Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Street Fighter 5 a lesson in diminishing excitement

Street Fighter II seemingly came out of nowhere and conquered the world. It blew my young mind. It was just a quantum innovation in gaming. We'd never seen such amazing character design. It was like a cartoon you could play. It had these 80's hangover characters in karate gi's but amazingly they could throw fireballs. It's hard to recall with the hindsight of history. But really the Hadouken had the same impact then as the Matrix's bullet-time sequence did years later.

The flaw of that analogy, is that the Matrix is similarly dated, though it's effects hold up better than SFII's frame rate. I would guess, but am not old enough, that SFII had a similar impact on young minds as Star Wars did when it premiered in the 70s.

Then came SFII Turbo, SF Alpha ... more importantly Mortal Kombat came out with it's more adult graphic violence and SF franchise kind of faded at the same time the fighter genre was swarmed with imitators, many of the me too franchises surviving to this day.

I liked Mortal Kombat 2 and 3. But I never liked it as much as Street Fighter. Largely because the artwork sucked. And that is something that I feel Street Fighter has never been eclipsed in. Street Fighter II broke into western markets long before Japanese animation or comics did. The influence Akiman has had on multiple generations of artists since the release of SFII is probably unparalleled, and behind only Jim Henson (The Muppets and Sesame St) and Dr Suess for capturing kids imagination both universally and early in their psychological development.

The difference being that it will remain true for a long time for Suess and Henson, I'm not so sure that any 12 year old kid would be particularly blown away by seeing Street Fighter 4 or 5. Kids get into it sure, I wouldn't be surprised but it must be like discovering Zeppelin at 16, from following back the genealogy of music that kid is into on the market of the moment back to its roots.

The real hidden gem, is perhaps the most perfect video game ever made - Street Fighter III: Third Strike. The peak of the franchise, though not the most popular. I myself overlooked 'the next generation' for quite some time, until I was standing in an arcade and saw how Necro moved across the screen.

That was like seeing a video game with a studio ghibli amorphous blob on screen. It's graphics were just superb.

It then took a long time for SFIV to come out. Perhaps in part because within the gaming community SFIII had so much longevity, it didn't cry out for a sequel, when it had a loyal fanbase still playing it.

I don't know and I imagine there are articles you can read on what caused the delay. SFIV has a lot to merit it in terms of game design, it's just not special and in the end kind of boring.

I first played it after SFIV: Ultra had long been in release. Which meant I had a roster of about 32 players to select from, very few of them new. I'm going to say this - SFIV was basically a reboot of SFII, the original cast were all in the first release of the game, plus some new characters none of which were particularly inspired. By Ultra, you had Ryu, Evil Ryu, Akuma/Gouki and Oni unlocked as playable characters, an evil clone of Cammy and really the only new cast member whose design worked was Juri. You also had a littering of characters from Alpha and Third Strike, and I later learned that SFIV was set after SFII but before SFIII in the timeline, so none of it really made sense.

It was basically a 'lets see what this looks like in 3d' which made for a very boring game, conceptually speaking, propped up only by a love of SF itself. Returning to SFIV from SFII were the car and barrel smashing rounds for the arcade play while dropping things like the parry system from SFIII.

I maintain that spiritually it was a reboot, a software upgrade, of the SFII concept. And it brought us the least inspired end boss perhaps ever - Seth. His design was boring, a bald muscle bound man, with a Chinese Zodiac orb in his stomach being the only point of interest. To be fair, Gil wasn't that interesting either, except having a half red-half blue sprite that actually alternated was the threshold of technological limits when SFIII was released. Gil also made sense, being styled after a greek god, he was the messiah of a cult after all.

Seth just copied everyone else's moves, so combat wise he was a mash up, and really to me I see his precedent in Shang Tsung of the Mortal combat franchise and Gorro, Shang Tsung's champion. Game play wise he was Shang Tsung and appearance wise he was Gorro, almost what you'd expect if those two had a love child.

I realise I haven't gotten to SFV/5 yet, but that's because crucially SFIV was the misstep by Capcom. The let the fandom run the asylum. A problem of this era. SFV stands to be worse.

Firstly, fuck 3d. From the get go. A franchise built on the strength of it's artwork, the Street Fighter 5 characters look like claymation, or worse Clay Fighter-esque. The specials or V-trigger attacks are much like SFIV, using the 3d to change up camera angles and some sfx to create mini pieces of theatre in the fights. These look good presenting a reveal clip in a convention, but I found became annoyingly repetitive in actual gameplay.

Contrast these to the special attacks in 3rd Strike, the screen freezes and gives the player a mere moment to say 'Oh Shit' In fact, let's just compare them now:

Now I deliberately chose the R.Mika reveal just because hers is whimsical (the super art equivalent is right at the end of the trailer) and you can see, I need to actually use cinematography terms to describe what happens graphically when the skill is executed. Minus a parry system too, there's really only seconds of frustrated helplessness if the attack is landed, if you are playing the recieving party of the super art. In Third Strike, even if you weren't the instigator, you could get excited by the prospect of parrying the attack Daigo style.

The streaky streams of watery effect don't do much for me. They seem to have evolved out of the 'inky' effect in SFIV which at least was an acknowledgement that they had moved from 2D drawings to 3D sculptures.

I don't like 3D, I don't even particularly like 3D animation, many a 3D animated Movie I've seen the concept art for, video games too and marvelled at how much has been lost translating the 2D design to 3D rig. That's certainly the case with Streetfighter 5 and is probably the major plughole that drains my excitement.

But that's not all. Even though SFIV featured the entire roster of SFII fighters, Capcom once again drew on that same stable of characters for the initial release. Ken now wears a compression singlet, Cammy no longer paints camo on her legs, Chun Li and Ryu haven't changed, M Bison has gone grey and has tails on his coat, Vega is wearing a shirt... who cares, these characters may be beloved and there may be an extant fan base that wants characters they 'know how to play' but it isn't exciting.

The new characters are also not exciting, with the possible exception of the Maori character. Unforch he seems to have been inspired by Dragonball Z, and I can't see past that.

More unfortunate is FANG the endboss revealed this week. He is more interesting than Seth, and a departure from the Sagat-M.Bison-Gil-Seth hulking tank like endbosses of the series so far. But FANG appears to have been inspired by the Peacock character from Kung Fu Panda 2. Same archetype, insidious, lythe, gaunt, slightly mad, a little aristocratic and very very avian.

The rest of the diminishing excitement, is not intrinsic design flaws, or thought processes, but the product of our times, particularly when dealing with nerds.

SFII comes out, and you have this amazing new feature of having 8 characters to choose from. Ken, Ryu, Chun Li, Guile, Blanka, Zangeif, Dhalsim & E Honda. Which was crazy, its predecessor and most games up til that point gave you an option of 2. Ken in fact was just the 2P carbon copy of Ryu in the original Street Fighter. On your own you pretty much had to be Ryu.

Then the amazing thing was, that after you fought your way tournament style through the roster you had to fight Balrog, Vega, Sagat and the end boss M. Bison. 4! 4 fully formed, concieved and designed boss characters. It was unheard of and nobody imitated it really, no major players. MK just had two and the top boss morphed into all the other players on the roster.

The real innovation though was expanding the player roster to 8, not the 4 unplayable bosses. Street fighter had 2 fighters for each country culminating in the end boss Sagat. So there were effectively more unplayable characters in its predecessor. I suspect the decision to have four executive bosses to fight was a transition.

And sure enough by SFIII you had one boss Gil, and later they added Urien as a sub-boss. And I suspect since Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, the mentality has been if we develop a character we may as well let people play them.

But what will never be captured again is the surprise and mystery of these unknown boss-characters that came with SF2. Even Gil the first time I saw somebody good enough to actually reach him in third strike was still surprising, because SF3 wasn't released in a convention driven era.

The current era now has teaser trailers for teaser trailers for movies. Drip fed to nerdfans who just cannot possibly go without in order to increase their pleasure on release.

I suspect this happened with SFIV but to be honest, I actually paid less attention to IV because of the 3d thing. V I can't ignore though. And it seems they've doubled down on the oversharing by adding the net-release beta versions this time round.

So not only do we have a convention tour where new characters from the roster got revealed or announced each time, but the game gets released for testing by the actual fanbase, and people hacked it and got even more info. Such that FANG who was revealed earlier this week, had had his voice files ripped out and listened to weeks prior to his actual announcement.

Why do nerds do this to themselves? I feel by experiencing the frustrating excitement of 'that looks cool' today, we diminish the actual pleasure we derive from discovering it at a time where we can play it for what it is.

I suspect this is even true of beta testing. With the exception of whether you are playing the betas to gain a competitive advantage in future tournaments. If so, do your beta testing as tournaments at conventions, rather than world wide releases downloaded onto a bunch of nerds computers.

I already know which characters are going to be DLC for a game that hasn't actually been released yet. I know everything there is to know except the experience of actually playing it. And those doing the beta testing, don't even have that to look forward to. Just a continuation of an experience they've had trickled out to them and restricted. Surely making it the most boring way to learn the game.

Street Fighter III is a near perfect game because it was risky. They had one of the best known franchises in the world, they had been eclipsed by then by the Mortal Kombat franchise and Capcom
some how looked inwards and said 'it's the next generation' they went in with a roster of unknown players (they later appended Ryu and Ken onto the roster, but they weren't initially intended to be in it) Designed the shit out of them so they looked and played unique. Kept it 2D, backed their artists and animators and launched it.

What happened to that Capcom? Now SFV looks like a me-too product, a 'sequel' that breaks as little new ground as Fallout 4 does over Fallout 3. The new aspects aren't very inspired. They ask the fans what they want and try to give it to them, the trouble being that fans rarely say 'I want to be surprised' what they say is 'I want Ryu and Ken, and R Mika, and Zangeif and ooh ooh...' And this is what we've got. And they can't let it just drop and see the reaction, they have to tease it out and test it and focus group it and have it trialled by fandom.

I hate this new era of game design. I'd share my suggestions as to what I'd do to make an awesome SF game but it would be hypocritical as a fan to say Capcom should listen to me, when I'm asking them to stop listening to fans.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015


I don't actually know how common this situation is, because it tends to be exchanged between two people in private. If at all. And at least in my case it is very assymetrical, as in I tend to be on the recieving end of the confession rather than the confessor.

But it happens to me periodically, which is to say I have somebody confide in me in a quiet moment after a period of knowing (or knowing of me) that they find me intimidating. I do experience a feeling of intimidation, but most commonly it relates to approaching artists that I actually admire, the thing is that I have a professional need to cross that line and put myself out there. To back down is to betray my craft and if not lose, forestall all I've invested.

Aside from that, the notion of finding somebody intimidating, particularly somebody like me, is very strange from the inside looking out.

I think perhaps best captured by Omar's trip to get Cheerios. Though obviously I am not a rip-and-run gangsta. I'm a call center employee and artist, who has probably earned less than the street value of the package Omar picks up at the end of that clip.

But recently through some correspondence, I had the good fortune to actually get walked through the cognitive side of being intimidated, by me particularly. it's as fascinating as it is frustrating.

There are certainly behaviors I have that are consistent with intimidation. I tend to unconsciously dominate the spaces I am in (once comfortable) and rarely adobt sumbmissive body language. There are times I consciously do this as well. I also have habits of being dismissive of people, terminating conversations etc. That part I can own, and have owned for years.

But the insight was, how much of intimidation just happens in the observers mind. Kind of like this old Gregory Peck movie 'The Million Pound Note' which I just wikipediad and learned it was of course based on a Twain short story. But basically, because this guy has a million pound note back at the turn of the century, he never has to actually spend any money, his wealth never gets tested.

In the same way, having the rationale of somebody who wants to approach me but can't, spelled out for me is an exercise in not even testing the basis of my intimidation. I'm very grateful to this person for writing to me, and in this specific case, it had no basis.

Changing all the deets, the process worked like this. They observed me and concluded that central to my life was a love of pottery and ancient persian history. They felt they knew nothing about these topics and thus would not have anything to offer on them conversationally. So they didn't converse with me.

If these two fields were truly my heart and soul and domain of expertise, then I don't actually need anyone I interact with to know shit about them. This is how I presume everyone works. We all seem to have the intuition that we don't need to hold a medical degree ourselves to converse with a doctor. And some doctors presumably are passionate about what they do.

Indeed, I don't actually need anybody to be anything. Particularly not for me. What I need is to find what is interesting about other people.

I'd like to know more about intimidation. The psychology of it. This isn't the healthy application of anger I am talking about where intimidation is used to avoid potentially costly conflict. But where people find other people unapproachable. I suspect it might be akin to judgement in some way, perhaps its reverse. Judgement is employed most commonly to find people who are even worse than us at things we are insecure about. Perhaps intimidation is where we find people who by their existence emphasise our own felt deficit.

It would apply to my relationship with artists I admire, and possibly fit my friends description as well.

There is of course a self-fulfulling prophecy about being intimidating though, in that I don't actually desire the company of people that cant step to me, or converse with me. Of course, if people can merely enact these behaviors, they are no longer the people I don't desire the company of, they are people I would readily befriend.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Living the Montage

I just finished my third 12 hour day in studio in a row. I'm currently doing a bunch of painstaking practice, the sort of work that gets covered in 30 seconds - 2 minutes in a movie. It'd be interesting to see an actual montage of a kid going away to get good at being an artist. Like they show him hitting a note book at age 12, and then a bunch of select crops as he learns contour, rendering, massing, construction, foreshortening, perspective, composition, colour etc. And then at the end of the montage he is 40 years old, but a master illustrator/painter whatever.

And while I say painstaking, it's where I want to be, and I think that's the secret of the montage. Not that they take a long time in real time, but that they require you to actually love doing that work.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Send in the Actuaries aka Rule of Law

I walked past a guy having an angry rant against muslims on the street today. We're screwed. Really.

I actually don't really know what went down in Paris, the details I know is roughly 130 people dead, the assailants showed up at a concert, a restaurant and several other civilian targets. And one of them said something to do with Syria.

That's as much as I know, and more detail I earnestly don't care about.

I'm sure conspiracy theories already exist, and that is but one extreme of stupidity. The far more normal stupidity committed en masse and abetted by our news cycle, is confirmation bias. Those looking for proof that ISIS and Islam, Terrorism in general is out to destroy the western world for whatever fiendish general inherent badness that causes these acts.

And like a belief that vaccination causes autism, sense is much harder to reastablish than whooping cough, polio etc.

And I wouldn't blame the media, because they are a business. They are under pressure to deliver news people want to hear. News that maintains interest and switches viewers on. I feel the major deficit is in our leadership. And I imagine leadership everywhere has been hearing 'we have to respond to this.'

I would like to see my leadership take a response that is not so much humane as simply human. To say 'we've been hurt and we need to grieve' coming from our leaders, with reassurances that the police, and not civilians on the street are the ones under pressure to deal with the crime committed.

And here I possibly get harsh, maybe even sound psychotically dispassionate. But not only do I want terrorism to be dealt with by police (rather than state vs state warfare, with drone bombs etc) but I'd like the leadership to consult with people who cost terrorism right. Because the problem with public opinion is that it's the same minds that can't figure out the odds of Deal or No Deal, the average person gets tricked out by shit all the time, simple shit.

Like in Thinking Fast And Slow - their example was that a ball and a bat together cost $1.10 and the bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? 10c right? Wrong, 5c. But that 10c is the quick and instant intuitive wrong answer that crops up first in most people's minds. And while people have the capacity to smell the trap and quickly correct themselves before blurting out the first (wrong) answer that comes into their mind, we routinely make mistakes like this without picking it up.

Which is why I want somebody in the leadership circle saying '129 people were killed. By comparison, a lone gunman in Norway in 2011 killed 67 people. The 2004 Madrid train bombings killed 191 people. The 2001 September 11 attacks killed 2977 civilians. The 2002 Bali Bombings killed 202 people.' and just lay down the numbers.

Then some actuary to way up the costs, both human, and financial in the 'classic' response to these attacks. Particularly on the human side, the number of civilian casualties in Iraq alone, from 2004-2011 is more than all the fatalities from terrorist attacks in the west put together by a margin of 100,000.

And I understand the reasons that the fact that civilian deaths at weddings as the result of drone strikes authorised on insultingly minimal intelligence are not reported to the public on a daily basis. But if the world is 'to change forever' in the wake of Paris' attacks, I for one can only hope that it changes in the notion that it's much harder for the powerful to attack the weak now, without it coming back on us.

Regardless of who started it, or what noble cause. The simple fact of the matter is, that if a nation state cant reasonably hit back against the west (indeed the only chance an Afghani or Iraqi combatant has to kill a US or European soldier is if we ship our soldiers over to them). What the weak can do, is attack us where we are weak. And it takes a tremendous amount of effort and coordination for a terror cell to kill a number of civilians that is easily inflicted on whichever nation they represent by drone strikes with monotonous regularity.

And the fact is that the more effective we get at 'fighting' terrorism, the worse terrorism gets. This is one where we need to stop struggling. Because all the decision makers, all the active players win. Civilians pick up the tab.

Civilians don't need to pay for a problem to get worse. They need to grieve, they need to be told to grieve. To sit at home and just cry their heart out.

Remember that scene in Inglorious Basterds? Where the good guys get found out because the British German-Speaker holds three fingers up the English way, rather than the German way? We don't live in that world anymore, where one can so easily be convicted based on foreigness. Those fucking days are gone and they aren't coming back.

The Paris attacks are to a leader, a decision maker, ultimately negligible in terms of the real costs. The psychological costs are what are hard to deal with. Just as it is more likely that your daughter will be killed in your friends pool, than it is to get killed by your friends gun. The former is tragic where the later causes outrage. And civilians getting killed going about their day in the west is outrageous. It breaks a social contract that simply doesn't exist for most people in the world.

A nation that gets outraged about this breaking of a social contract, or 'the sanctity of the theatre' as Nolan described the shootings at an opening of The Dark Knight Rises. Anyway, nations that find this outrageous can't have it both ways. As in, you can't be enjoying the economic benefits of subjecting other nations to these outrages.

Independent agents, furthermore should not be the decision makers for which states go to war with which states. Some ISIS members should not be able to trigger enough wrath to bring down on the nation of Syria and its people.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Visualisation Epiphany

The work doesn't come out like I envision, because I can't actually envision it. This is an expansion of my earlier revelation (by a couple of years) that I don't know what anybody looks like. Which isn't to say I can't recognise people I know. I'm not face blind, but when you sit down without photo reference and try and draw somebody, it exposes that your mind doesn't actually keep a photo in it of a person's face or better yet a 3d model. Instead there's some mental shortcut of a few features and maybe some measurements of how far apart.

In the same way, an idea is not a picture in your head. Just a few floating elements in space.

It's not bad, it's just that you sometimes need to work shit out on the page, 3 or 4 times before it comes together.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

"Mansplaining" Mansplained

I like thinking about 'mansplaining' because it's not that I could go either way on it, so much as I go both ways on it.

And it bothers a lot of men, though I don't know why it should. I can sympathise but not empathise.

Fact is, mansplaining is good or bad in my view, based on context. Good as a consciousness raising exercise/feedback exercise to make somebody aware of their own hubris, often subconscious, habitual behavior.

Specifically when 'mansplaining' is used in reference to a man explaining to a woman what it's like to be a woman, or a feminist, what feminism is. More generally there's a faux pah whenever a non-expert presumes to explain to an expert the experts domain of expertise, either relatively or absolutely.

I'm absolutely pro-that usage of mansplaining, negative reinforcement evoking embarassment. Though in my limited experience of the general phenomena (I once had new recruit I had to train up to take over my old job, and he had this almost pathological habit of trying to teach me what I was needing to teach him) The act is committed as a result of obliviousness. It can be hard to interrupt a man on a roll. 

And here is my limited sympathy: having been a member of my high-school debating team, I've personally experienced being lauded and applauded for making shit up and sounding authoritative about it. MBAs at Harvard have 'air-time' as an assessment criteria (how much attention a student in class can command for themselves) and I'm sure with everything I know of business school, if the Harvard MBA is doing it, it will trickle down in some form to a condoned behavior in every business class and culture. 

I still have bad habits from my own education, the lazy shorthand of making arguments pre-faced by 'research shows...' there's no research, none I would ever bother to verify. It's just a dick move to try and sound convincing, or present opinion as fact.

The thing is, there's so much positive reinforcement of this behavior out there. That's the limits of my sympathy towards men who find themselves getting bitten suddenly in a context that every other time they've been getting a pat on the head for it. That and those TV adds where a family has a doofus know it all dad, but everyone else humors him, leaving him oblivious to the fact that mum or kids are really running things. That cliche isn't based on nothing, I've witnessed the family hostage to a doofus playing the traditional role.

The plain and simple fact is that mansplaining is bad, experts should not have to take lessons from non-experts. That's the wrong way round, the flow has to go from expert to non-expert. Informed opinions to the uninformed. 

Ironically, I've experienced the inversion of mansplaining, often in feminist blog content. Specifically reading original research that explains to me what it is to be a man. This doesn't make it equivalent, it just suggests that the error of assymetrical insight is common to just about everyone. Mansplaining to me should be a matter as banal to deal with as when right wingers try to explain the arguments of left wingers and vice versa. The only complication is that given the narrow political spectrum available to most voters, left and right wingers are kind of equal, where men and women are not.

There are many ways though, down in the detail of what it means to be human and genetics and all that shit that men and women are equal. And as men and women are equal in intelligence, so too are they in stupidity. 

It's just a fact, a bunch of people aren't good at arguing, just as a bunch of people are pretty worthless at the martial arts (or other martial arts). 

And mansplaining gets misused as something to throw at a man asserting any argument, whether it be within his domain of expertise or not. A tit-for-tat tactic in effect if not intention, resulting in men feeling dismissed and getting pissed off and dismissive as a result. And if the patriarchy is the one enjoying all the privelege, any tactic that results in dismissing feminist voices is a bad one.

At best, you wind up with men being selective about the feminist voices they listen too, and that is not ideal. Particularly if they select out any voices that use or refer to mansplaining, because mansplaining has good and instructive uses.

But as a man explained "If you want to gather the honey, don't kick over the beehive" the man being Dale Carnegie and his expertise being 'how to win friends and influence people' which really isn't gendered at all. 

I would speculate that a rich source of progress for feminism and equality is getting the patriarchy to create feminist spaces within its territory, mainly the collective mindset of men. And I suspect it's probably easier than anticipated because most men don't identify as misogynists, and the advantage of privilege being invisible to those who possess it, is that we don't realise and aren't invested in our oppressive behaviors. 

Until you consciously characterise somebody as an oppressor, where people often live down to your expectations. But there's a counterpoint, and hence why I go both ways. I've never had to fight oppression myself, and thus I don't get to say how. So if you want to overuse mansplaining, use it as a weapon rather than a tool of instruction, knock yourself out.

The empiric method really only gets to say whether you should or shouldn't do so. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

"At Least You're Aware..."

I have a very simple approach to ethics, good or bad whatever I discover about myself I have to own it and be transparent.

In my own shorthand I call it 'ethics of the devil' being that the devil is not really a problem in most anecdotes no matter how evil he be, so long as he identify as the devil. He's a known quantity, literally associated in all cultures with being evil and bad.

But it's not for everyone, and I'm not even sure if it stands as good ethics. I just find it practical, as in, I'd rather be known as honest than good. Because if a person finds anything objectionable about me, like my lack of caring for the plight of domesticated farm animals being exploited, then people can treat me as a known quantity, and freely associate with me or not.

What troubles me though, is how many people don't take the obvious objection to my honest stances and choose instead not to object. To apologise for me instead - and what I've heard on more than one occassion is 'at least you're aware of it...' 

And I understand where it comes from, for example there's a lot of white guys whom are not aware of their biases, and their subconscious racism and misogyny that manifests in them hiring, training, developing and promoting guys just like them in their job and industry. These guys aren't aware of their privilege and probably think of themselves as educated and progressive.

Even when criticised for the lack of diversity in their organisations or even in their produce, these guys will be taken aback under the impression that they've fostered whatever they control as a product of merit not privilege.

And hence, I get a 'at least you're aware...' that I'm in the above category in terms of biases and privileges, and yeah, those biases can be subconscious and broadly speaking and particularly in the instant I have no control of it. 

But that I'm aware of it, is little consolation, I suspect it to be the kind of rationalization or halo effect when people want to like me and can't accept the elements of my personality that are distasteful. I have a taste for confronting the distasteful in myself, but I suspect others don't neither in themselves or people they want to be friends with.

Awareness is only redeeming if followed by action. And for the most part when I become aware that I'm less perfect than I presumed, my response is relaxing, rather than acting. 

I shrug this shit off. Much as when I see a photo of myself that I don't like or find unflattering I generally respond with 'oh well, that's what I look like.'

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

I'm a comic artist again

I've been telling people I want to be a comic artist for years. I've written at least 3 scripts for comic projects I've wanted to draw and ultimately had to abort.

But now I've got an indefinitely ongoing one up and running. It's a steep learning curve and I at least am noticing the improvement in each chapter as I move from unconscious incompetence through to conscious incompetence to at this stage conscious competence. 

So while scrappy, I'm quite proud of it. My creative process has long since consisted really of stripping back an idea in ambition until it's something I can do. But as such I'm always producing at the limits of my ambition and comfort. I hope to get at least 15-20 chapters out of this project and currently am sitting on 3. 

So check it out, because I can finally tell people I meet at parties that I'm a comic artist again:

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Naught for Nothing

There's this scene in My Name is Earl somewhere... where it is revealed Earl is afraid of flying, and his brother Randy asks Catalina if she's afraid of anything and she says 'snakes and rape.'

We used to live in a world where there were real things to be afraid of. Furthermore, there was some point in our youths where we learned a bunch of names for phobias, meaning that we talked about fears not anxieties.

Not to trivialise anxiety, nor add to its stigma. I've had one anxiety attack and it was highly unpleasant. I've been afraid many more times in my life, innumerable times. Just today I was reminiscing about a sand dune I climbed in my youth, that being a sand dune created an artificial horizon once you had climbed it, and heading back down had me irrationally afraid of it becoming a cliff. Fortunately a younger kid in our group voiced his fear and spared me the ridicule, but as an adult I realise it was tricking out the automatic devices in my mind hooked up to my eyes and giving me a sense of vertigo about approaching the edge.

I presume this very device has kept many of my ancient ancestors from falling off cliffs and precipices and crumbling rock walls, allowing them to live and reproduce so I can be their ancestor.

Irrational though it was that a mound of sand would suddenly erode away into a sheer cliff face, that fear was most definitely not like my one and only ever anxiety attack. More akin to that were the dreams I had about running, where I would get stressed by the physical sensation of paralysis that occurs in REM phases, as the Victorian High School cross country meets played out in my mind.

I'm wondering though, if I now live in a world where I am surrounded by people who have a reverse ratio to me. Who've experienced anxiety innumerate times and fear once to never. I mean all of us experience anxiety, it's within the normal spectrum of human emotion.

But I seem to, and to be honest, resent living in a world where people are afraid of feeling 'awkward' or 'weird' a perpetual high-school where life's objective is to avoid humiliation.

I feel like I live in a world where dismounting from the uneven-bars induces in me a fear of breaking my ankle, and landing awkwardly, san broken ankles is a good outcome for me. I really don't give a shit about my grace in sticking a landing, just that I stick the landing. Everyone else, someway somehow is operating on a level where the worst possible outcome is that they stumble, ever so slightly.

I suspect some technologist built the world around me, and probably less recently than I imagine (I imagine back to the 80s, but it could have been some disciple of the Buddha) felt like it was possible through modern innovation to remove all human suffering.

Obviously, that hasn't succeeded, but it hasn't stopped a bunch of people from trying. Nassim Taleb has this beautiful derogatory term 'fragilista' to describe entities like Alan Greenspan and Gordon Brown whom set about trying to remove economic recessions from the economic cycle forever, resulting in the current state of the world economy. But that kind of digresses from the point.

Consider that if you are reading this, it's highly likely you have never in your life needed to actually contemplate a concept like 'food security' which refers to your access to basic calories of food intake. You've probably stressed more in your life over the excess of calories you consume and probably even expend money and/or energy trying to compensate for just how much food you eat. Even while complaining about being broke.

Whereas large chunks of the world's population do worry about food security, and I don't know, but I strongly suspect, they don't much worry about social anxiety. The populations that hike miles for clean drinking water, I also suspect don't have bullying epidemics driving up youth suicide rates.

This may seem to be straying far from what my seeming problem with people devoting energy to avoiding weirdness and awkwardness is, but I see them as related.

I suspect a lot of people now live under a credo where for various reasons, they think it is possible to get things without giving anything. Buy a house and your capital will appreciate without you doing anything to earn it (although, plenty of people think renovating a property before flipping it does something, I strongly suspect the time you spend renovating before flipping the property contributes more to the appreciation than the renovations themselves.) or that by racking up enough degrees somebody will just pay you to do your dream job. Or that by swiping right on an app your soulmate is going to find you.

And perhaps being able to steal intellectual property, virtually consequence free for almost 2 decades and a booming (at least still in Australia) property bubble have helped seed a mindset that thinks you can get something for nothing, take no personal risk. I went to private school and that certainly drummed in that if you just worked hard at memorising the limited sets of problems you are tested on, then you can pretty much just pick your career.

Give me the society where senior high school students have to bet their futures on a stud-poker match. Where luck plays a visible role and from an early age kids have to accept that sometimes you lose, sometimes you fail and sometimes you just have setbacks.

I suspect some of the worst treatment I receive is a product of a golden rule for this era of extreme risk-aversion, failure aversion. If I apply to a job, where my resume is being reviewed by a person who grew up fearing rejection, that person is likely to not want to subject me to a rejection letter, so they just don't call. Of course, in our current job market where 100 applicants swarm over one position, it's more likely that it simply isn't feasible to contact all the unsuccessful applicants. But say I ask somebody out who could never bring themselves to do so, I am beginning to suspect this is the driver beyond the modern phenomena of simply not answering - particularly as Aziz Ansari pointed out in an increasingly text based communication culture.

Most practically frustrating for me, is trying to draw audiences to an art show from people that would never do what I do. Are studying their hardest so they don't have to. But somebody has to, that's the catch. These are what employers are, the risk takers or descendents of risk takers that gambled big to command the resources.

I'm gambling my future on selling pretty pictures. I'm trying to sell it to people that don't even use their real names on facebook, that don't click 'like' on statuses they like. People that won't answer a question unless it has a clear criteria for success outlined by some academic.

These people understand me as little as I understand them. And yet I have to work with them, convey to them somehow, that because they'd never exhibit their own art in a show, it still means something to me for them to turn up to my show and look at my pieces, and judge them. Yes, I want them to do to me, the very thing they are most terrified of being subjected to themselves.

How do you sell that?

Sunday, October 11, 2015


Of which I'm sure I've called a post before. Homosocial refers broadly to societies/cultures where social activities are carried out in gender groups, or to inversely define it - men and women don't socialise together.

Homosocial cultures bring about all kinds of problems, but it was only while doing a recent run of Inktember (Inktober brought forward a month) that I had the epiphany that these problems aren't distributed equally.

Specifically, I was waxing speculative on the 'mysterious loner' appeal, that is portrayed in pop culture and literature (Bronte sisters etc.) where women become fascinated with a loner, and ultimately attracted to him.

Because I didn't know if this was a real life phenomena, or a bi-product of giving male protagonists a love interest (ie, a protagonist serves a function, particularly in fiction of giving us a relatively normal character to identify with in that world, that is a proxy tourist often meeting and interacting with characters far more interesting than them, like Luke Skywalker, Mad Max etc. this means they are often like the audience themselves out of their depth and in foreign territory, so they don't accept or act in accordance with the norms - giving these characters a love interest helps fulful audience fantasies vicariously - so maybe loner appeal is reverse engineered from this, and is no more real in reality than becoming a Jedi Knight is.)

Anyways, point is, I don't know. It could be a real thing or not, but instead I wrote at length about my experience with being ostracised from a female social circle, where likewise, I didn't actually know what I was supposed to do because I've never been a teenage girl. What was weird was that when I asked my female friends for advice, though almost all had experienced it - nobody told me, or seemed to know, what you are supposed to do.

This article established that it was a real thing though:

And they seem to link to actual research, which I never checked out.

Generalsing of course, observing female social dynamics in highschool exile/ostracism is a form of violence employed by women - social violence if you will. Whereas in male social dynamics physical violence can resolve and relieve social tension (by clearing up ambiguity in a vertical hierarchy) or if the ambiguity remains - exile/ostracism is a form of avoiding violence - two boys agree to disagree and stop associating with each other.

Here an asymmetry arrises. If you are angry at one of your girlfriends, and you have the social clout, kicking her out of your group can feel like a death sentence to her and she can come and beg and scrape and claw her way back in, resulting basically in conformity behavior. Try it on your boyfriend and you may overhear him saying 'I don't know what her problem is.'

This is but one asymmetry though, what got me thinking though, was that a woman who climbs the top of a female hierarchy dominating those in her social circle, could prove almost completely ineffective once engaging a male hierarchy. Which is a problem if you are seeking real power, rather than obtaining it via proxy by becoming the mate of a dominant male who possesses real power.

Here's where it's tricky, I recently heard a female colleague site the old 'boys do better in coed schools where girls do better at all-girls schools' dilemma. You can't enact a top-down educational system that ensures the best performance for everyone. I don't know how widely known this sentence is, but evidently parents still send their kids to coed schools, and parents still send boys to all-boy schools. So there's a persistent difference of opinion.

The trouble is that I've never had it defined for me as exactly what 'do better' means. If we are talking academically, then this finding isn't worth the energy burnt to illuminate the pixels on your screen. If it is more holistic, taking into account in particular mental health/life satisfaction outcomes and actual non-academic career outcomes then it is worth paying attention to.

I'm not a parent but I speculate that regardless of the genders of my children, I'd send them both to coed schools in any circumstance. I see it as an extension of my preference for dealing with what is.

But I'm not consistent on this principle. In economics I'm all for segregating an economy so you can actually operate things like decent labor practices without having to worry about what the most populous nations of Earth are doing with theirs. I could rationalize that acknowledging that an economy like Australia is not going to have much sway over Chinese labor practices and subsequently throwing up some barriers to trade (particularly in the labor market) is a way of strategically dealing with this ''what is' but then I'd have to say, removing men from salience in the minds of female students would be dealing with 'what is' in the exact same way.

And furthermore, I'd be the first to agree that not just women, but any in-group needs safe and exclusive forums within which they can discuss and understand the world in which they live. In the same way that the House of Commons needs parliamentary privilege so they have a safe place to criticise their head of state.

The trouble is when you become homosocial, which needn't apply only to genders, it arises quite commonly and naturally in one form or another - when you socialise exclusively with people who think like you do.

And the big problem is the asymmetry, if rich people of influence only associate with rich people of influence, that's a much bigger problem for the poor and under-represented in society than it is for the privileged elite. Likewise, if feminists just operate in their safe spaces for women, engaging by and large exclusively with other feminists and industry continues to be dominated by a patriarchy, that plays right into the patriarchy's hands, and is a problem for feminists.

One of the wanky things I've heard said about artists was 'artists move freely through society' but it is one I would concede to be true. I socialise with bankers down to drug addicts, and for some reason dress codes and even enclothed cognition don't seem to apply to me. Last year I had a Friday evening Christmas party with fellow deadbeat artists, the next night I was at Christmas drinks with Cardiologists. I like it, and I actually don't feel much ingroup-outgroup dynamics.

Artists can certainly get cliquey, and this generally results in those artists being shit. It's a long time since the impressionists formed their own Salon, and people popped their monocles in reaction to any art. But I know in my prior life as a Sales Support worker for a power equipment importer, that in the three years I worked in that department, I saw the world through a prism that greatly overvalued the importance of things like rainfall, exchange rates and demographic shifts power tool usage.

Or as Malcolm Gladwell loves to quote 'To a worm in horseradish the world is horseradish.'

There's a delicate and dangerous balance between creating a safe place for like minded people to gather and discuss ideas, and forming a homosocial clique. Fortunately, I am a white straight male born into middle to upper class Australia. If I screw up and live in a homosocial culture, my advantage is most likely going to compound. If you don't belong automatically to an absolutely priveleged outgroup, ie a disadvantaged outgroup, you can stuff up, and stuff up badly.

Strangely, disability advocacy groups seem to understand this, even as they naturally employ many people with disadvantages internally - their mission is almost always about raising awareness and fostering opportunities for inclusion. But disadvantages along the lines of gender or race feel to me, far more prone to playing into an us-them dynamic, ostensibly wanting inclusion but focusing on their own and the outgroups relative otherness.

I could be wrong, but I look to Japan where homosocial culture is actually a big problem. Women only train carriages being a testimony to how unsafe a place is for women rather than a triumphant safe place for women. Then there's the national crisis of plummeting birth rates (preceded by plummeting marriage rates), and the ageing population. Japan appears to be the first nation where women and men are losing interest in each other. For some reason I expect it will be rougher on the women than the men though.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Nerd World

Youtube has brought about a fascinating portal into a world that previously you either understood intuitively because you were a prt of it, or you didn't understand at all.

But now the observer can observe without fundamentally changing the environment. That world is nerd world. You can gaze on it via youtube clips called 'let's play'.

I didn't really stumble on nerd world by accident. Rather resentfully. What I as an artist was looking for was the mind numbing hours of entertainment videogames provide without needing my hands that were occupied with drawing.

The annoying thing was that these lengthy youtube playlists arent just screen capture recordings of people silently playing video games, but often come with the commentary of the nerds playing these games.

At first I felt like offering the advice I heard was often offered to non-comedian talk show guests, 'don't try to be funny'. I've written before that for me the defining character trait of nerds is a lack of imagination. Hence the draw to high fantasy epics and computer games and movies with lots of explosions and plot twists, because to the unimaginative a little entertainment goes a long way.

But I strongly suspect that an being easily surprised makes for a geat comedy crowd and really shitty comedians. (Scarily alt-comedy rooms may subsequently be able to feed off theselves)

So at first I was in pain but at a loss for reliably long sources of quality entertainment.

Eventually though, I began to appreciate being able to see the world through the prism of a nerd.

I'm sure many nerds have for example heard about Donald Trump's run for the gop ticket or the mike brown ferguson riots and other topical news stories. They may even have strong opinions about matters of social justice. But in nerd world, the decisions of blizzard game designers are actually important to their lives. The inclusion of characters in the street fighter 5 roster are worthy of debate.

Which isn't to say matters like these are important. They are in fact quite sad, and sadly unlikely to be improved by actual fans, just like fan fiction's greatest contribution to the world is 50 shades of grey.

But we are most judgemental of others when they remind us of ourselves, and it is what nerds can teach us about ourselves that makes the study of this human extreme worthwhile.

The ability to get emotionally invested in the completely trivial at the expense of a real and fascinating world around us is common to us all but exemplified by nerds.

I'm afraid though if you are having belly laughs to the commentary in-jokes of a lets play video there's probably no helping you.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The days that are hard

When you are in the zone, your muse is singing, you are experiencing the neurological state of flow, being an artist is easy.

The days that are hard are when you aren't. The work is sluggish and feels like actual work. And that's when you can just put your pen away as a hobbyist until you feel it again. But I think when you want the job you have to enjoy these hard days too. Work through them to set you up for more flow. Like running through your wall in a marathon.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Marry Well

A few hours ago I recieved a text from my motherto inform me she's coming home for her uncle's funeral. I expressed my condolences for this great uncle I'm not sure I met and then I recieved this backstory about her paternal grandmother's family not liking my own grandma.

My maternal grandparents were a mismatch. An unhappy marriage common in that day and age where divorces were unfortunately uncommon and furthermore came with dire economic consequences for mothers.

And yet to some extent I, two generations down, am paying for the mismatch.

I don't want to sound like one of those 'we gotta get the population down' dipshits whom are the grown up uneducated version of smarmy private school dipshits that argue the merits of totalitarianism, both of which have to be argued from the perspective of the least favored in the solution.

But I do wish we just removed the pressure to find a mate and have children in general. Not that I have problems with breeders, but that I have problems with settlers.

Looking about at your friends that tend to care about this shit, what do you observe? Broadly speaking people who do relationships tend to date 3-5 serious partners before marrying the last one.

In the breakups people do ask a lot of questions of the world and themselves, but do they carry this over to the hookups?

How common is it for a person to actively ask 'how is he similar to the last guy I dated?'

I'd say not common at all. Generally Tristan can be very similar to Trent, the crucial difference is that Tristan has a clean slate, he may have a history of cheating but he hasn't cheated on you (yet).

It's also not uncommon for the next partner to actually be the last partner. Is it more common, do you feel, for somebody to ask 'has Trent changed?' Or to say 'Trent has changed.'

And for that matter have you changed?

I pride myself on learning from past experience, though I'm not sure I am lsuccessful. But one thing I wont do for example, is date somebody because I can. This isn't to say I pursue unobtainable partners per se (though the result is largely the same) but that I won't ever again enter a relationship because someone is perfectly nice and into me and I do get lonely. That's not enough.

I've even learned from non-starter relationships what is now an article of faith for me - "wishing somebody would change is at the expense of the person who actually is that someone else." And that cuts both ways, I won't date somebody that gives me the impression they need me to be somebody else.

These though are lessons specific to my experience.

I watched the Big Bird documentary earlier today. I was touched many times over but he was a guy that had been married to both the wrong and right woman. Particularly touching was when he described crying inside the big bird costume as he was going through his divorce.

His children are rare exceptions, born into an unhappy marriage they were raised in a happy one and loved their stepmother.

I remember reading in 'How to Love' about histrionic personality disorder how histrionic make 'poor child rearers' and I think thats a good hueristic as to whether you're settling for a particulalry poor partner. Based on how they treat you and what you know of them, would you really put your child in their arms? Or are you hoping that parenthood will change them?

Maybe not. Earnestly, I don't know if people with low self-esteem for example, would be capable of having the double standard for their children. I don't know.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Right now we could all be reading a book"

Not that I read.

But this line from the Boondocks cracked me up.

I like the Boondocks because it has almost nothing to do with the white man. When he does feature he'll be voiced by Samuel L Jackson, or he'll be a cruel punchline. Exploitative, mean and ignorant. A good enjoyable burn in other words, and I think in it's most sensitive and fair treatment of white racism, the Boondocks portrays accurately how little racists care.

Where it is great is on it's commentary of activism, where it has been itching a scratch of mine exacerbated in recent times by actually reading my facebook newsfeed.

I think more than any other series I've ever seen the boondocks demonstrates that there are morons on both sides of any debate, including the right side and they undermine actual progress.

Take the institutional racism in the American judicial system. Because african Americans are disproportionately convicted (and arrested, and probably advised to take plea deals) but the show satirize R Kelly's underage sex tape going to court and defense building a case around Kelly being a victim of racism.

Or having Martin Luther King Jr awake from a coma and criticize current bslack culture as being symptomatic of their oppression.

I cant really disect a show i couldn't write myself and could never execute. But I needed to see it.

My social network crowd is a progressive crowd, left leaning liberal bias. Thankfully most aren't activists (social media activists) and none so far as I'm aware are conspiracy nuts that worry about the gold standard being defunct and shit.

For example, you're on the right side of Australian history if you are pro marriage equality and pro meeting our human rights signatory status on asylum seekers.

But you are confused if you call yourself a 'real Australian' to welcome refugees. Or think it necessary to counter protest a protest people that aren't protesting any actual legislation, in a country that has already voted and ridiculed the one nation party out of existence. And you are confused if you applied the rainbow filter to your facebook profile picture and then bandy terms like Islamophobia around for people who are protesting sharia law.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015


Thinking takes energy, so if you can avoid it your brain will. And hopefully that last sentence helps you avoid having to read Daniel Kahneman's very thorough book 'thinking fast and slow'.

One way we commonly avoid thinking is to use 'substitution' which is when faced with a difficult question that requires effort to answer, we substitute the question for an easier one and then use the answer to the easier question.

It's a really common mental habbit. And it conserves a lot if energy, furnishing us with 'good enough' think using 3.14 instead of the actual number of pi.

The most problematic substitution though are the hard questions, the example from the book was this:

How happy are you with your life over past 6 months?

How happy are you with your sex life over the past 6 months?

Presented in this order responses don't correlate, peoples consider each question, reverse the order suddenly the answers do correlate.

Sex life bad = overall life bad. Can do it with career as well.

What i feel i see is that this doesn't apply just to filling out questionnaires but when it comes to actually trying to solve the problems of what to do with our lives. Even though the moments may be just as fleeting, it translates to decisions and translates to actions.

Figuring out what will make us happy is a hard complex simultaneous equation with at least 6 variables to solve for anddealing in absract rather than concrete terms.

How to achieve happiness = hard. How to achieve status = easy.

At least the how to part.

Take any wayward 20 something and what advice is offered them? Go back to school and change career (or become a career academic), or just plain get a job. If the job isn't the obvious solution it'll be a relationship, specifically - get one. Or get laid depending onthe coothness of your vizier.

I'm not saying career and relationships aren't crucial components of happiness. Perhaps though that is why sex and money are the two main indicators of status.

A career that makes you happy winds up requiring a lot of things working in concert and money isn't necessarily going to be in the mix, let alone significant.

Sex may feature in your most important relationships, but it's unlikely to define over the long run. Conversation is. Again complicated.

But how many people in their internal lives carry a status objective as their priority?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


The trouble with history is that we tend to focus on the least identifiable characters. To an extent, i mean go back to hunter gatherer times, we don't, we call this period pre-history.

But what were most people doing in western europe and northern Africa when Julius Caesar was walking around? Most people were toiling the fields.

See what I'm saying? Probably not. But it's the old ordinary versus special causes, and we are for the most part blind to ordinary causes. Let's say 5% of the population are especially influential. Then 95% are ordinarily influential. The 5% don't regularly occur and so we notice both them and their impact. A "management by exception " approach. 

Most of us live quite ordinary lives resembling quite closely many other people. 

Here though is the point, look at a serf or a slave 600 years ago, what did their lives comprise of?

Days of toil to sustain their existence, support their family and pay taxes to the church. Reduce that further, you have people toiling away in service to an imaginary being. (Even allowing one of the major religions to be true leaves the majority of people serving an imaginary being.)

Now look to modern western life. What has changed?

People toil in service to imaginary beings. Just the details change. The gods are corporations, for the most part, legal entities whose interests most people dedicate most of their waking hours to. No more real than the pantheon of gods were.

The elites derive their authority from these persons, but are still subject to time and chance.

This is no conspiracy this is a habit we possess, perhaps no different than our ability to engage in sport or root for fictitious characters. 

Get what I'm saying?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Relationship advice reduction

Date somebody who is happy.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Furiosa & Others

Mad Max: Fury Road is totally worth seeing, a film to capture the imagination. I'm not really a long time fan of the franchise. In fact I tried to watch the original and was surprised to find it almost set in regular regional Australia. I didn't expect it to be about a cop taking a vacation in a post apocalyptic world. It was late, I picked it up in the middle, and I was tired and I gave up.

I'd heard some buzz about Furiosa, artists in my news feed were doing fan arts and some female friends on face book making a lot of typed noise about how exciting a character she was. I was excited, trepidatious even to see a strong female character, and I guess my expectations were ratcheted up to expect something I'd never seen before, a breakthrough, a gamechanger, a new character - to evolve into an archetype. Because I have an intense personal... I couldn't say interest, being a man... but curiosity about the challenge of writing/creating the SFC.

'The strong female character' is problematic, and the history of cinema is littered with spectacular failures and near successes and it turns out to be for me at least, an activity that bends the mind into a pretzel. These failures I feel are succinctly parodied right here.

Mark Twain wrote 'they didn't know it was impossible, so they did it.' and it's possible that the stuff I've looked at when looking into gender is a case where more information confuses what I might have intuitively or naively got right before contemplating. What I'm saying is, that it's entirely possible and even probable that I am stupid.

Seeing the film last night though, what was the true revelation of Furiosa was the insight into the invisibility of my own privilege. Furiosa will be memorable to me as part of an ensemble of memorable characters in a memorable film.

I had the sense that she was nothing new. But I'm very often guilty of hype backlash, my confirmation bias looks to evidence to support the contrary. On my ride home trying to prove the nul hypothesis, I did find it hard to recall any of her precedents. Like literally coming up blank. This was what whacked me in the face, given that Furiosa is just a character that drives a truck and fires some guns.

It appeared a land grab, an ideological land grab. A real coup for what I have thought (perhaps more specifically to men trying to write female characters) was the best process I have come across. I wouldn't be able to track down the tumblr picture that was my source, but it's basically:

How to write good female characters:
1. Create an awesome character
2. Make them a woman

For me though, the admission I have to make is my own prejudice and biases and stereotypes I carry in my head about gender that makes this process the best I've found, for me. Which is to say, I use an augmented version 1 is really - write a man. Then step 2 is having done this, go and put an 's' in front of every 'he', change the 'his' to 'hers' etc. For me it's important because it prevents me from trying to write a female character, which if I do, I lose the authenticity. Stephan Donaldson once wrote about his 'The Gap' series that every character came from him, so was him and think this is generally true.

And it comes to my mind that the difficulty with which I could recall Furiosa's precedents is key. The technique above plays to my ease of recall for writing strong male characters - batman, daredevil, every samurai ever, superman, mad max, John McClane, John Rambo, Indiana Jones, every video game avatar just about ever. And that's just naming protagonists, and sticking to the more dated and narrower archetype, forgetting revolutions like Peter Parker - the first two dimensional hero and the many nuanced flavors of strong male characters. Villains can easily become antiheros etc.

This morning, Furiosa's precedents came in a wave. The perplexing thing is that one of the trailers before mad max was for the next terminator film, yet I couldn't think of Sarah Conner (her terminator 2 incarnation, rather than the original) which in turn points further back to James Cameron's other sequels in the form of Ripley in Aliens, and if you are talking a visual precedent for Furiosa, certainly Ripley in Alien 3. Then you have Tarantino's female characters, Jackie Brown came first, but Beatrice/The Bride in Kill Bill is perhaps more salient.

But of course, it depends. For me, there's a mind-pretzel bending fine line. And from my reading 'What does it mean to be a woman?' is a very hard question to answer. One I am particularly unqualified to answer, admittedly, because I don't even have access to the unintelligible subjective experience of being a woman. But being female, or gender across the spectrum is not reducible simply to the biology of sex. People do transition, do have fluid genders, do have gender identities that don't line up with their biological sex. Even biologically, sex is difficult to draw a line between. There's a whole spectrum, of which our professional sporting institutions and regulating bodies have been trying to answer definitively and scientifically for a long time.

The test of course is going to be - can other women identify with the character as a woman. If so, you have a female character. But when dealing with the hazy clouds of attributes in the Venn diagrams of 'masculinity' and 'femininity' the art comes in, (and I'm little practiced at it, and likely as such to be bad at it) in drawing attributes from the overlap the 'strong' sector if you will, and combining it with the less represented attributes in protagonists that make a for a 'female' character.

The limitation of my above simple two-step method, is that I throw out the female circle from my venn diagram, create any male character I like, and then just draw them as female, or in film, cast a woman etc.

At this point, I should point out in terms of equality between the sexes, there's a really simple question to answer, and that is: even if a protagonist is just the same archetype but a woman as all the male archetypes that came before, just by increasing the number and frequency with which female versions of male characters appear you are moving towards equality. Similarly, if female CEO's are no different in leadership style than male CEOs, you still want more female CEOs because it's about a greater distribution of the opportunity to be CEOs. That part's easy, at least to answer if not implement.

Being born into male privilege, and white male privilege at that, it would be misleading to say I particularly care about equality between the sexes. As a creator though, I am far more concerned with a character being good, and being memorable.

I saw this post in my feed: and if somebody finds the character important out there, and loves them etc. Then they are important.

For me though, my qualitative evaluation is that this character is bad. Badly conceived and poorly executed. She actually seems ham-fisted to me. Bad writing. Just as a super-hero she is what I would describe as 'over-powered' like Superman, who struggles to be interesting under the yoke of his world posing only one credible challenge to his physical robustness - kryptonite. Furthermore, being a double-minority or a two-for as executed here by being a gay latino, comes across as heavy handed something Det. Kima Greggs from 'The Wire' as a character did not.

I also find a failure that being gay latino has come at no threat to her ability to service fans, or compromise male gaze.

I can stand back and say that building up the cast of female comic book characters is across the board good. But this character I would rate as a poor concept, a crappy one, to join the ocean of crappy male characters that populate the comic universe. See Sturgeon's Law on the futility of finding crappy counter examples.

An argument could be made though, that to typecast lesbians in portrayal as being hairy legged, hairy armpitted butch characters of no appeal to sweaty mouth breathing overweight teenage boys is to stereotype lesbians, reducing their femininity and equivocating femininity with being weak. I don't think anybody actually makes this argument, and I wouldn't hold it up with what little I know about America. Going back to hark a vagrant's satire of strong female characters though, I don't think giving a character super strength and fighting ability offsets then putting them in a bikini top and hot pants.

There in lies the challenge, for me at least, whom cares more about aesthetics than equality between the sexes. The answer to the equality question as previously stated is easy, at least easy to conceive, it just needs doing.

Equality is the question 'are women missing out?', I think there is an unanswered question (possibly, it may have been answered and I'm too stupid to percieve) of 'Are we missing out?'

Is there such a thing as 'female comedy' or is it just comedy, and women have been excluded from it?

Is there such a thing as 'female leadership' (in the corporate sense) or is it just leadership, and women have been excluded from it?

I've heard enough about studies of culturally conditioned gender roles to believe women possess distinct advantages men do not, a specific one that comes to mind was a study of what makes for 'smart teams' and was told the result was a 1:1 correlation between how many women are on the team, the more women the smarter the team due to the higher number of people on a team adept at reading the emotions on other team members faces.

I feel that with Mad Max: Fury Road there is a scripting decision that could easily have removed the character of Furiosa entirely. You just needed an extra scene at the start where Max takes on Furiosa's motivation in the film and he could easily have played both roles as one character. It's a much easier exercise to imagine the film as less than it was, than take a film like Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (same male archetype, same basic plot) or it's western adaptation A Fist Full of Dollars, and try and imagine adding a female co-lead version of the male archetype.

But for me there was a sense of redundancy in Mad Max, as Max and Furiosa were in essence the same character. I suspect most will feel the redundant of the two is Max, and my suspicion would be driven by most of the audience viewing the film as a reboot or new film, and overlook that this is Max's fourth appearance, and his function as protagonist is as tour guide to a new and strange world. A person who finds the cultures he comes across as strange as we do, and negotiates and navigates them as we would. As Terry Pratchett said of his character Rincewind, 'his job is to go around the world meeting much more interesting characters than he is'.

I am sure this post is by and large a mess. Largely because I am a mess of where and when I am interested/disinterested in female characters. The hype I experienced with Furiosa lead to expectations that here was a character that would tell me something new about what it meant to be a woman. In hindsight this was unrealistic and unlikely, Furiosa is a product of the imagination of George Miller, not Charlize Theron.

I am specifically interested in the challenge of the Strong Female Character, my intuition that Ripley, Sarah Conner, Tank Girl, Furiosa, Beatrice/The Bride, Jackie Brown etc fall on one side of a line that gets a tick and other SFCs like Katniss, Hermione, Charlie's Angels (perhaps because they are possessed by Charlie), The Black Widow fall on another side of the line that doesn't quite get that tick.

Then there's characters like Juno, the New Ms Marvel, the new incarnation of Barbara Gordon as Bat Girl, Spider Gwen etc. that while new and positive developments in their respective industries, are of no interest to me (being out of their target market demographics) and also don't really resonate as 'strong' being that they don't pose any competition to male privilege. They simply are starting to break up the monoculture of the women that populate a universe and medium that has almost exclusively tailored to a male audience and perspective.

I could write about Thor's recasting into a female character. There's something interesting in using an existing character with built up equity. But I won't, at least not here.

One thing I have to disclose or at least point out is that my list of the more successful SFC Ripley-Conner-Tank Girl-The Bride-Furiosa are my subjective judgements, opinion treated as fact. And what I note about that list is that every single one of those characters is the product of male creators. Dan O'Bannon/Ridley Scott, James Cameron, Jamie Hewlett, Quentin Tarantino and George Miller respectively.

This is both good and bad, on the plus side it establishes that men can step up and write good strong female characters, being capable of doing so, they should. It's also that if equality is going to be achieved or even approached you have to start with the male dominated industries we have. Progress can be made even while you have producers, editors, writers and directors still being predominantly male as a hangover. Women can go see a film concieved of, created and directed by a man and find a character they can identify with as an entry point to a profession and genre they may have otherwise felt excluded from. Over time this should lead to women creating female action heroes that join this archetypal roster.

The bad is that it detracts somewhat that a small collection of men are making these characters, begging the question that the experience of strength and power come more easily to somebody with the subjective experience of being male. One thing to breath easy on, is that representative bias is almost certainly the basis of this list. Sturgeon's law prevails, there are for each successful strong male character thousands of failed attempts. These men's ability to write strong female leads is most likely a bi-product of their ability to write good strong lead characters period, where most writers fail.

But in the meantime, Diablo Cody, Lena Dunham and G Willow Wilson are writing female leads that are breaking up the monotony (the easy question) but represent characters that pose no threat to male privilege (the hard question).

I have my own character and story in my head for a female lead, which is why I'm interested to see how characters like Furiosa turn out, and how they are recieved. I have aims and ambitions in mind for my own output and I will either succeed or fail. What I take away from Furiosa is that there are stories about women that men can tell. My objective is not equality, not explicitly, and while I'm interested in feminism and don't directly oppose equality between the sexes, I feel it would be misleading to identify as feminist, I am not one, and giving due credit to how much of my behavior is subconscious, would be unsurprised if I am in fact quite chauvinistic or misogynistic in effect, though it is never my intent.

In the very least I enjoy my privilege and as an individual would be reluctant to give it up, though I don't particularly care if every other man I knew lost theirs.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

True Dichotomy

I think it is true to the point of truism to say: you either press the advantage or lose it.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Our Dogs

The recent conclusion of my dogs life brought home to me many of the reasons to get a dog. Also much clarity on the nature of grief. Here then is a convoluted collection of my thoughts.

The Day After

The day after my dog died I had to go to the studio and work on my exhibition which was a week away. It was a beautiful day, there was nothing wrong with it except in the continuity of my life it happened to fall right next to the day I put my dog down. It rained sporadically and heavily that day (which I find beautiful) and in the studio the sound of rain is quite amplified by the roof provided which I really like.

Was the day tainted by a sense of loss? I don't know. I can say the week leading up to my dog's death was much harder than the week that followed it. The emotions can intrude upon any moment, before and after her death as the mind prospects or retrospects. Loss can also be bitter or sweet. 

Imagine though that you could take the ribbon of your emotional life and cut it up and rearrange it. You could chuck the grief of loss, of putting down a dog at the start and then have the uninterrupted joy of companionship over the course of it's life. Emotionally you wake up one day with no dog and no grief or sense of loss. You could also arbitrarily through your terrible weeks somewhere in the middle. Would you do it? Would you get it out of the way some time, like eating your vegetables before hitting the proteins?

Would you rather start a relationship with the bitterness of the breakup and then enjoy a comfortable couple of months, years etc before climaxing with puppy love and infatuation? Then to wake up somewhat nonchalant and indifferent?

The first thing is that the terrible feelings of loss are unavoidable, and I would not spare myself the suffering. What is more horrible to me though is the prospect of a relationship ceasing and waking up without suffering the next day because I'd pre-digested it. The time is right, the emotions are right. Grieving may be unpleasant, but I would not avoid it and it can be beautiful. It really only gets ugly when people fight it.

Turns out I was capable of functioning in the wake of my dog's passing. I wanted to. I drew a piece to honor her and my time together. If I had been unable to function I would have made that call also and not gone to the studio. But nothing was forced, nothing was repressed.

The Gift

Bess was old, she lived 50% longer than her breeds life expectancy. She was my second dog and I always thought of her as 'the new dog' even though the longer she lived the greater the proportion of my life she had shared. In fact my new dog had been with me almost half my life. Even so dogs life spans are such that barring a tragedy I should survive my next two or three dogs. 

I think it's a Louis C K bit, I'm not sure but he says the deal of marriage is that you don't die alone. Or rather that one of you doesn't die alone. 

It seems obvious that one half of that deal gets it better than the other. Most people's preference I presume is to die in the company of their loved ones. Particularly their most loved one. 

The worst of my grief was a feeling of apathy towards my own continued existence. An indifference to the reality that I would go on to live a new era without Bess. Being that I recognised the feeling it posed no danger, so please don't worry, indifference is very different to depression or suicidal thoughts. It was much as I feel when I go to a party and contemplate the effort required to talk to strangers and make new acquaintances. A process I will drag my feet through because the rewards are there.

I made two promises to myself, that Bess would feel loved every day and that she would die in my arms. These promises are much easier to keep with a dog than with a person. I managed to keep them, and the last week of her life were stressful because of the thought of dropping the ball so close to the end. It would have been devastating. 

Dogs instinctively may actually want to go away quietly and die, but the opportunity their short lifespans provide all of us, is the ability to experience giving someone company as they die and being left alone in the wake of it. It is good to realise you have the fortitude to be the one who lives on alone. And that you can give this precious gift to somebody else where they by definition are incapable of returning your kindness. As you love a dog, you can become capable of truly loving someone.

Fuck Reunions

If there was an afterlife, an eternal existence, I would admittedly probably prefer to be walking my dogs through some infinite parkland with no real awareness that the walk ever ended. That would be nice, that I could handle for all eternity. But fuck it, the afterlife is a ridiculous concept, and by 'ridiculous' I mean 'worthy of ridicule'.

The great thing about a dog is that their ability to pull you into the present moment. I miss my dog, but I have many, many years experience of walking her on a daily basis. And as per the Lana Del Rey lyrics in the last post 'heaven is a place on earth with you' this I think is the truth of walking a dog. If you can bring yourself to be present for it.

The human desire for the infinite, unending afterlife I think is a sickness in the Zen Buddhist sense, so too with abundance. The desire is a desire to calm the anxiety that we are underachieving, the paradox is that in the presence of abundance we are far more likely to underachieve than in scarcity. Infact just juxtaposing the concepts of abundance and underachievement make the previous statement sound like a truism.

There is no need for my and my dogs souls to unite in some afterlife, we achieved the pinnacle of our companionship while alive, and dogs are masters of doing this. Your best opportunity to do so is with a dog. I have it, it's done. Only dementia can take it away, and I am of the opinion that the tragedy of dementia is that I would already have lost the self that holds such experiences.

Like running a marathon or staging an exhibition, I may have the desire to do so again but what is immutable is the fact that I've done these things. The opportunity has not been missed as afforded by my life. I need no second (and infinite) chances to get things right, furthermore, having had the moments walking my dog or even just waking her with a patting session in the morning, or preparing her dinner (or making her pancakes) I was, long before I started my current meditation regime, able to be present and appreciate these moments. Even during years where my mind was a tumultuous place of stress.

The afterlife can only diminish the value of my actual life, and the lives we share with our pets and everyone else for that matter. Economics may not get much right, but it gets scarcity and value right.

Civilization and its Contents

There are only two things I've done in my life where I'm confident I've done well. One is tutoring a refugee and the other is pet ownership. Say what you will about the pitfalls of human civilization, a well cared for dog though is an achievement. Much as I believe life can only be truly enjoyed when you accept your own mortality, to lesser conviction I believe the human race is on the whole probably mortal.

Sustainability movements, like exercise for an individual may be a good idea, but they are no fountains of youth. I don't see particular value in beating up on ourselves from all the mistakes we have made from being a short-sighted ignorant collective. As 'You Are Now Less Dumb' points out, if any member of modern society were able to be transported back into the middle ages, our ability to recreate the modern world would be negligible to laughable. Civilization is a collective effort, and even a leading physicist, biochemist or electrical engineer would be able to make little progress alone.

On an individual basis, we are mostly passengers that on occassion contribute some minute increment of progress to the whole. One thing all of us can do though, is take care of a pet.

We may be plagued by anxieties, fucked up by our parents, under severe economic strain and questioning our place in the universe. But a dog can have a good life, and we can give it to them. And we should. And feel proud of that achievement.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


I euthanised my dog last weekend, her kidneys had failed, and she was deteriorating rapidly. She was my second ever dog, And I've realised that I think of her as my 'new dog'. A recent member of the family, but she was 15 years old, a quikc google search tells me lab life expectancy is 11 years (10-12) which means physically she was the equivalent of a 120 year old. Which she wasn't. She was for one thing, beautiful and without proper scrutiny was often confused for a pup.

She was also, highly mobile right up until her rapid decline.

It has caused me to realise a lot about death, and I plan to write more when I find time. But I just want to talk about my dog Bess. My love.

I had the opportunity to tell her everything I wanted to say to her. She passed with no regrets from me. But it occurs to me that a dog can't speak English really, I think they can understand emotion fluently though.

But that I can write to you Bess, here and now. Because word wise you have as much ability dead as you did while alive so I thought I'd write you a letter.

Not even, it's this. I think Lana Del Rey is a talented lyricist, and with a few subtracted lines, this sums up perfectly what you meant to me Bess:

It's you, it's you, it's all for you
Everything I do
I tell you all the time
Heaven is a place on earth with you

It's better than I ever even knew
They say that the world was built for two

I think the greatest gift in life is to be surprised at just how much you love something. My recent work on mindfulness allowed me to really be present with you, we achieved something together that makes any escapist desires for a reunion in eternal paradise redundant. We had it, and how much paradise do you need?

The experience can never be taken away from me. And your passing now means that it cannot be tarnished ever. Only love can triumph. You have. I have.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Tamper Tamper Tamper

Congratulations you've got the job. Nothing exciting but it'll help pay your bills while you put yourself through Marine Biology.

$16 an hour. Your job, tossing coins. It gets better, you're unionised so at the very least there's a collective agreement in place protecting you from a repetitive stress injury or carpal tunnel syndrome by restricting employers to one toss per employee per minute.

Good job right, no brainer, impossible to take home, and you get to stand around with a bunch of other employees at a similar stage in life or pursuing similar lifestyles and shoot the shit.

Let's head upstairs though, where the numbers get crunched and the bottom line watched. Here's their deal.

For every coin toss resulting in a head - the mysterious benefactor whose tender they won pays them $100. For every coin toss resulting in a tail they receive no revenue.

Some managers sit around looking at the data that comes through after the first quarter of the tender. They crunch the numbers and it turns out using their industry regulated fair coins the average revenue per toss turns out to be hovering around $50.

Now some truth about coin tossing. Turns out, the odds of coin tossing are quite predictable. Which is to say, 50:50 outcomes. I forget where I read it, but a POW once lacking other opportunities did actually empirically test it, in fact I found him right here. Law of large numbers.

Enter 'management' and inevitably tampering. Tampering is an important concept, a really important concept little discussed and little understood. Anywhere. But it nevertheless is a term, an actual term with a very short Wikipedia entry dedicated to it.

Except that page simple though it is, I feel makes it hard to appreciate. Hence our coin tossing job. Now imagine some manager comes in and tells you that anyone who achieves an average toss revenue of less than $60 will lose shifts. You'd be pretty stressed. Because there's actually no real way to game a coin toss. There's no way to bias a 2 sided object (dice yes, coins no) and most importantly there's nothing you can really do to produce the desired results.

Even without the threat of lost shifts and income, just consider the prospect of having a night where you achieved 53 heads in every hundred tosses and being pulled aside by a manager and asked to explain why your (literal) headcount is so low.

The answer is 'variability' it is in fact slightly improbable that it would be so high. Yet this is what tampering is. Furnishing a reason where there is none, because if you can explain your performance you can address it. Which by the way you can 'random chance', doesn't ensure but leaves it entirely possible that tomorrow you will produce the desired outcome. Over the long run of course you won't, nobody will, as the number gets larger you'll approach 50:50. And if management initiatives don't directly fuck up a process in the organisation they can indirectly fuck up the people carrying out those processes by stressing them out.

I feel though that it is an ironclad law of physics that tampering must result in long term detriment. That is, it's efforts are doomed to fail. Tampering will never be as clear cut as demanding children to be taller, or coin tossers to get more heads. But it can take many forms, like a certain number of sales orders per 1000 will result in a cockup and a return. It may seem admirably '6 sigma' to task oneself with eliminating those returns and improving bottom line and reducing waste while achieving higher levels of customer satisfaction.

Unless it doesn't.

It can result in employees juking the stats ie, refusing to take responsibility for their mistake and penalising the customers in order to appease their direct manager. It more likely will simply be more costly  to fix the problem than leave it be.

'Parameters' are established for this purpose. In my own VCE I was semi-confident that I could get a score in the 90's based on comparisons between myself and my own brother who had gone before me. But I felt to get 99.95 would involve exponentially more work, plus I didn't need to get that high for my ambitions. And even if I did work harder there was no gauruntee that I would do any better, I would be getting into new territory since neither my brother nor I had ever really worked hard at school.

Same goes in general, it will cost less to make a 30% improvement in a terrible process than a 3% improvement in a decent one. This is called the law of diminishing returns. Tampering isn't strictly about that, but it can often result in '$10 solutions to $5 problems' basically any problem you can afford is kind of worthy of leaving within your standard parameters.

Here then is the tragedy of tampering. Tampering occurs in business models that while imperfect are quite efficient. No brainer business models. This bumps heads with career minded managers. When the villains of Catch-22 reveal their motives they are simple - because Full Colonel is better than Lieutenant Colonel and General is better than Full Colonel. Tampering doesn't strictly come into Catch-22 but the Colonel's demands for tighter bomb formations (in order to make more pleasing aerial photographs) and having the Preacher conduct a prayer before missions are similar though not stat based initiatives to the kind taken by tampering managers.

Tampering I think merits more play, more discussion, more salience. As does risk itself. So keep it in mind, look for it in your own workplace or even everyday life.