==> Quiz Bowl

May 24, 2007

I leave tomorrow for the national NAQT Quiz Bowl tournament in Chicago. I’m going to be there 4 days. Or maybe 5, I don’t remember. 3, maybe, if we get knocked out the first day. Whatever.

Anyway, the point is – it’s a Quiz Bowl tournament. Quiz Bowl is a type of competition where there are two teams of 4 players, and a series of questions are asked, giving various numbers of points. The team with the most points wins. There are “tossup” questions, where the first person to buzz in and answer correctly gets the points (10, or 15 if answered before a specific point in the question – answering incorrectly gives -5), and “bonus” questions, which are answerable only be the team that got the corresponding tossup question and which the team works as a whole on.

It’s a pretty fun game, actually. And it does seem to test your knowledge, to a certain extent. But my complaint with it is that it seems to emphasize memorization of information more than understanding of what that information means.

For example, there are a bunch of questions on classical music. They mostly involve matching composers with works. You could be very knowledgeable about musical criticism and musical theory and get none of them, simply because you haven’t memorized what people wrote what works; conversely, you could memorize all of these lists and get all of the musical questions without ever listening to any of the pieces of music or really knowing anything about them.

I’m not sure what to thing about this. It’s true you could sit down and memorize list after list after list, but I think that would help you less than being culturally learned and picking up all of this stuff about composers through listening to conversations and reading about topics that interest you. But that still isn’t as good as actually listening to the works.

For example, because I find the topic interesting, I’ve read a lot about and now know a lot about the composers Sibelius and Dvorak, more than I would actually need to answer the questions about them. And knowing this will probably help more on the QB questions than just memorizing lists of names, because I’ll be able to answer questions about Sibelius and Dvorak before other people who only studied the names will be able to. But I’ve never actually listened to any of their works, simply because I’ve never found the time.

So QB does seem to promote a sort of ‘cultural literacy’, more than just memorization of facts. But it doesn’t really promote, in my opinion, actual knowledge – in that the kind of knowledge you could only get from actually listening to the works of Sibelius and Dvorak will never come in handy at QB competitions.

Still, promoting cultural literacy does has a place, I think. So QB isn’t a complete waste of time – and it is fun.


School’s Out

May 19, 2007

Senior Finals were the 14th and 15th, and graduation is tonight. I’m basically out of high school now, and in September I’ll go to college at the University of Dallas.

There’s not a whole lot more to this announcement; just the fact that I’m not in school anymore. (Well, I actually haven’t been in school since Tuesday, but now I’m officially no longer a student.)

Hm… it seems fitting to end high school with a warcry of some sort…


Alas, Jericho!

May 17, 2007


It was announced on My 16th that my favorite television show, Jericho, will not live to see a second season.

Jericho was about a small town in Kansas right after a nuclear holocaust. I liked it because, first of all, post-apocalyptic fiction is always fun, whether it be in book form (A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of my favorite books, and Alas Babylon, while in my opinion ultimately silly, was worth reading), movie form, or as a television series. And I think the show did a good job portraying what would happen (the breakdown of law and order, vigilantism, the rise of a bartering system) while at the same time having fairly interesting characters. I’m sad to see it go.

Now, post-apocalyptic fiction is just one form of what I’ve seen called “speculative fiction”. It ‘asks the classic “What if?” question and attempts to answer it’. In the case of Jericho, it asks, what would happen if the U.S. was attacked by terrorists wielding 25 nuclear bombs? Other examples would be fantasy books (like the Lord of the Rings), sci-fi, alternate histories, etc.

My question is, can these achieve the status of literature? So-called “genre works” are usually excluded from the category of literature, but I can’t really see a decent argument for why this should be. The reason seems to be to exclude works that aren’t literarily serious, that are written just to make money, or whatever. But why can’t that be done on a case-by-case basis, instead of excluding a whole group of works? It seems to me that the rule is arbitrary.

In fact, I think there is an argument to be made that speculative fiction is the best kind of literature. Fiction that deals only with how life actually is has a hard time, in my experience, being more that just social criticism. Speculative fiction, on the other hand, explores what aspects of humanity – or, in the case of works with non-human races, sentience – are universal.

If you take the Allegory of the Cave as your model of wisdom, literature is a way of learning about the nature of sunlight by looking at the other people who are chained up with you, and how the light reflects off of them. (Science is studying the shadows themselves, and philosophy is trying to turn around and look directly at the light.)

It seems to me that you can learn more about the nature of the light the more generalized the knowledge you gain from looking from side to side is. Speculative fiction, done well, can help the captive learn more about the light than even the best social criticism. So, while I’m not going to claim that Jericho was literature (it was good, but not anything particularly deep, I don’t think), I do think that A Canticle for Leibowitz is literature, and pretty good literature at that.

R Rating for Lighting Up

May 12, 2007

Here it is:
An article in the Boston Globe.

I would be incensed (pun intended), but I’ve come to expect it.

The MPAA has passed guidelines saying that smoking will now affect the ratings (G, PG, PG-13, R) that it gives movies. (It doesn’t say how it will affect it, just that it will.)

I don’t smoke (the primary reason being that I have no particular desire to and I’m under the legal age). But I always get irritated when I see people moving to curtail smoking – laws saying you can’t smoke in public places, that you can’t smoke in private restaurants, and now that smoking can’t be portrayed in movies without it somehow making it inappropriate for younger viewers. This is for the same reason that I don’t like laws requiring seatbelts to be worn, or the laws that alcohol can’t be bought until you’re 21 – if you’re a legal adult, you should be able to buy what you want unless the product itself is illegal (btw, I don’t drink either). It’s simply none of the government’s business – or, in this case, the MPAA’s.

If people want to take risky behavior, it must be because they think the tradeoff is worth it – and, if that decision isn’t hurting anybody else, the government should respect that decision. And the MPAA shouldn’t interfere with the art of film making by decreeing that showing people smoking in movies is somehow bad, or that people under a certain age are somehow unable to handle seeing someone smoke on-screen.

In fact, I’m probably going to start smoking just to spite all of these anti-smoking nuts. That’ll show them. Yeah! Uh… yeah.

May showers

May 9, 2007

We’ve been getting some crazy weather down here. Namely, a whole bunch of thunderstorms. It’s been pretty fun, actually; I like the rain, and we’re in a drought so the more the better.

However… the Rangers baseball game I tried to go to last Wednesday got rained out. Not cool. I really wanted to see the game against the Yankees, and they’re not coming back the rest of the season.

Still, it actually is fun, in a strange way, to wait in the stadium for the game to start (too bad it never did). It was raining pretty hard, and we were pretty much sheltered but not completely secure, so that was kind of exciting. And I ended up talking with my dad and brothers intermittently for about an hour about random stuff. We would talk about Jericho, then about whether the storm was going to end, then about baseball, then be interrupted by a huge burst of thunder, then talk about Jericho again.

Which brings me to my point – I have become an expert in waiting. I actually enjoy it now. I usually spend about two hours after school waiting for my parents to pick me up and come home. I spend these two hours doing whatever I want. Sometimes I have to wait for four, five hours. A year ago I would have gone crazy having to wait four hours to get home, but today I do it fine.

Now, let’s combine these two. Thunderstorms, and waiting. Well, waiting means I’m probably an elf, having lots of time to burn. Thunderstorms means I’m a Sidhe.

I know – Leithan!

Good Artists Borrow; Great Artists…

May 4, 2007

I admit it; I’m not actually a very good pixel artist. Unlike Neo or Jetryl or Wayfarer or the others, I am unable to create a single decent-looking sprite from scratch, and if there are no existing units that at least somewhat resemble the one I’m trying to make, I won’t succeed.

However, I do make one boast. I’m the best damn frankensteiner in the Wesnoth world.

If there exists a combination of sprites each of which has some part that looks similar to what I want – say, the helmet from one, the body and legs from another, the arms and weapon from yet another – I can cut’n’paste them together, with some recolorization and a modicum of new material, and make what looks pretty much like a brand new unit. Most frankensteiners can’t do this, and for them it remains embarassingly obvious where each part came from.

Why have I cultivated this skill? It’s mainly because I do have some artistic talent, but developing it would use up too much of my time, and pixeling isn’t a skill I want to possess for its own worth – I want to sprite in order to make units for my factions, not so that I can be a good pixel artist. So, instead of becoming a good pixel artist, I learn to spend as little time and effort creating something that isn’t as high quality, but that’s pretty damn close, to the untrained observer at least.

(I wouldn’t fool anyone who knew what they were about, though, because the devil’s in the details, and I would have most of them wrong. The shading would all be slightly off, for example, because I wouldn’t redo it when moving pieces around.)

Still, I enjoy art, and even if I don’t really have any incentive to be a good pixel artist, that’s a talent I would like to cultivate eventually. Even cooler would be learning how to actually draw – with paper and pencil. I’m decent at that right now, but not really any better than I was four years ago, which is kind of irritating.

The problem is I have other, more pressing tasks to see to (most self-imposed, but whatever). I never seem to have time to just sit down and draw – I’ll only do that when I have an idea I want to make a sketch of, and sketching ideas isn’t good practice, because the focus is more on the idea than on the technique.

So when will I actually get serious about drawing? I don’t know. I’m thinking of starting this summer – actually practicing, learning the technique, etc, instead of just winging it and being good enough to make concept sketches, but nothing worth using. It would be cool to actually be good enough to see a picture of a Marauder Warlord in my mind, and then put it on paper looking as good as it does in my imagination.

I’ll post back if this project actually gets anywhere.

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