.49, or Dragon Age 2 by itself for $4.99.  I think the first game is superior to the second one, but both are excellent RPGs and well worth playing.

Speaking of PC games, I just finished my first play through of Mass Effect 3 (the final game in another great RPG series).  Now most of my gaming is spent on Battlefield 3 (which I’d highly recommend to any first-person shooter fans, particularly if you enjoy team-based play).  If you’re playing BF3, I recommend you pick up Battlefield 3: Premium.  It includes all current and planned expansions for BF3, which cost more individually than the premium package costs.  It also has some additional perks, but the expansions alone make it a great value for fans of the game.  If you play BF3, my name on there is mitcharf — add me as a friend and we can play together!

April 18, 2012
by mitcharf
1 Comment

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

I recently read an article which said that the Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark books are being reprinted in new editions, but that the publishers are not using the illustrations from the original books.  Anyone who has fond memories of being frightened by these books as a child will realize what a terrible decision this is, especially if you see the replacement artwork.  Once I read the article I tracked down a used copy of the original books, in case they become hard to find.  It arrived in the mail today!

I bought a hardcover edition of the Scary Stories Treasury.  This includes all 3 original books by Alvin Schwartz featuring the artwork of Stephen Gammell.  You can buy it used on Amazon.

February 9, 2012
by mitcharf
0 comments

Funny/Thoughtful YouTube Videos

Just collecting a bunch of my favorite YouTube videos of comedy and/or philosophy.










http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aPOMUTr1qw

February 8, 2012
by mitcharf
0 comments

Battlefield 3

A post of interest exclusively to fellow PC gamers.  I’ve been playing Battlefield 3 regularly lately.  It’s a lot of fun, even if you’re not a fan of traditional first-person shooters.  Part of the appeal of the Battlefield series has always been the crazy and unpredictable things which end up happening as a result of the vehicles and physics engine.  Just being a passenger in a jeep when my brother Matt is driving it is an experience unto itself.  Anyway, if you have the game, please add me to your friend list.  My username is mitcharf.

If you don’t have the game, you can buy it here: http://store.origin.com/bf3

Here are some YouTube videos of actual gameplay to give you an idea of what it’s like:






January 26, 2012
by mitcharf
2 Comments

Republicans support domestic abuse (just like Democrats hate the rich)

This afternoon I saw the following article posted on Facebook:  New Hampshire Republicans Propose Bills That Prevent Police From Protecting Domestic Abuse Victims

This prompted me to share the article on my wall along with a novel-length block of text.  I then realized this was more appropriate for a blog post, so I’m cutting and pasting it here:

Given the anti-Republican source of this article, I tried to do additional research on this. I couldn’t find any other media coverage on it, but I did find the text of the bills themselves. I’m mainly curious how the bill sponsors are explaining the necessity for these changes. It’s all well and good to demonize the Republican party (I know I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past), but generally there is a rationale behind any proposed legislation, even if it’s one with which I disagree.

In the case of HB 1608, it’s a moot point now, since I did find a news report that it never made it out of committee after the bill’s sponsor refused to show up for two consecutive hearings on it. But it sounds like the first bill, HB 1581, may still be considered this session.

The only justification for HB 1581 that I could find was in a statement of intent within the bill itself, which said “This legislation supports Part First, Article 19 of the New Hampshire Constitution, the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution for the United States, and article V of the New Hampshire Republican Party Platform.”

I presume they are invoking the US 4th amendment’s protection against warrantless or non-judicially-sanctioned arrests. The part of the NH constitution which is mentioned covers much the same ground. Article 5 of the NH GOP party platform is pretty vague, and covers things ranging from separation of powers, states’ rights, English as an official language, and preserving individual liberty.

So, based on all of that, the best I can tell is that this bill was proposed on the grounds that if a police officer arrests someone for an act that they did not directly witness, then this is an infringement of the rights of the person being arrested. With no additional context, I can understand that point. Certainly I in general oppose expanding the powers of the police and of the government, and am a strong supporter of individual rights and liberties. And the laws being changed do address more than just possible domestic abuse cases. However, some sections of these laws are clearly narrowly focused just on domestic abuse, and these sections are being changed along with the others. Given what we know about domestic abuse and the psychological power an abuser can have over his or her victim, I think this is a situation where it is understandable for a police officer to make an arrest based on probable cause, even if they did not witness the victim being beaten.

Anyway, I’m just curious if anyone has any better information on how HB 1581 was justified. I’m guessing it will meet a similar fate to HB 1608, but I’m still interested. In general I am very interested about the motivations and beliefs of those with whom I tend to disagree.

In case it’s not clear, I think most people, regardless of political affiliation, are trying to do what they believe to be the right thing. Well, maybe with a healthy dollop of self-interest thrown in there. But I don’t think many people are motivated by a desire to cause harm or do evil. I wish all politicians would accept this as a given and stop trying to demonize anyone who disagrees with them, declaring them to be evil, greedy, unpatriotic, unAmerican, etc. It doesn’t help us move forward.