At Your Action Posts

After a week of doing nothing of any productivity I am back to lectures, and I am extremely thankful.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoying time of from working, and after the mental marathon of cramming for five exams it was very much needed. But a massive problem with any time off for me, is that I have an extremely short attention span. My mind generally feels very cluttered and I bounce around topics in my head far too quickly. Too quick for standard conversation.

It’s not some big headed statement about having a mind too great or whatever other nonsense, but is instead that I am far too practised at flying through extremely tenuous links from point to point. I suppose it is an offshoot of having grown up with so much communication on various online forms and communities. The conversation from thread to thread was usually vastly different, but you would usually have to keep the conversations going between threads. I gave an unprecedented ability to hold multiple arcs within your own head, so it became natural to have these ‘bouncy’ internal conversations.

This has basically lead to it becoming quite an effort to hold my attention for any extended periods of time. The lectures I attend are a stretch, and I can just about get through the 50 minutes by focusing on what the lecturer is saying, and attempting to consolidate it into a vaguely readable document.

I attempted to spend a good chunk of the week off playing video games that have backlogged on my Steam profile. Steam’s heavy discounts mean that you will often pick up a game that you have a fleeting interest in because it costs less than a sandwich. As such I have about 100 games, of which I have truly played about 25, and have dabbled with another 40 to 50.

My attempt to play these games was a small success. I did bash around a good 15 games, and completed several of them, but I would often get to a point in the game that was frustrating or slow and just give up on it for the moment and jump to something else. Steam enables my boredom and allows me to jump into, and out of, multiple games.

A week of this has left me slightly uninterested in sitting down to play games for a long period of time now though, which is why I am glad to get back to lectures. As much as I may whine and moan about having to wake up in the morning (a self inflicted battle, some may say) I genuinely enjoy attending my lectures. I like learning, if I’m not being pushed mentally I become bored and restless, and the lectures fix this. They stretch me and keep me thinking. One of the major reasons I read New Scientist in any free time I get, as it keeps me thinking, and keeps me learning.

The enthusiasm for the new term is probably undeserved, but has been helped by the topics for this term are genuinely interesting. It is about this point in the degree that you actually start to learn stuff that is relevant to active physics research, or to real world applications. It follows shortly after the point where Googling your queries becomes utterly pointless (which is really fun when you have a small problem that you can’t find in any of the textbooks to hand).

We also have okay lecturers so far. Three different modules today, by two different professors, over four hours which were generally pretty good. One of the two is brand new to me a lecturer, and seems solid, if not a little quick with his notes. The second is some one I have had before, though he seems funnier in his state of significant sleep deprivation.

Expect to hear tomorrow about how three hours of programming has made me hate my course again.

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Time Wasting, Not Time Killing

“Rule 406:You should always waste time when you don’t have any. Time is not the boss of you”

It has been ten days since I last updated this. Those ten days were the ten days in which I was undertaking my exams. I spent most of those days sat in the library, bashing my head through past papers and problem sheets trying to work out what I was doing in the exam that followed.

I did five in total: two which went well, two which I did as well as one could given the circumstances, and one which lies neatly in the middle. Though that is not my focus of this entry, as we have a rule among our friends to not talk about exams after they are done. It’s for our own sanity.

The topic I want to discuss is however I am really good at procrastinating, but awful at killing time. When I have something else, something important or worthwhile, to do I am fantastic at doing anything but that work. I can browse Reddit for hours, play games solidly for even longer times and happily cruise through YouTube. Take away that pressing deadline however, and become bored and my short attention span rips me a new one.

I have spent today trying to do anything that was unproductive. I have played about six different games today, only for an hour or two at a time because I couldn’t focus or enjoy them. I did a little bit of Dishonoured, some Binding of Isaac, GRiD, Dirt 2 and Symphony. I would play for a bit, get annoyed at a section and then lose interest. 

It may have something to do with how tired I am this morning, as I forced myself up early this morning to await for my laptops arrival and since then I have been tired all day, but I’ve noticed this phenomenon pretty much every time I have nothing else to do.

For some reason, boredom strikes me very quickly when my days are unstructured and I have little of need to do. I need to be doing something, or have done something otherwise I sit around utterly unstructured. My current solution is to try and be more productive with this week off, just to prevent me literally accomplishing nothing. 

And as a testament to my short attention span, I became massive distracted while trying to write this.

Calm Before the Storm

As I approach an exam I’m not wholly prepared for, I feel remarkably calm. I don’t feel in anyway particularly stressed, especially as one would expect third year University exams to have some sort of impact on your stress levels.

This isn’t an especially new feeling for me though, I’ve managed to maintain a relative cool throughout most of the exams I have faced in my sixteen or so years of education, and I think it may be one of the few things that has kept my grades up.

As you progress into higher and higher education,the general trend is for your grades to slowly drop down as you progress. This isn’t to do with your laziness, or lack of work at these levels (as I personally find myself working harder now than ever before) but because everything just gets harder. Obtaining an A at GCSE meant reading through the textbook the day before, and familiarising yourself with the questions. At A Level past papers in a large enough volume would secure that grades, but at University hours and hours of intensive studying have no inherent guarantee to increase your grade. If you can’t get the subject, you won’t get the grade.

However despite this obstacle, my grades have remained at a relatively consistent level (and with a rather significant peak in my exams last semester) despite feeling no more prepared for these than the past. I worked bloody hard for those last results, but so did many others who didn’t do as well. One of the variables that I believe makes a huge difference is how calm and collected you are.

Especially within Physics, though I can imagine it applies to many other subjects, the questions often ask for quite a long, and often complicated, series of steps to be followed through to produce the result. One could obviously learn these rote but a slight tweak in the question can throw you off. The more common approach is to learn the manipulations required, and the outcome expected, and solve the rest yourself. Doing this however when you are stressed, and on edge, is never going to work out fantastically.

I find that when the adrenaline is surging my mathematical ability does not peak. My mind simply goes to other places. My focus will not be retained. Staying calm, and approaching the paper with a steady, but sprightly, pace allows the answers to flow a lot more easily. Your whole mind becomes dedicated to the task of solving the problem before you.

I also find i comforting that my frustratingly short attention span is suddenly lengthened when placed in an examination hall. I can barely make thirty minutes of revision before becoming exceedingly bored and restless, but can sit through 45 minutes of exam without even noticing time passing. I can dedicate my entire mental faculties to accomplishing the task at hand, and I attempt to do so with ferocity. 

With an examination in 11 hours, I intend to get some sleep before awaking early to carry on revising and sit the exam with the information still freshly imprinted on my soft, squishy brain.

FUBAR – Spec Ops: The Line

Apologies for the gap between entries, I have thrown myself quite deeply into revision and it is leaving me pretty exhausted. My usual ability to stay up into the wee hours of the night has been massively diminished. Until the 17th this will probably keep happening, though I have several concepts floating around in my head.

The Modern Military Shooter genre is one of the biggest selling genres of the last few years. Call of Duty, Battlefield, and to a lesser part Medal of Honor have been huge hits, with Call of Duty itself having the title of ‘Largest Entertainment Launch of All Time’. That’s the largest entertainment launch of all time, beating out any film, TV, or musical launch. As an aside, this shows that gaming is now one of the biggest entertainment markets around.

If you ever play one of these games you will notice a few recurring themes. There is the wholesale massacre of thousands of soldiers, often from countries that are moderately developed. You mercilessly blast your way through the game, ending the lives of whole platoons. You possess, if only temporary, weaponry which turns ending lives into merely clicking at glowing white orbs. In my opinion though, the worst of all of these themes is that you are the good guy through and through, acting in the interests that prevent the world from being overrun by nuclear warhead wielding megalomaniacs.

Spec Ops: The Line takes a different view of this genre. Spec Ops is a Third Person, cover-based, Modern Military Shooter. You take the handle of the leader of a three-man Delta Force task force, sent to Dubai to help with the imminent evacuation. You wade into a Dubai torn apart by horrific sandstorms (sandstorms that bury small buildings and bring aircraft out of the sky with a brutal conclusion), a civil war between local Emiratis (armed by the CIA) and ‘The Damned’ 33rd Infantry of the United States Military. The 33rd were initially sent in to assist with the evacuation, but have since gone rogue.

The game initially starts with your squad being on the defence from various atack forces, before you learn of the 33rd’s actions and then go after the leader, Col. John Konrad, to seek ‘revenge’ for these grievances.  The game moves through the standard motions of third person game, utilising a solid and robust cover mechanics, but with the unique tough of being able to use sand to your advantage. You can shoot out glass to allow enemies to fall to their death, or allow them to drown in sand, as well as being able to destroy various walls to achieve the same ends.

But Spec Ops doesn’t really shine on its gameplay. While solid, its real redeeming feature is its storyline. In an attempt to reduce the number of spoilers I will talk in generalities here, but I will have to allude to certain events.

The enemy in this game are US Soldiers. They talk with American accents, they wear the Star Spangled Banner across their arms, they drive American vehicles, shoot American military weaponry, and they hoist the American Flag where ever they make base. You can even play the game with a moderate amount of stealth, during which you can hear the soldiers talking about their lives. They make comparisons to home, talk about their life in the States, they make jokes and, most importantly, they seem real. A lot of effort was put into reinforcing the idea that these guys, your bullet sponges, are American. These guys are meant to be the good guys.

Another effort with the story was to make you challenge who is good, and who is evil, and goes very much for the realities that it’s all a hazy shade of grey. Half way through the game you team up with the CIA lead Emiratis. The CIA made it clear that they were treating the 33rd as a rogue military force that needed quashing, and were using the Emiratis to fight their battle for them (a pretty common tactic for the CIA, and one they have used to install, and remove, dictatorships all over the world). While the 33rd most definitely appear evil (shooting at, and rounding up unarmed civilians, as well as brutally executing those who would not comply within their own ranks) you are constantly asked to rethink this.

There were two major events that were designed to truly force you to question whether you are really fighting ‘the good fight’. The first of these takes you into an aerial targeting system to eliminate the attacking forces of the 33rd with white phosphorus. White phosphorus is an aerial bomb that unleashes super-heated phosphorus from above, burning and igniting anything it touches. After leaving little but charred remnants of what stood before you are forced to walk through the decimated area to reach the next objective. As you walk through you see, and hear, American soldiers who didn’t die outright from the initial release. They lie there massively disfigured, covered in near full-body third degree burns, coughing up blood, crying for help, and crying for home. You walk up to one of the survivors who cries out ‘Why?’. Your protagonist, who is at this point in the game extremely pissed off and increasingly angry, responds with ‘You brought this upon yourselves’ which leaves the dying soldier in confusion. As far as he was concerned the 33rd were trying to help. At the point you are made aware of the true effects of your attack. While the 33rd may have been killing civilians earlier, you have just done the same to a greater scale.

The second example is the unravelling of the CIA’s narrative. It becomes known to you that the CIA aren’t really there to liberate, or assist with the liberation of, the Emiratis. American interests became concerned with what was going down in Dubai, and sent the CIA in to wipe as much evidence of it’s existence as possible. The going-ons of Dubai threatened a war between the Arab nations and the United States. The side you are fighting for has no moral high ground over the 33rd.

At this point the game becomes less about ‘the good fight’ or completing the objective and more about revenge. Your character is burned, and charred, with the right side of his body covered in scars, blisters and burns, and your right red with burst blood vessels. The sand is well and truly within every crevice, and your high-tech Delta Operator kit is now torn and charred. Vendetta screams from every word and action you perform. The executions (kills against already downed enemies) become brutal and unnecessarily violent. Your call-outs and commands go from the precision execution of the early game to being mere war cries for blood. Your character becomes blinded by anger, and it changes the whole mood of the game.

The whole game concludes with a very sour note. You are left confused. Confused about what has happened (not because of bad narrative, but because of the mental condition of the lead character), and confused about what you have just done. Were you acting in the greater good, your own interests, or the interests of a higher organisation within the US government.

The game’s narrative is fantastic, and when tied with the solid and enjoyable gameplay is definitely worth playing. The game is continually heavily discounted on Steam, and on various online distributors, and I recommend you purchase it.

Rather Toasty Outside

As of the very moment of which I start writing this post it is the 2nd of January. This is usually the very centre of winter, which means that it is usually bloody cold. However this year I am finding that it is not too bad: it’s positively balmy out there.

I am very aware that perception of temperature is a very subjective matter. I’m generally pretty good with the cold, and instead die when exposed to the slightest bit of heat and humidity. This means that I can be relatively exposed to the cold and still be comfortable. All this aside the weather at the moment is ridiculously out of character.

I walked to the shops earlier, which is a merely fifteen minute round trip, with merely an open jacket and a t-shirt covering my torso, which seems dreadfully under-dressed considering the circumstances. But even in my modest coverings I barely felt the cold, which is unsurprising seeing as it is only 10 degrees outside.

While for some that may seem cold, I find that it is only when we drop below 5 that I really start to feel the cold. So for me, right now, it is feeling rather toasty.

I’m not here to just boast about my prowess as an Arctic explorer, or carry on the British  tradition of talking about the weather, but to comment on the increasingly common shift in our seasons. A shift which is primarily due to anthropogenic climate change.

I’m not going to talk much about the actual effects of climate change in any quantitative manner, but instead the chaos which is going to be left in its wake. People often criticise global warming because the summer was really wet, or that it snowed terribly last year, which ultimately shows a misunderstanding of what climate change means in its manifestation. The atmosphere of our planet is extremely complex, with a huge amount of variables involved. A lot has to be accounted for when trying to model the weather, and changes that can occur with variations.

Positive feedback loops are hard to predict because working out exactly how much of a runaway effect they go under. Will it accelerate to set point, merely speed up continuously, or whether it leads to an oscillation. These are exacerbated by the knock on effects of these feedback loops. The melting ice in the Arctic Circle causes further warming by reducing the amount of reflective ice, and instead exposing darker, more thermally absorbent water. While this effect can be accounted for to some extent, more complex effects such as algal bloom within these newly exposed waters, and how that changes the atmosphere (and also the ecosystem) with the production of oxygen or storage of carbon.

This is merely one effect of many. Changes to the temperature lead to changes in pressure, which lead to changes in weather fronts. The circling winds and storm fronts shift from their predictable patterns, which has knock on effects to sea and land in the Northern Hemisphere, which itself effects the entire planet’s weather system.

I will know doubt talk more in the future about climate change, as it is a topic I am passionate about, but these were merely the musings of a mildly amused Brit venturing outside on a surprisingly pleasant January evening.

One Might As Well Try

Many of you may already know, but I used to be a member of a social networking site called Dailybooth. The site’s premise was relatively simple: upload a picture of yourself everyday and write a small blurb about what you’ve been up to, or what’s on your mind. Despite being very simple in it’s vision it built a considerable community of quite dedicated Boothers. Many of these people broke over 1000 booths (which a few of them 1000 consecutive days), with myself adding over 850 to the site, with about 600-700 consecutive booths.

I even managed to keep the uploads Daily while I was in India, wrestling with dodgy connections and travelling around the sub-continent. But, alas, this wasn’t to be as the site announced it’s closure at the end of last year, and gave us a few days to say our goodbyes before the site went to read only, and we were given slightly longer to pull all the data we could from the site.

But now the site is dead, and merely loads a page sitter whenever you try and visit the site. The site that was a record of my journey from weird sixteen year old who wasn’t fantastic at social situations to the still weird twenty year old who is slightly better in social situations. It saw me through AS Levels, A2’s, and my first two and a half years of University. Losing it was an annoyance among other difficulties, as I liked having this record to look back on. 

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Once the site shut down I pretty much dropped out of daily-blogging. After the initial sadness passed, it felt somewhat liberating to be free of the self-imposed shackles of having to booth once a day. As much as I loved the community, and loved the site, having to get myself to some sort of computer to upload a picture meant that it was often a part of my planned day. When it was gone I stopped caring about and ignored any sort of commitment to updating my life anywhere. Though after a while I started becoming a little annoyed by not having this personal space where I could write what I wanted, for a limited audience. It was cathartic just to write stuff down, to have a continuous stream of my conciousness was such a nice privilege, and the site was very much a stream of my rambling conciousness.

I have a great inability to keep on topic for any length of time, instead just bouncing and switching between topics which I can only tenuously segue between. It wasn’t unusual to go from talking about the trials and tribulations of being a Physics student to discussing the socio-economic issues that lead to the London Riots within one blurb. Sometimes this a problem, but it can produce interesting reads (at times).

But I have clearly gone off on a tangent utterly irrelevant to what I was initially trying to talk about: the restarting of this blog. As I have lost this cathartic place to rant, chat shit, and just spew nonsense I have found myself becoming more ranty in person, and becoming more domineering in conversations, tying to weave conversation to what I want to talk about. All in all I feel that it’s starting to bother me that I don’t have somewhere to write, and I want to remedy that before it starts to become demonstrably problematic. So I am restarting this blog, kicking it back to life from stable, but critical condition.

I’m not entirely sure what I will fill this place with. Using it as a diary feels mostly irrelevant as this blog isn’t advertised as an insight into the person me, but instead into various aspects of myself. The same comes from using it purely as a political vox-box. The second you make your space very political you alienate a lot of people who would otherwise visit, but don’t want to be preached at, or completely disagree with you. 

As of this very moment, I have very little idea where this will end up, or where it will go, but I am looking forward to finding out. 

My intention is to update this daily, though I am unsure how that will pan out in the future. 2013 promises to be a pretty busy year. January throws a bunch of exams I am not entirely confident about, and then until June I have lectures and then my third year exams. The summer will throw whatever it can at me, and then I’ll come back in the new academic year for my final semester of lectures for my undergraduate degree. 

But I hopefully have a lot to discover, and change, this year. For most people on my degree this is their final year of University, meaning they have to go and try and enter the real world come June/July. I however get to drag on as a student for one year longer, and dodge paying tax for one more year, which lead to an interesting shift among my friends. I’ll also be moving houses and into a house filled entirely with my course-mates, something I haven’t done before either. And alongside all of that, some fantastic looking games are due to come out this year, along with some amazing looking films due this year, which will no doubt lead to a bunch of incessant ramblings once they suddenly provide with new clarity about how I perceive the world.

Hopefully this will work out in the long run, if not, I thank any of those who decided to check out what is going on at any point over the next year.