is finally working for me, so I've got a plan for cruisers, engineering basics to 4, and a few gunnery/missile support skills. With the learning (which I'm knocking out now, as it takes me no time at all) it will all be done in about 11 days, which fits neatly inside my 12 remaining days on this account.

Derek Facepunch

is the n00b character I made in EVE so that I could better acquaint myself with the trials and tribulations of new players in re: fitting ships, optimising skill training, etc. It has been informative already, as my ship does not have enough CPU left to fit the two PDS I want. Nor the skills to do so, at least not yet. This is my starting info:

Brutor Slave Child, Military Career, Special Forces specialisation.

In order to kill some time with long skill training while I'm away, it's to be the Learning skills I already have, and the basic Engineering / Electronics / Mechanic. The frigate, gunnery, and nav skills are all sufficient for now. First order of business has been to train Energy Grid Upgrades to at least 2 so that I can fit those PDS and a small shield booster on my Breacher, the Mississippi Queen. Since EVE Mon is not working at the moment, I'll have to wing it in terms of what to keep training, but I think a few more missile and sensor skills should round out the Breacher for now, so I can start spending time on the lvl 1 missions that are available to me.

Ruri has also been kind enough to donate some starting isk, and a few ships that I'll be using later on. My ultimate goal is to see how far along a set path one can get in the two week trial period. It's oddly tempting to spend some good grind time with Ruri to get the cash so I can keep Derek in space without having to pay real-world dollars. We'll see.


Day 1 of

New Miracle Treatment commences with the nurse in charge of my infusion missing TWICE. Well, to be fair, she didn't actually miss my veins. That would be like dropping a ball and failing to hit the ground. The first attempt apparently intersected a valve or some such thing, and was not usable. The second either went too far, or hit something that wasn't supposed to be there, because it hurt like hell and I had them take it out and there's a bruise now.

Third time proved to be the charm, and two hours after that poking session I had some sort of super-drug pumping through my body doing strange things to my immune system.

For reference, Remicade. It's the first time one of my drugs has listed "Remote chance of death" as a possible side-effect. You know, along with nausea, fatigue, dehydration, those more mundane things. I have had no side effects, however, and I was assured (by the same nurse who missed the ground) that they usually show up within the first half hour of the infusion.

I am also extremely lucky that I am working in a place that offers some of the best health insurance coverage in the world. If I was not, and these treatments were my responsibility to pay, I'd have been out $1,000 today. And again in two weeks. And a month after that.

Who doubts that our health care system is fucked up? Are there still any of those people?


My Big Fat Eva Post

My roommate has promised to watch Neon Genesis: Evangelion because I recommended it to him, and because I think he wants to know exactly why that series destroyed my personal narrative framework and caused weeks of pained emo soulsearching.

Because it did that. I didn't know why, at first, all I knew was that I watched the two movies that end the series and for a long time after felt weirdly hollow. And while the series initially appears to be yet another entry in the now-world-crushingly-huge panopoly of Giant Robot Anime, the big robot fights turn out the merely be the mechanism for moving a larger story forward, which is the death and rebirth of the entire human race.

Spoilers. Right. Eva impresses me first in how horribly flawed every single character is. They are unapologetically fucked up. It gives these people a depth that is difficult for most other shows to even approach, and it's one of the key things that draws you into their world. Their flaws are manifested and explored and exploited, they are the driving force behind many of these character's actions. It's a rarely used but super-effective narrative tool, and it's brilliant.

Second. The bad guys actually win. They get everything they want and more. They end the human race totally in the belief that it will lead to something more glorious, and despite all their efforts our erstwhile heros can do nothing but watch, and sometimes die. It's one of those rare teevee gems that not only doesn't pull it's punches, but kicks you a few extra times while it's got you on your back. So many other series have had huge build-ups to some great world-ending change or enterprise, only to hit the reset button at the last minute and put everyone in a Happy Place so the viewer gets fuzzy warm feelings. Which is bullshit, and dishonest, and makes me angry. Worlds get made and broken and remade, and there had better be fucking consequences. In Eva, plucky heros fight for the future of mankind, and when they lose, humanity is destroyed. That's the way it works.

The english dub is almost better in every way, and I think at least better in a lot of ways, than reading the Japanese subtitles. I don't care how much anime you watch, (and I've watched a whooooole bunch) there is always a slight delay between listening to the characters and processing what they say after you've read it. In some cases, the voice of the character is such an important part of them that trying to find an english voice actor to fill the same role is impossible (see Ergo Proxy, for just one example). In other cases, english is used so extensively in the series that the whole thing might as well be english anyway (see BECK, or Black Lagoon) and the actors do just as well in the roles as the original japanese cast.

I challenge anyone to listen to the english dub and tell me Shinji's screaming, pleading with his father as his Eva is remote-controlled and forced to fight the hijacker angel isn't painful and touching. Listen to Rei after Asuka confronts her in the elevator and yells, "I'll bet you'd even go off an die if Commander Ikari ordered you to!" and Rei responds, "Of course I would," and tell me that isn't the most beautifully understated and sad performance you've ever heard. This experience is superior, in the case of Eva, to living with the processing delay that subtitles introduce.

We must come now to the end of the story, because this post is getting long. The end of the story is so monstrously huge, so epic in scale and execution that I honestly am hesitant to describe it in words. The religious imagery is thick enough that several books have been written about it, some more serious than others. The decisions our characters are forced to make, the doubts that continue to plague them, are all metaphors for how each of us live our own lives. It made me think of my own life on the same scale, the relationships I've made and undone, and how it would all be different if I had just a bit more courage. I'm not even done thinking about it, and it's been a month. I suspect I never will be, just as I told my friends when I had watched the movies, "I don't think I'll ever truly be done watching Eva."

And that is what makes a series great.


Midnight in the Red Garden

Continuing my trend of reviewing anime for myself, and also overly clever blog titles. Red Garden I like for a number of reasons, foremost being that it just doesn't look like any other anime I've ever seen, or at least can remember. It is also set entirely in New York, at a fictional private high school on Roosevelt Island. This makes it an interesting study in how Japanese people percieve us, and what misconceptions they have about what high school life is like over here.

Plot Time: Two families are fighting an ancient blood feud in which they have each placed some sort of curse on the other. One family has a bad habit of developing "complications," which basically turn them into the fast agressive type of zombie after a certain age. In the females, it almost always happens well before they're able to have children, which means that the family is slowly dying. To fight them, the other family recruits young women by first killing them, then reanimating them in a "borrowed" body that develops super-hero style strength and speed.

Okay, that makes it sound a lot weirder than it is. Actually, wait, it is really weird. What keeps the story from being an exercise in absurdity are the characters and the development of the plot. All we're told for the first half of the show is that the four girls chosen to be the main characters, Rose, Rachel, Claire, and Kate, must fight these zombies whenever they are summoned if they want to continue to live, or have a chance of getting their old bodies - their old lives - back. The characters, and the way in which they each change as they develop relationships with each other, are what make this anime special. The writers took the simple yet bold step of introducing us to people that we already know from our own lives, slamming them into an impossibly strange situation, and letting them grow up in a way that is touchingly honest.

It's hard to know what more to say about it. The costumes bear mentioning, if only because they are another aspect of the series that is entirely unique. Everyone dresses with a sort of extravagance or attention to detail that you'd only see from a professional clothing designer, even the "plain" girls and guys. The only thing about the series that got on my nerves was their attempt to add musical-style numbers to the first dozen or so episodes. They are angsty and contemplative and are abandoned when the story starts to demand all of the show's time, which makes them rather superfluous in my opinion. Best to avoid them, unless you really like karoke.

The end of the series is intense, with much action and drama played out. It is incredibly satisfying to see the girls faced with a difficult choice at the end - live immortaly in the bodies they have, or go back to their old ones with no memory of the trials they faced - and actually make the hard decision. Red Garden is like nothing else out there. It is unique and lovingly crafted, and employs some novel ideas about using anime as a storytelling medium. For these reasons, I do recommend it.

Mai How It Makes Me Sad

Anime on my mind a lot, probably for the whole escapist-fantasy aspect. Also, as I have stated before many a time, writing about a series helps me to sort out exactly how I felt about it. This is important, because as with all good television / movies, you'll think and feel just a tiny bit differently about the world at the end of it, if the story touched you in any way.

Therefore, let us move into the profound disappointment that was Mai HiME. Yes, I know it's sort of old and I'm behind the times, but honestly, to keep up with every freaking anime that gets released, you'd have to make it a full time job. I have no desire to do so, and I do not necessarily pay attention to every Magical Girl High School Teen Squad show that comes across the internet.

I was surprised to find this series available for download since it came from 2004, which seats it firmly in the "old but not outdated" category. The animation and character designs are straight-up old school, where nearly every female character regardless of storyline importance has enormous breasts, giant magical mechs duke it out with extensive super-power charge up pose times, and cute doe-eyed kids glomp on everyone. One notable exception is one of the main characters, Kuga Natsuki, whom everyone says is beautiful but actually appears to be normally proportioned. Not that any of this matters to the story, but I do find it a tad annoying that animators seem incapable of drawing normal-looking women, in almost any series.

Story sum-up: Every 300 years or so, 12 Magical High School Teen Girls, or HiME's, are gathered together to duke it out in a cosmic battle so that one of them can emerge as the strongest and save the world from certain doom. You don't know this for the first half of the series, but that's the line. In fact, you spend the first season watching the girls fight monsters called Orphans. Each girl has an Element, which is their personal weapon of magical might, and a Child, basically a semi-mecha animal-like summon creature. The girls fight the monsters using their own monsters and it's all part of a plot that doesn't really matter except as a means to move along the character development, which essentially ends up uniting the girls as a squad who vow to save their school, and possibly the world.

Then, through a series of brilliant plot devices and twists, they are forced to fight each other to the death. And it's not necessarily their own deaths, no, because in order to use their powers at all they must put the person who is most dear to them on the line. If a girl loses, their loved one dies, which ends up fucking with basically everyone on a very raw emotional level. This is the most brilliant part of the series, in my opinion, the idea that to use your powers to save the world you must willingly sacrifice the one person you love most. In some cases, this actually means that they must sacrifice each other, or themselves. In others, it's their first love, sometimes a person that they never really admitted they loved until it was too late for them to hear it. This results in a series of events that is powerful and emotionally devastating, as our lead heroine Mai has everything in this world she cares about methodically torn away from her.

It shows us how true love can so easily be turned into hate. It shows us how obsession and love are quite different, but easy to mistake for one another. It shows us that our time really is short on this earth, and that to make the most of it we must understand our own feelings and make our love known, no matter the risk to ourselves. And it shows us that the greatest love, in the end, is truly that which allows us to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of another.

All of this is brilliant and perfect until, in another series of twists, everything is soft-reset and everyone who had died comes back and the school (which has taken quite a beating with all the magical fighting going on) is rebuilt and the world is saved without any long-term consequences at all. Thus my sadness at a cheap deus ex machina finale that forced a truly heart-wrenching series to say to it's audience, essentially, "Wow that was all super crazy. Hey let's forget about it and go get ice cream because the world is such a happy place!" I can't go into the details without making this post super-long, but suffice it to say, it saddened me. All the growth and pain and love and death Mai lives through goes for naught, all the characters who found themselves and found it in their hearts to give themselves up to death willingly for the sake of mankind are brought back. The series treats itself like a bad dream, and we see no consequences spill from an apocalyptic battle for the fate of the world.



Pittsburgh II

So what does all this bleating have to do with, say, Iraq? It matters because the utter dependency on cars we have fostered makes us, in turn, dependent on the fuel that runs the cars. That fuel no longer really comes from America, Mexico's biggest field (Cantarell) is depleting so rapidly that we might as well treat it as empty, constant disruptions in the Middle East and Africa have made production there static or declining, and the remaining nations that export (Russia, China, etc) are seeing such growth in internal demand that they can no longer export nearly what they used to.

So, really, we're glimpsing more than just the tip of the iceberg that I fully expect to sink our current civilisation. There are whole groups of geologists and oil men running through the streets screaming that we need to find a new way of doing things right goddamn now which does not involve using natural gas to turn tar and corn into crappy gasoline substitutes. Their warnings of a dire storm will go unheeded until said storm is flooding the streets and people realise too late that using a bucket to bail yourself out of a river just doesn't work.

Wow, is it just me or is that a really slick metaphor? It probably is just me. Dammit.

Right, Iraq. Raise your hand if you think we'd have even bothered if they didn't have one of the largest remaining untapped oil fields anywhere on the planet. And if you do raise your hand, you're a fucking moron and I don't want your eyeballs polluting my journal anymore. Not since we've had it proven for years now that there were no WMD and no links to Al-Qaida and that the faulty intelligence was almost entirely the result of Dick Cheney's stovepiping questionable reports straight past all the people who knew what they were doing and into the Prez's waiting arms.

We are there because an epic cadre of neoconservatives saw their chance to secure all that oil using the false pretense of spreading democracy. You think Cheney gives one tiny fuck about democracy, where his former company would have to compete with other contractors to provide reconstruction services in that ruined wasteland? There's a reason Halliburton was given a golden wheelbarrow full of our retirement savings, kids, and it ain't because they won a bidding process.

All of this falls back to the way we live our lives. Our food is trucked over thousands of miles of asphalt in plastic packages from mechanised preparation factories that are fed chemically-raised crops, every step of which requires an enormous amount of fossile fuels. Our computers are full of parts made in energy-intensive processes that spill chemicals into the countryside, and they run on electricity that sucks down even more fossile fuels. Most of our housing is arranged such that you literally cannot walk anywhere. Our way of life, even compared to Europeans who suffer no real loss of comfort in comparison to ourselves, is so horrifically wasteful that the only way to sustain it is to burn the collected energy of millions of years of sunlight, absorbed and compacted into plants and animals that have decayed over millenia into oil.

And that source of ancient sunlight is beginning to run dry. Once it is gone, or too expensive to use, we will have to find another way to live, because no amount of "alternative" fuels or energy sources will ever compare to the energy density, portability, and safety of oil. It is not thermodynamically possible.

Welcome to the future. Power up.



People expressed quite a bit of surprise at the recent poll ranking Pittsburgh as the country's most liveable city. If Pittsburgh is all you've known, it certainly would seem surprising that other people would move here voluntarily. I myself moved from Colorado Springs, an old west town on the line between the mountains and the desert, full of natural wonders and beauty. People often ask me, "And why did you move here?"

I wondered myself what instinct led me here, until a recent trip to the exurban "asteroid belt" of Atlanta, an old city choked and shriveling inside an ever-growing knot of super-highways and new housing developments. I now know what makes a place liveable. I know why the religious right has grown in numbers and power over the past few decades, why marketing and law are more popular professions than science and engineering. I know why we are spilling our blood in Iraq. I know why we, as a people, feel lost as though our destiny were being taken from us one day at a time.

The answer lies in the way we have built our environment. The answer, in one word, is suburbia. Human beings, like all other animals, seek an environment that is conducive to their way of life. Where we cannot find one that exists, we build it. This is natural. What is unnatural is the way our creation has taken over our lives to the point that there seems to be no other way of life possible. The monster of suburbia has grown from an innocent idea into a juggernaut, riding it's own momentum into a future of endless expansion. But no machine can be run forever. Every system, small or large, simple or complex, breaks down eventually. There is no such thing as endless growth.

As you drive down the roads you see no houses, only the entraces to communities with names like Willow Run and Shady Brook Estates. But these are not real communities. There is nowhere to walk when you're behind these gates and signs, except in an endless loop between houses built exactly like your own. To enter or to leave you must be in a car, which means that these environments were not built for humans, but for cars. The shops and businesses that would normally be a gathering place for humans are only accessable by car, being too far removed from the housing lots and, in general, not even connected by sidewalks. Here and there you see an aborted attempt to place a walkway, only to have it end or run itself literally into nowhere. The concrete is there for decoration, a vestigial remnant of places where walking used to matter. Places like the old neighborhoods of Pittsburgh.

There is nothing worth caring about in suburban settlements like this. Alpharetta, the region just outside Atlanta where I am staying, isn't really a city or even a borough the way that Swissvale or Oakland or Shadyside are. There is no civic center because there is no civic society here, there are only boxes, identical to the boxes in every other suburban area and built only for cars. In fact, the closest thing to a civic center these places have is churches, and given the lack of other real options it is not surprising that people would feel a strong desire to go there. A sense of belonging comes from having a sense of place, and that comes from living in a place worth caring about. And if you can't care about the place you live, then you need something else to believe in. Megachurches fill that gap nicely.

More thoughts later. I need to let this digest.


Emo Proxy

Lots of meditation today on the end of the industrial world. Partly because I decided to watch all of Ergo Proxy again, since episode 15 was finally released with subtitles. Lots of reading about energy sources and environmental devistation, brought on by my roommate and his friend's disdain for the "theory" of global warming. And I get to the end of episode 15 and discover that the reason the world is depicted as a frozen wasteland where only domed cities can sustain life is that humans tried to tap and ended up releasing all the stored methane hydrates.

Pay attention to the people making noise about our current energy crisis and in particular the looming natural gas shortage, and you'll quickly discover that methane hydrates are supposed to save civilisation. If they're used properly. If they're not, and all that methan escapes, it'll be a hundred times worse than if we burned all the coal on earth straight into the sky.

It doesn't help that today was the greyest of days in Pittsburgh. Though I don't know that the bluest of days would have made much of a difference.