Subversive Movement

Last night I went to another Nerd Nite event with my friend Chester.

Nerd Nite Feb 2014

This time, the topics were esports, staphylococcus aureus, and culture-jamming.

The first topic was pretty entertaining. It was about the rise of esports (professional video gaming) and the comparison to traditional (physical) sports. The speaker made the point that esports professionals want the same thing as traditional sports professionals, and work just as hard to “make it.” He started with this video clip:

Most people in the audience did not realize how impressive this was, so he broke it down for us. Because Daigo (Ken) starts the clip with such low health against Justin Wong (Chun Li), he plays somewhat cautiously and hits her just enough to fill up her Special bar. Then he baits her into using her special, which is a 17-move combo. The only way to take no damage from the attack is to perfect parry each hit of the combo, including that mid-air parry which leads into his combo that defeats her. Perfect parries require exact timing (only a few milliseconds of leeway). Much more impressive now, right?

The second topic was a bit scary. The speaker attempted to use a “warning bunny” to warn of upcoming graphic slides, but the system did not work very well, because more than half her slides were fairly gruesome. Luckily, the visual aids did not bother me. Rather, the information did. I had no idea that staph was so prevalent in our everyday lives. 20-30% of the US population are persistent (asymptomatic) carriers of staph, and another 30-50% are intermittent carriers. Staph is very commonly found on our skin, and only gets truly scary when it gets inside. But that could happen with any minor cut or abrasion!

The final speaker was very intriguing. He defined culture-jamming as “being cool” or “sticking it to the man” and could be anything, even something as simple as drawing a moustache on a poster. The thing was, back in the 1950s, the consequences for these “subversive” actions could be much more serious. This was the height of McCarthyism, and the “cool” folks could lose their jobs, property, or freedom for these little acts of rebellion. Keeping those risks in mind, the speaker focus on Jean Shepherd (of A Christmas Story fame) and his old radio show. One of the cooler projects he did was getting listeners to go into bookstores and request a fake book, I, Libertine. Back in those days, best-seller lists were ranked by demand as well as sales, so this non-book actually made it onto the New York Times Bestsellers!

All in all, we had fun and learned a little something new. I think we’re going to make this a regular thing.

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1000 Treasure Hunters

Hollywood Treasure

Fresh from our victory at Escape from the Magic Show, my friends and I were eager to win again and assure ourselves that it was not just a fluke, so we made sure we attended the next Real Escape Game event – 1000 Treasure Hunters.

1000 Treasure Hunters

This game was not in the usual Real Escape Game format. Instead, it was similar to the Escape from an Angel game that they held during the previous J-POP Festival. We were again running around Japantown looking for clues instead of sitting around a table.

This time, though, there were no limits on team sizes and no time limit, either. (Well, it was a two-day festival, but you did have to finish on the same day you started, so it was to your advantage to get there early in the day.) They had 1,000 entry packets with the materials you needed to get started, so there were 1,000 players running around at the same time, much more than at their other events. If you finished, you got a dog tag as well as entry into a raffle to win some cool Real Escape Game gear, like the treasure chest from their Mysterious Room game!

Treasure Chest

Well, we did manage to finish the game (and learned some new factoids about Japantown), but sadly we did not win anything from the raffle.

Reign Supreme

One of the most common debates about Batman is “What is his best gadget?” It is a tough call because he certainly has a lot of toys to play with. Some people take a flippant stance, while some are more practical. I definitely agree that his most iconic gadget is the batarang.

But his overall best gadget? I would have to go with Batman’s make-up kit.

Matches

I know that seems like an odd choice, so hear me out. Sun Tzu said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” Well, he said a lot of things, but most of it can be boiled down to “knowledge is power.” Batman knows this well, and his make-up kit is his best gadget because it allows him to gather intelligence and spread disinformation, whether as Matches Malone or one of his other aliases. His intelligence network is what allows Batman to be so effective.

I bring this up because, like many people, I am spending a good portion of my workday distracted by news updates from Boston. At the time I am writing this post, local police have identified the Boston Marathon bombers as two Chechen brothers. On-the-scene reports of a “Saudi national”, as well as wild after-the-fact speculation by mainstream media and the Internet of varying profiles all ended up being dead wrong.

As soon as I saw the reports of Reddit and 4chan taking action, I knew bad things would happen. They are working from limited intelligence, with no oversight, and with no thought of repercussions.

I understand the need to pitch in, the desire to help set things right again after a tragedy like this. That is why I have taken disaster-preparedness training, became CPR-certified, and donate blood. I am not saying that the mainstream media gets a pass, but they have editors and fact-checkers (presumably) to verify claims. These internet detectives think they are badasses.

Taken

But really, they are living in a bubble. Worse, they are in a million little anonymous and autonomous bubbles. It does not take a Batcomputer to know that some of these folks would take things a step beyond identification efforts, and end up harassing an already distraught family. I am positive that some of them, by virtue of proximity, even took it further.

These guys may think they are Batman, but there are three important differences:

  1. Batman has much better information.
  2. Batman has much better skills and plans to act on his information.
  3. Batman is fictional, so even if he is wrong, real innocent people don’t get hurt.

Nerd Action Hero

Nerd Nite SF 30

Just before Thanksgiving, I went to my first Nerd Nite meeting, and it was pretty cool. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, they describe themselves as “the Discovery Channel, but with beer.” Basically, they have three speakers come on three different nerdy topics. Oh, and the whole thing is at a bar, thus the beer.

At the one I went to, the topics were lock-picking, bioengineering, and organ transplants – all topics that relate to Batman.

First was the lock-picking speech, which was very popular. I never realized how simple it was to pick a lock! He went through the history of locks and lock-picking technique in less than 30 minutes. Plus the speaker had lock-pick kits for sale in the back of the room, as well as kits and locks out for you to try.

Next was the bioengineering speech. They started with ancient prosthetics from ancient Egyptian toes to Gotz of the Iron Hand. From ancient times until very recently, prosthetics were meant to replace some of the function lost from the injured body parts. The Iron Hand was built around 1500, but it was able to hold anything from a writing quill to a lance! Now, though, prosthetics are reaching a point where they are improvements over normal function, like with the “Blade Runner” controversy of the 2012 Olympics, or the knee brace from Dark Knight Rises. Then they moved away from the mechanical and more to the biological, talking about how likely it would be to create Captain America. (The answer is not likely with an existing Steve Rogers, but getting more likely with a Julius Benedict.)

And finally the speech on organ transplants. I thought it was going to be more of an overview speech, but this was a first-hand account by a person with Wilson’s Disease who survived two liver transplants. (And is now doing quite well.) It was pretty amazing to hear about what she went through, and just how convoluted and expensive the transplant system is! Perhaps the most interesting part of it was the gamesmanship involved. People waiting for transplants want to go to where the lists are the shortest, and then want to get as close to death as possible without actually dying in order to get their transplant faster.

All in all, it was a lot of fun, and I’m thinking about going again to their next one, which happens to be tomorrow.

Not So Resolute

Resolution

Around this time of year, everyone likes to talk about their New Year’s resolutions.

Last year, I resolved to get into better shape, which was part of the impetus for this blog. I did fairly well, starting my gym membership in January and working out consistently for most of the year, except for a few weeks of nursing minor injuries. Then in October my full-time job came along and threw a wrench in the works.

This year, I need to get back on the horse in terms of exercise. I have been trying an after-work work out instead for the last week, and it seems OK, but I need to drive because I am not willing to do two round-trip bus rides in one day.

I also want to get back into education mode. Probably start looking into learning a new language. Anyone have recommendations between LiveMocha, Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone, or any other method?

Competitive Balance

Have you seen the new commercial for Coke Zero?

Lesley first turned me onto Ken Jeong when he was on the “Four Kims of Comedy” tour, and I love him as Senor Chang on Community. Possibly the most interesting thing about this commercial is that he exemplifies his on-screen ideology. He is a successful doctor and comedian!

I think I played too many RPGs as a kid, but it got engrained in my head that it was better to specialize than generalize; that you are rewarded for choosing “or” instead of “and.” This is more subtly shown in the Batman comics – he was often drawn as taller and slimmer when emphasizing his detective skills and squatter and stouter when emphasizing his brawling abilities.

The more I grow, though, the more I realize that is not necessarily true. Real life does not have game-design balance. Sure, you want to have some focus in your life, but you also need moderation. And in more modern Batman comics, he is more consistently drawn with a middle-of-the-road body type.

In short, Batman taught me that you do not need to choose “brains” or “brawn,” you can have both! I might be late to the game on the physical side, and some might say that I squandered my best years for it, but as they say, “better late than never.”

Maybe Coke should get Batman to shill for them. It would not be the first time.

Government Conspiracy

Batman’s foes often like to engage him in a battle of wits, so I am always looking for ways to sharpen mine. You might remember that I completed Sequence Unu of Message From Z a month ago. Since then, I have completed Sequences Du, Tri, and Kwar.

Message From Z is not as intricate as the Games of Nonchalance or Stamps from Elsewhere, but it is still quite fun. Here is how it works: you get a PDF guide from the website. It gives you a start location, and a sign, plaque, or painting to look for there. You copy it, and then the sheet scrambles the letters to give you the next location. Lather, rinse, repeat. Once you finish the sequence, you enter the final coded message into the website and get the next one.

The game is still great in that it takes you through parts of town you probably have not seen before. Unu was set around Dolores Park, Du was in the Financial District, Tri was in SOMA, and Kwar was in the Mission. Besides just being a fun way to explore town, these games help me learn more about the local scene, which is a vital area of study according to the “How to Become a Crime Fighter” chapter of the Batman Handbook.

The other great thing about this game is that at the end of each sequence, you get a video message from Z explaining his conspiracy theory about the FIA (Federal Information Agency).

Also, each sequence is decently chunked to be involved but not overly long; I finished each one during a lunch break between classes.

Sadly, after I finished Kwar, Z told me in his video that he was going to send me the final sequence, but I never received it. Hopefully the game designer is still working on it, and this is not a dead end!