Archive for the 'Random Thoughts' Category

YouTube

My wife and her friend get loud when they’re talking on the phone together.

They have such a good time with each other that over the course of their conversations the world gets smaller and smaller until they are barely aware of anything outside of a very small bubble. Inside that bubble there is nothing but their friendship and whatever topic they’re laughing about. Their “bubble-space fun” is great enough that they’ve decided they want to try sharing their fun with the world (or at least a few interested friends) through YouTube.

Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

It’s not an unreasonable thing to try. Though it’s hard to find exact numbers, there are, at a minimum, hundreds of thousands of YouTube channels out there that have a sizable following. As of today, YouTube’s statistics page mentions that they have over a million content creators monetizing on their videos with thousands of channels making six figures a year.

But even if getting rich isn’t your aim, what makes a YouTube channel worth watching? How do you make videos that appeal to people?

I am a shift worker, and every two months I rotate between three shifts. Only one of those shifts has reasonable hours, so on my days off while on the other two shifts I often find myself looking to YouTube to help pass the time (I am not much of a night owl). I currently subscribe to 84 channels, though many of those belong to people I know personally who rarely upload anything.

This blog post is not meant to be the end-all, definitive lesson on how to attain success on YouTube. However, I do want to share what keeps me coming back for more from some of my favorite channels, and a few things I’ve learned over the years about this sort of thing.

Disclaimer: if I were really good at this stuff I’d be making a living doing it. The following consists of a lot of conjecture and heartfelt opinions intermingled with some useful facts that I know. And I’m not claiming to be sharing the secret to viral videos or anything – I’m sharing what I know about content production and audience retention. Also, to get the full benefit from this “lesson” you’re going to have to sit through some videos, and a few of them are rather lengthy and not all of them are kid friendly.

Let’s get started.

Conventional wisdom in the entertainment industry seems to be based around the misapplication of a basic (and true) principle of human communication: know your audience. Rather than just knowing their audience, they are trying to know their audience. Like, in bed. They want to give the audience what the audience wants because that’s what makes the audience grow and shell out money. Appeal to the widest possible audience and you’ve got yourself a profitable YouTube channel in no time.

But what about you? Will you be happy? And what of your audience? Will your audience come back for more because they’re interested in what you’ll post next time, or are you just generating views because your videos show a thumbnail that got someone to click on it out of interest (boobs)?

Cyril Connolly said: “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.

I believe that all entertainers should do what they love for their own reasons. Going further than that (here comes your first video assignment, and it’s almost twenty minutes long), Simon Sinek teaches leaders how to inspire people to action by centering everything you do around a primary idea that answers the question, “why?” You will need his advice when planning your content and video “format” (what and how you do what you do).

“Why” is a great place to start. And if you do it right, your “why” is something that is based mostly around feelings. But you’ve got to try to describe it in words.

Now, YouTube is an interesting place. There are a lot of problems with the “audience” on YouTube. The next video I want you to watch covers these issues through a satirical and tongue-in-cheek presentation pretending to be excellent advice on how to run your YouTube channel.

The real trick is in clearly defining why you’re starting your channel and figuring out what kinds of people are going to be watching it. Then you figure out whatever you can about that audience and tailor the presentation to them (not your content).

pewdiepie

pewdiepie (Photo credit: pixesophie)

A great example of this is a guy called PewDiePie. He records himself being an idiot playing video games. As of right now, this guy has over thirteen million subscribers (I am not one of them). YouTube channels that focus on gaming are really big right now. A lot of people want to watch people play video games. But what makes PewDiePie number one?

Another channel I watch from time to time is The Game Theorist. He records videos in which he speculates on gaming related issues, carefully researching the topic and assembling an informed theory to explain what might be going on. He has a great video in which he basically proves that Sonic is not very fast. Very fun videos, but not consistently fun enough to get my subscription.

The Game Theorist did a really great video about why PewDiePie is so popular, and in it he outlines a lot of things that any new content publisher should know.

OK, one more long-ish video that you have to watch all the way through, then we’ll get into individual channels.

This next video is by a guy who I honestly did not expect to subscribe to. I remember the first time I saw one of his videos. I thought, “this guy is ugly, strange, and I do not feel like I connect with him.” That, however, was before I started getting into woodworking. When my wife and I started building a major piece of furniture I began looking for woodworking YouTube videos that were helpful for a novice like me.

That’s when this ugly guy’s channel came back up. After watching a few of his videos I subscribed. Then I found out that he had another channel in which he talks about the videos in his main channel. This intrigued me, so I checked out that second channel. Again, I subscribed.

Then I stumbled upon the following video in his auxiliary channel in which he talks about the video equipment he uses to make videos. But that’s not why I’m having you watch it. I’m having you watch it because the guy is awesome at little tips that make videos better for viewers. His video is kind of long, but it is full of outstanding advice for new channel owners.

If you’ve watched all of the videos I’ve prescribed so far, you’ve just watched 50 minutes and 46 seconds of video. Maybe you did it all in one sitting, maybe you broke it up into manageable segments over the course of a day or more. It’s possible that not all of those videos kept your attention for the entire length, but I’m betting that most of them did (if not all of them). Why did you watch those videos? Not just “because I’m trying to learn how to make good videos.” Really ask yourself, “what kept me watching even though those videos were so long?” If you need to, pick one and go back and watch it again, trying to figure out how the presenter kept your attention.

Now, let’s run through a few of my subscriptions and talk about what I love about them.

When I link to a channel, I recommend you familiarize yourself with their top video (or a few of their top videos). To do this, click on the channel link I provide, then look for the “Videos” tab (next to the little house icon, below the channel name). When the Videos tab first loads their uploads are shown in reverse chronological order (newest videos first). Click on the drop down button that says “Date added (newest – oldest)” and select “Most popular” to view their videos from most to least popular. Then watch at least a few of their top few videos to see what they are like.

The great thing about viewing the most popular video on a channel is that you can see the video that resonated the most with their intended audience. It’s usually the video that initially earned them a strong following of subscribers (but not always).

Alright. I’m not going through these in any particular order (well, except alphabetical order because that’s how I’m viewing the list of my subscriptions).

The first channel I’ll introduce you to feels more like a television show, and perhaps that’s why I’m subscribed. As far as I know, these videos do not air on cable. They are just a YouTube thing, but they have exceptional production value and a pretty nice budget behind them, which leads me to believe that they are professionally produced by a crew that also does television shows.

They do a variety of things on the channel, but the videos I like most are part of a series called “Man at Arms” where a professional blacksmith creates video game character weapons. That particular feature got my subscription, but since then I have enjoyed a few of their other videos as well, videos that I wouldn’t have seen if I hadn’t subscribed. That’s the power of gaining subscribers.

  • Check out this channel: AWE me

This next channel isn’t something that I would have initially thought I’d ever subscribe to (DON’T JUDGE ME). I initially happened upon the channel when I was watching a lot of videos of different accents (I like accents, OK?). The video that got me interested was part of a larger playlist that someone else had put together to showcase accents from around the world. To this day, the video of hers that I saw is still her most popular video (and it’s over two years old).

When watching her video I found that I didn’t just like her accent, I thought she had a lot of fun things to say. So I checked out her more recent videos and found that she was video blogging (vlogging) about a lot of topics in an interesting way (and by interesting I mean that she’s being her own silly self without worrying too much about her audience, though she does ask for suggestions from time to time).

To me, her channel is a great example of what one normal person (and sometimes she has her friends on with her) can do to hold an audience, even without great equipment or professional training. With just over 8,000 subscribers she’s not the biggest channel that I’m covering, but she’s got her audience and she does a good job keeping their attention (though I don’t watch her videos all the way through when they stray too far from my interests — for example sometimes she goes to parties and films it).

Here’s an odd one for you. I subscribed to this guy on a whim when I found a video he posted of a nickel ball that he heated with a blow torch until it was red hot before dropping it in some water. I think Randall Munroe linked to it on his What If blog when referring to the cavitation effect (that’s probably not what it’s called) that occurs when super hot things contact water. Anyhow, the video owner got a sudden surge in traffic for the red hot nickel ball in water video and began doing more videos like it (using the RHNB acronym rather than writing out red hot nickel ball all the time). Now he’s got 45 thousand subscribers that just want to see what he’ll drop his red hot nickel ball onto next. It’s a simple premise, but one that has obviously gained him quite a strong following.

Sometimes the best channels are focused on just one interest. In this next channel’s case, it’s slingshots. In fact, he calls himself “the slingshot channel.” While some of his “slingshot” videos kind of stretch the concept of slingshot (see what I did there?), his razor focus on a single subject secures him a steady viewership that shares his passion. All in all he’s just shy of 300,000 subscribers at the moment, and he really loves making his videos.

I recommend you check out a few of his videos for sure. He is a fun, lovable guy and after watching a couple of his videos you’ll never forget the way he says, “That’s all for today. I hope you liked it. Thanks, and bye bye.” Super great guy.

A while back Google released a product that didn’t make a lot of sense. The Internet was complaining about its price, its unusual technical specifications, and all sorts of other things about it. Then I stumbled upon this guy explaining the features of this product and it totally made sense. This kid is sharp, great at explaining things in a way that is relevant to the average technology user, and really gets into the tech industry to relay the best news to his viewers. And it pays off. He’s got over 500,000 subscribers and through his YouTube income is able to pay for all the neat toys and gadgets he could possibly want. Plus, it seems that some product manufacturers send him their latest gadgets to try out and review on his channel.

In addition to having fantastically well planned content and presentation, he excels at production. His videos are clear and vibrant, and they have outstanding audio quality. When my father moved from newspaper publishing to running a couple dozen news websites for a corporation he had to learn to do web video. In his research he found that the main difference between obviously amateur videos and apparently professional videos was the sound quality. Good sound quality can put your channel in an entirely different category when it comes to perceived quality, and if anyone knows that Marques Brownlee does.

Here’s one of those video game channels. This guy is just plain silly. I found his channel when a coworker showed me a video from a different channel and one of this guy’s videos was a related video. I thought his video was way funnier than the one my coworker shared with me. So I subscribed. His videos are almost all short (2 to 5 minutes) and well edited to contain all of the funniest bits and enough back story to know why they’re funny. Do not show these videos to young children.

This next guy came out of nowhere. As someone who once frequented but now occasionally peruses reddit, I have learned to appreciate the power of certain social media platforms (especially reddit). One day this guy’s first video got posted to reddit when he only had about five videos up (to date he still only has 14 videos posted). The video was an explanation of the book Crime and Punishment and the reddit post title indicated that watching this video would grant me some insight into the book that I previously lacked.

The video delivered on that promise and then some. The production quality leads me to wonder if there isn’t a professional studio behind these videos, but I don’t care if they’re just going to try to sell me something in the end. I subscribed because I want to know as much about literature as this character is going to teach me. These are fantastic videos because they provide a service and do it in a way that is more than just entertaining, it is original. Original ideas (or just ideas that seem original) go a long way so long as they are presented well and given the right exposure.

Back when Lindsey Stirling was on America’s Got Talent and her YouTube channel teamed up with some big shot videographer, I discovered another violin-playing girl with a YouTube channel and I decided that I like her style better. And I’m glad I did, because soon Lindsey’s work began to feel heartless. I think more recently she may be rediscovering her old self, but for a while she lost her way when she lost sight of her “why.”

Anyhow, this other violin player has remained humble, innovative, and relevant to my interests for a couple of years now, and she just released her first original song. She may not have as many fans as Lindsey (only 220,000 subscribers vs. Lindsey’s 3 million), but she is just as talented (if not more) at playing the violin. Just looking at the comments on their videos and channels you can get an idea of how her 220,000 subscribers are just as valuable as Lindsey’s 3 million to someone who is not doing what they do for their audience, but for their self.

OK, just one more. This girl is a member of a game-playing, video-making team called The Yogscast. They actually have a Wikipedia page (yes, they’re that big of a deal and you had no idea they existed). They got their start playing World of Warcraft in a guild called “Ye Olde Goone Squad” (from whence they derive their current name, YOGScast) and eventually gained popularity with their Let’s Play video series about Minecraft.

I don’t really care for most of the Yogscast stuff (though some of it can be pretty fun), but I found Hannah’s channel when I was looking up videos of the recent game The Last of Us. I had heard that the story was good, so I wanted to watch someone play through it. Hannah’s first game play video of the game caught my attention when she cried at the end of the opening sequence. I enjoy her accent, her commentary, and what she adds to the game experience just by being herself. Her videos are pretty long (about 20 minutes on average) but I highly recommend you watch one or two of them. She’s great at holding her audience. She does all of her own video editing, and manages to edit out “boring” parts without making you miss any of the important content of the game.

Alright. That is a good general sampling of channels I subscribe to and why I subscribe. There are quite a few more, of course, but I think these ones are each unique enough that you should be able to figure out what you want to do by watching them do what they love.

I apologize for how freakishly long this is and how clumsy my writing is. I wrote it all out and lost the steam to go back and do a thorough editing.

Computer Games

Story time. If you want to skip to the interesting list at the end, go right ahead. I’m in the typing mood though so I’m about to tell you my entire life story as it relates to gaming.

English: A NES console with the Super Mario Br...

English: A NES console with the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve always loved video games. My grandpa was kind enough to donate his Nintendo Entertainment System to my parents when I was very young, probably after we visited him once or twice and he saw how the machine captivated my brother and me. I must have been five years old (plus or minus the standard deviation for my poor memory).

Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Baseball, Duck Hunt, Gumshoe, Master Blaster, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Marble Madness, Captain Skyhawk, and many more games filled the earliest years of my memory.

Then, after much entreatment from my brother and me, we got a Sega Genesis for Christmas, and years later a Nintendo 64. I believe my grandfather may have had a financial hand in one or both of those acquisitions as well.

Our time with those game systems shaped who we are. My brother is now lucky enough to work for a small but well-known game development company and I… well, I make useless JavaScript toys in my free time.

As a part of my interest in games, teenager me wanted to become a 3D artist. To this day I work plenty in 3D and the skills I gained in my teens will forever benefit me. However, in support of my quest to learn 3D modeling my parents loaned me the money to buy a PC (circa 1998, plus or minus whatever my memory is wrong about). I got my first job to pay my parents back. I was 15.

Anyhow, the computer I got worked for very limited 3D work (renderings took forever and often never finished due to hard drive crashes or other terrible mishaps), and it also allowed me to try my hand at PC gaming for the first time.

I had tried a couple of very simple games on my father’s Power Mac, but these PC games were entirely different. I can’t remember everything I played (I’ve spent quite a bit of time in bursts of nostalgia trying to hunt down those games), but a few of them were Jane’s Advanced Tactical Fighters, Descent, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, Blastdoors, Return Fire 2, Mech Warrior, and Gravity Well.

Unfortunately my PC was junk and barely ran most of those games. I had no idea that games could actually be played at more than five frames a second. I thought all PC games were supposed to be choppy and slow. Then I tried a few games on a friend’s computer and everything changed. He had built his machine for speed. He had one of those things called a graphics card.

When I went to college several years later I made sure my computer had a graphics card. I was going to be studying 3D animation and I knew I’d need some serious power. So I got a mid-level desktop replacement laptop (this would have been sometime around 2003). It had a whole 512 MB of ram, and an NVIDIA graphics card with several MB of dedicated graphics memory (I don’t remember how much).

Despite all of this raw power, I didn’t really get back into computer gaming. I played a few games here and there, but for some reason I forgot all about what a good graphics card did for PC gaming. I still remembered playing Return Fire 2 at 5 FPS with the textures and effects turned off, and I think that left the impression that PC gaming was inferior to console gaming.

Eventually I got married and that laptop became an aging family computer. After one particularly hefty tax return when my wife and I didn’t have any major purchases in mind we decided to get a new (first generation) HP TouchSmart computer. Our young son would be able to have so much fun on the touch screen, we thought, and since the mouse was on its way out as an archaic technology we figured it was time to introduce our child to the future (right?).

That computer lasted us several years, but eventually the integrated graphics burned out and rendered the entire motherboard useless. I salvaged the hard drive, but we needed a new computer.

Once again, with a new baby girl, we decided that a touch screen would be handy. We now knew that the computer mouse was here to stay, but babies do better with touch screens. Plus, the second generation of TouchSmart PCs had been out for a while, and there was a model with a graphics card. So we got that one.

English: HP Touchsmart PC. With Rob Miles using it

English: HP Touchsmart PC. With Rob Miles using it (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, with an actual graphics card, I was ready to start playing computer games again. I started with emulators (I’m a sucker for nostalgia), but eventually installed Steam and got a game (Super Meat Boy, at my brother’s suggestion). I figured my fancy new graphics card should be able to handle the latest 2D game. Well, I was disappointed to discover that my system choked a little on that 2D game. I eventually figured out that, on the lowest settings, I could run a few modern games, but with serious restrictions and difficulties.

I played through Portal, but Portal 2 was a little too much for my system (I did eventually play through it, but with the graphics all turned down to the lowest settings again). I played Mount and Blade with all the settings configured for a crappy system. I played Minecraft comfortably for a while, but in the last few months my system began sputtering even on that game.

Unfortunately that computer lasted a full two years and some change. Though I knew we couldn’t afford to just replace it, I always secretly hoped it would die so that we could start looking for a way to pay for a new computer.

Well, a couple of weeks ago I got my wish, and, thankfully, we were financially prepared for it. My wife had gotten into a few of those computer games with me, and she agreed that it was time to get something that would comfortably play most of the games we wanted to play. We both knew we weren’t going to spend thousands on the best hardware available, but we didn’t want to have to play Mount and Blade at less than 30 FPS with all the textures and effects on the lowest settings.

I’m not saying what I got because the purpose of this post is not to open my system up for criticism. I want to talk about games.

As someone who has had to turn down the opportunity to play any new PC games for several years, there is a whole list of games I haven’t been able to play and I’m looking forward to playing on my new computer. I’ve got the list divided into three parts. The first part is stuff that’s out now and I need or want to play it (according to me). The second part of the list consists of games that I’m interested in but they aren’t out yet (I’ve backed a few of them on Kickstarter and will be getting the full game when released). The final part is for suggestions. A coworker suggested a few games, but I want you to help me add to the list.

I realize that not all of these games require a modern graphics card, but my poor graphics card made me disinterested in PC gaming for so long that I skipped over a lot of games that I was interested in. Add your suggestions in the comments!

Part 1: Games Available Now that I Want to Play

Part 2: Games Coming Soon that I’m Interested In

Part 3: Suggestions of Games to Play

  • Bioshock
  • Halflife 2
  • Black Mesa
  • Stalker
  • Dwarf Fortress

Again, add your suggestions in the comments. I’ll look into the game and if it’s pertinent to my interests I’ll add it to my list. Also, if you see any games in my lists that you think are not worth spending money or time on them, let me know your reasons (don’t just say, “Don’t play that awful game!”). I’ll take them into consideration, and if you’ve got a good point I’ll skip over that game. Thanks!

Awareness

Notepad (software)

I love doing too many things. My interests cover such a wide gamut that I wonder if I’ll ever settle on a career path. But that’s not why I decided to write this blog post.

I’ve been writing JavaScript for a long time. It all started when a friend of mine showed me how you could make a webpage using nothing but Notepad in the late nineties. I was immediately hooked. But HTML was so limited (especially back then), and I wanted more. It began with copying (stealing) and modifying a simple mouseover script for making an image change when you hovered the mouse over it, and from there it exploded into rewriting Minesweeper (poorly), creating my own “encryption” software (ha ha, “encryption”), writing simple chat bots, making guessing games, and occasionally even making a website for one thing or another (with plenty of mouseover effects).

But I soon learned that programming could be so much more than what I was using it for. After a decade of believing that I could never learn object-oriented programming (the ideas just seemed too advanced for me), as recently as last year I learned that JavaScript handled everything in the code as an object and that it was an object-based (even object-oriented) language.

This opened up worlds of possibilities. I had heard many wonderful things about what one could do in an object-oriented environment. I was excited to dive in and try it.

My favorite hypothetical usage for objects in programming, and something I had never really grasped how to accomplish with JavaScript, was the idea of defining one object with its own behaviors and attributes and setting many of them loose in an environment in which they could interact. I immediately wanted to try something like this, but it proved too difficult for me at first.

So I applied my new knowledge about JavaScript objects in other projects. I was timid and unimaginative about it at first. Looking back at those early projects that incorporated custom objects I can’t help but imagine that I was afraid of these new blocks of code. It felt foreign, and my code was awkward (not that I’m doing much better now). Eventually the idea of objects clicked, and I was ready to try my idea again, but I didn’t realize it right away.

children_raidThen, last weekend, I was sitting on the couch with my family watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (written, apparently, by Ian Fleming, with a screenplay co-written, oddly enough, by Roald Dahl), and the idea seized hold of me again. It was the scene where the children raid the castle toward the end. They rushed the adults, and I pictured it from a bird’s eye view as dozens of little dots moving in and attacking other little dots.

Not an hour later I was writing code. I started by defining an Army object, then I wrote the Warrior object constructor. It was complex, with dozens of little stats to track, and several complicated functions for thinking, targeting, moving, attacking, defending, and more (nearly 300 lines of code just for the Warrior object). I wrote code to define the starting position boxes for the armies (bases, essentially), code to draw the objects as stylized DIVs on the page, and I wrote an HTML page with a basic framework to display it all. I’ve been learning to use the CANVAS element for drawing, but I wanted to stay away from it as this was going to be a project I could play around with at work where they still have us using IE8 and the CANVAS element isn’t recognized.

Surprisingly enough, when I first ran it (about five hours after I wrote the first line of code) everything worked (kind of) as expected. I had to rework the rendering code (I was trying to redraw everything each frame, and with hundreds of little HTML objects that initial approach was impractical). After fixing the rendering issue it ran smoothly and most of the behavior was exactly as I had imagined it.

bbsI’ve tweaked several of the systems since then, but the essential framework hasn’t changed. You can try it here if the link doesn’t get overloaded (who am I kidding – I couldn’t possibly generate enough traffic to take down a dropbox link). The one item I re-worked the most was the targeting code. In fact, I’m still not happy with a lot of things in this project, but there are even more things that I love about it.

First, it’s the very first time I’ve made something visual with what I would consider emergent behavior. I wrote a primitive chat bot (I cannot be held responsible for anything Jimmy says) once that had some pretty unpredictable responses (many layers of code analyzing your input and outputting based on more criteria than I could keep track of), but that “emergent” behavior wasn’t always contextually appropriate (Me: “Hi there! How are you?” Him: “You’re not being very nice.”). My little battle simulator behaves very much like a little battle. The winner is determined by a mixture of attributes (leadership scores, strength and number of warriors, amount of supplies available, location of base, etc.) and circumstantial happenings. I’m just as incapable of predicting the winner as anyone else, yet there is very little variation between the armies in the way of random number generation.

If you do check out the link, I apologize in advance for some of the Leader names. The idea of giving each army a leader is credited to my co-workers, but the names for those leaders were also their ideas. I made some slight modifications to a couple of the names, but one of them I left in a fairly inappropriate state simply because changing it would have taken away from the effect. Some of the names are not child friendly, just so you know.

The thing I’m least happy about with this is the targeting code. It’s limited, inefficient, and doesn’t accomplish all the goals I had for it. I realized yesterday that what I really wanted was a collision detecting framework. I imagined a centralized process being aware of everyone’s location and allowing any one of the Warrior objects to perform a simple query to get his nearest neighbors. I was unfamiliar with actual collision detection methods for software, and was pleased to learn that what I had devised wasn’t too far off from reality.

In my current system each individual on the screen has to scan every other army’s soldiers and rule out targets that are outside of his visual range. This takes a lot of processor time, and whenever anyone was selecting a target there was an awful performance drop (especially at the very beginning of the battle when nobody had selected a target yet). I did a couple of things to mitigate this: any time around half of the soldiers in the army’s array are dead it clears out the dead from the array, shortening the amount of time it takes enemies to scan for a new target (since they no longer have to process dead people); and I spread the search function out over several frames rather than attempting to do it all in one rendering cycle (I also learned how to make recursive or pseudo-recursive functions this year).

Obviously, with each and every dot doing his own collision detection and targeting it’s still pretty inefficient. I need a centralized collision detection system.

But now I have to learn how to implement something like that. I might implement it in my current project, but I think starting a new project would be better. I want to redo a lot more than the targeting. Perhaps version 2.0 will be rendered in the CANVAS element with animated graphics, explosions, terrains, etc. I wanted to incorporate tanks and other vehicles, other soldier types (archers?), goal oriented behavior (capture the flag), stealing supplies from enemies, communicating with each other when in proximity (“hey, watch your back”), and other behaviors that would require something like “sight” to be implemented. But most of all I want their movement and behavior to feel just a little more deliberate. As it is they inexplicably fail to engage each other sometimes, their movement isn’t very confident looking or smooth, and there are a lot of undesired artifacts that come from the fact that I’m still not all that great at writing code that does what I want it to.

rvwOne final, and related, note. A good friend of mine shared a post on Google+ recently (yes, some people actually use that – though I almost never use anything but Notepad++ lately) and she reminded me of one of the primary reasons I love programming. I used to want nothing more than to program robots. You can see the video from her post here.

In the video they mention a piece of software they created called Robot Virtual Worlds. It looks like something that should have been made twenty or thirty years ago for me! The other link from the conversation at right is for a website where you can register for their Robotics Summer of Learning. In conjunction with the Robotics Summer of Learning, it appears as though you get a limited (Summer only, I think) license for Robot Virtual Worlds when you buy(?) ROBOTC. I’m not going to pretend to know which version of ROBOTC you need (poking around on the site for a minute didn’t give any answers, but I plan to return on May 20th as they suggest on the website to find out more), but even just playing around with Robot Virtual Worlds for one summer could be super fun. I’d have to learn C, but how hard could that be? Right?

Aptronyms in The Hunger Games

Wordsworth the Poet

Wordsworth the Poet, Aptronym Extraordinaire

This month the Oxford English Dictionary added the word “aptronym.” I found out about this wonderful word when the Grammar Girl did a quick blurb about it on her blog. My immediate thought upon reading her article was, “hey, I saw a ton of aptronyms in The Hunger Games.”

Although I had never known a word for the idea, I’ve always been fascinated by its use in fiction. Sometimes I find it childish or annoying when every character in a book has a name that blatantly describes his personality. Other times it’s done so cleverly and even subtly that I am thoroughly impressed by the author’s wit. (Interestingly, the Wikipedia article has a list of real-world examples that I found to be entertaining.)

I began reading The Hunger Games sometime in November last year. Progress slowed to a halt after the first third of the final book due to some of my classes and changes at work, but I’ve since resumed making progress. This post isn’t meant to be a review of the story in any way. Rather, I hope to shed some light on what I feel are some pretty clever aptronyms in the books.

Three basic rules that I feel apply in these character names are as follows:

  1. Primary characters generally have subtle and clever aptronyms.
  2. All other characters have simple, sometimes blatant (and even annoying) aptronyms.
  3. Not all characters have aptronyms, or if they do it’s so abstract that it’s easy to miss.

Essentially, it’s not hard to see which names the author labored over carefully, and which names the author selected without much deep thought. Some of the connections  between personality and name that I found might be considered a stretch by other readers. In fact, many of them may have been unintentional on the author’s part. I know I read into things a little too deeply sometimes, but there are some interesting things to be found when you dive that deep into something.

In fact, I’m sure the author, Suzanne Collins, would have a good chuckle or two over my analysis. This comes to mind:

Authorial Intent

Before we begin, a quick note:

I noticed that many names in The Hunger Games included references to Greek and Roman (mostly Roman) historical figures. This was purposeful, almost aptronymic, and it helps the reader do a couple of things with the characters in their minds.

First off, it distances them from us in time. Since the reader knows this book is in the future, but the names come from the past, it gives him a sense of backward progress. Rather than sounding futuristic in a positive, progressive way, these names from the future bring us back to more primitive, violent times.

Secondly, we often view Roman names in light of Roman mythology, powerful rulers, and unethical drama. Mythology lends itself to the futuristic technology (which, to us, is indistinguishable from magic), the powerful rulers remind us of the ironfisted dictatorship President Snow operates, and unethical drama is what encircles the entire basis for the plot.

I researched all of the following items on my own, but in the midst of my research I came across a book that I am now interested in reading. If aptronyms, symbolism, and The Hunger Games are all interesting to you, I suggest you check out what appears to be a well researched book, Katniss the Cattail: An Unauthorized Guide to Names and Symbols in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.

So here we go. I now present, for your amusement, a list of characters from The Hunger Games and how I see their names as aptronyms:

Katniss Everdeen

The main character’s name was carefully chosen and is intricately woven into the story. Anyone who’s read the first book knows the bit about her father telling her, “As long as you can find yourself, you’ll never starve.” Katniss is an aquatic plant (also known as Sagittaria or arrowhead, among other names), the root of which is edible. Additionally, according to Wikipedia:

The generic name means “belonging to an arrow” in Latin and refers to the shape of the leaves.

Katniss Everdeen

Katniss Everdeen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And:

The plant also shares its name with a constellation in the Zodiac called Sagittarius, or “The Archer”, which may also reference Katniss’s skills in archery.

But wait, there’s more. Katniss (the character) is said to be very beautiful, thus it is no mistake that the plant has a flower. And here’s where I start getting too deep into it, but I found it interesting that her relationship with her sister’s cat is as complex as it is. In fact, at one point she even hisses at the cat. Perhaps there is a connection between this behavior and the first syllable of her name.

Even the last name was chosen purposefully. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Suzanne Collins said:

Katniss Everdeen owes her last name to Bathsheba Everdene, the lead character in Far From the Madding Crowd. The two are very different, but both struggle with knowing their hearts.

I found that to be interesting, even if it doesn’t directly add to the aptronymic value.

Peeta Mellark

I still remember the first time I thought of this name as being an aptronym (though the word “aptronym” didn’t come to mind since I hadn’t heard of it before). In my head it went something like this:

Hm. Peeta. Pita. Baker. Pita bread. Bread. Baker, pita bread. Oh boy, how clever I must be.

Peeta Mellark

Peeta Mellark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But there’s more. Petra, the Greek word for stone, also came to mind. Later he painted himself to blend in with the rocky terrain.

Then I found the name on babynology.com and found a few more things. The name is a girl’s name. Peeta’s a “pretty boy.” Well, he’s not described that way in the book in those words exactly. Katniss says he’s got a “stocky build and medium height with bright blue eyes and ashy blonde hair that falls in waves over his forehead.” That just reeks of “pretty boy” to me.

Also according to babynology.com, the meaning of the name in Finnish is stone. So I was right. And in addition to painting himself to look like stone in the book, he’s also a figurative rock in the life of the main character. He is a constant, someone whose behavior is predictable, honorable, and steady. Stone, stone, stone.

But what of the last name? My first thought made me chuckle:

Mellark? How about malarkey. He’s full of it.

The thing is, Peeta’s got a talent for words. He makes me think of a politician. I’m not sure if it was intentional on the author’s part, but the last name feels like a blatant aptronym to me.

Gale Hawthorne

This one was pretty easy for me to spot as well.

His first name is, I think, pretty blatant. Gale, wind, storm. A gale is typically defined as a very strong wind. Wind, when thought of as a personality, is considered fearless and ever changing. Gale’s role in the main character’s life is constantly shifting around. He is fearless and strong, but in the end not much more than a gust that has blown through the life of Katniss, our heroine.

The last name was interesting. I got some initial ideas from the book’s text, but some research uncovered a lot more.

My initial impressions were related to the “thorne” part, thinking of him as someone who is a bit thorny on the outside. He seems to get angry over little things quickly (like the wind, quick to change), and can respond sharply to people, even those he loves.

Thorn HedgeResearch unveiled that “Hawthorne” was probably, essentially, a “hedge-thorn.” These would be thorns that were used to form defensive barriers around homes, cattle, and more. His role as a defender and protector in the book is clear, making even his last name a strong aptronym, even though you’d have to have already known the meaning of it to get the full effect.

Haymitch Abernathy

The author actually invented (or appears to have invented) the name Haymitch. Frankly, this one doesn’t feel as much like an aptronym, despite being nearly a primary character. If you have any thoughts on how this one indicates his personality, please let me know in the comments.

It’s a bit of a stretch, but the only thing I can come up with is the “mitch” part – Mitch comes from Mitchell, which descended from Michael, which means, “who is like God.” In a small way Haymitch is like God to Katniss and Peeta, since he guides them through something that could have been fatal. I know, it’s a big stretch.

River NethyHis last name, however, is real. It means, “mouth of the river Nethy (a river in Scotland).” Nethy may mean gleaming, and its root is lent to many rivers in the region. When I think of all the gleaming alcohol flowing straight from the mouths of the bottles from which Haymitch regularly drank in the books, I am certain this name could have been chosen purposefully. However, I somewhat doubt it was intentional, and I’m fairly sure Collins just liked the way it sounded.

Primrose Everdeen

PrimroseThe aptronym is straightforward here. Primrose is a family of flowering plants, and Prim is said to be a beautiful, young girl. However, she has a lot more to her, so what else can we glean from her name?

Her name is shortened to Prim much of the time, the word itself having a little more to offer her personality. She is often portrayed as being prim and proper. She is much more multidimensional than all of that, but I do feel that the first name is a pretty strong aptronym, even on the surface.

Her last name was inherited since she had to be sister to the main character, but I think she shares some of the same traits as her sister when it comes to what I felt her last name indicated. Again, for both of them, I don’t feel that the last name is as much as an aptronym, but it certainly is fitting.

I had one final thought on this one. Some people may be familiar with the phrase, “to lead someone down the primrose path.” This means that someone (usually a hypocrite) leads someone astray by means of deception. A lot of that happens in The Hunger Games, but how much of it has to do with Prim? I’ll leave that to you to decide.

President Coriolanus Snow

This one is a big one. This primary antagonist was named after an anti-democratic Roman general who was eventually assassinated before a trial could be carried out for his crimes. Though we haven’t gotten this far yet, the judge and game maker Plutarch got his name from the historian who tells us the story of Gaius Marcius Coriolanus. Interestingly, Plutarch’s representation of the facts surrounding Coriolanus is disputed, and for a respected historian to misrepresent facts about a historical figure could point to some kind of conflict of interests. In the books, Plutarch turns out to be one of the rebels fighting against the evil dictatorship of President Snow. This assumed relationship could be quite a stretch, but I found it to be an interesting possibility.

The last name, Snow, has me thinking about the cold, emotionless way that he runs Panem. He does not care about people, and he regularly commits acts of murder. The snow comes during a time of death and sadness. It is winter; nuclear winter, even. Even still, he presents himself to be such a clean, innocent man, much like the crisp, clean, freshly fallen snow.

Plutarch Heavensbee

Bee from Heaven I already mentioned how his first name relates to President Snow. Additionally, as a historian, Plutarch (the historical figure) had a strong influence on how history appears to us. Plutarch (the character in the book) strongly influenced history by strongly aiding the rebellion from within the capitol.

But what of his last name?

I thought of it as “heaven’s bee.” He was like a bee, dangerous and painful, sent from heaven to assist the rebellion against President Snow.

Finnick Odair

This guy. Sheesh. I feel that his name is meant to highlight two things. First, the finicky nature of women. He is handsome, tall, and flirty. Though he doesn’t have a strong effect on Katniss, I can’t help but feel that he had her second-guessing her emotional disposition toward him a few times. Eventually their relationship smoothed out into a good, platonic friendship, but until that point “finicky” is the word I would choose to associate with their interactions.

Then, the Odair name. He has a sense of class about his public image. The name oozes high society, class, opulence, and luxury (to me). I think it definitely lent some ideas to my overall impression of the character.

Rue

This one’s easy, but I thought it worth mentioning here (rather than below, with the rest of the obvious ones). The plant, rue, has medicinal applications, but as a verb it fits more nicely. “To rue the day” means to regret it bitterly, to feel sorrow over it, or wish it had never happened. I am sure Katniss felt all of those things for Rue.

Seneca Crane

Fascinatingly, the first name, Seneca, doesn’t appear to do much for this character (other than what I mentioned above about the Roman names), but the last name did a lot for me.

I immediately thought of Ichabod Crane: the amoral, self-interested man who was haunted by a ghost after failing at his pursuit, and eventually disappeared and was rightfully assumed dead at the hands of the ghost. Even the first name, Seneca, at least has the same number of syllables as Ichabod.

Effie Trinket

Effie’s name reminds me of all things petty (the -ie on the end of her first name), superficial (the ‘trinket’ of her last name), and a little of France (like the Eiffel Tower, even though it’s a big stretch).

The name, Effie, is of Greek origin, and it means well spoken. She was, of course, careful and precise with her words.

President Alma Coin

CoinAlma, in Spanish, means soul. She is the heart and soul of District 13, running things smoothly, if a little heartlessly.

She is also hard, and a little two-sided, like a coin. And coins are part of our monetary system, which symbolizes capitalism and often greed. Just thought I’d throw that in there.

Caesar Flickerman

Like a flickering television, Caesar is as flashy and showy as the name itself (think: Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas).

Obvious Ones

Finally, a list of the ones that I felt were too obvious to discuss.

  • Glimmer
  • Gloss
  • Cashmere
  • Cato
  • Clove
  • Brutus
  • Beetee and Wiress
  • Mags
  • Blight
  • Woof
  • Thresh
  • Chaff
  • Seeder
  • Madge Undersee
  • Mayor Undersee
  • Delly Cartwright
  • Hazelle Hawthorne
  • Greasy Sae
  • Tigris

The Hunger Games isn’t my favorite series of books, but it’s also not a bad series. I think many books are deserving of an in-depth analysis of what the author was getting at when they named characters (among other things), but I can’t think of a more prominent book today that is as well-deserving of this type of analysis. As mentioned before, if this is your thing and you enjoy learning about this stuff, I am sure the research that went into the book I linked to before will interest you.

Also, I encourage you to look through the list of characters from the books, and see if you can find any that I missed (or any additional information that I didn’t include).

Happenings

It's like I found a magic lamp or something, and squandered my wishes...

Several long-time desires of mine have recently unfurled into something palpable. I wouldn’t say my dreams are coming true, but it’s close enough.

Where to start?

We’ll start with the most recent and work our way backward.

Hm. That’s tough. We’ll start at the… Well shoot. This is tougher than I thought.

Forget chronological order. Forget any order.

More photos can be seen at the link.

I recently completed the first draft of my real leather Link’s Adventure Pouch 3DS Case.

I can’t say I’m 100% satisfied with it (see my notes in the album I shared at the previous link), but I am looking forward to the second version. Each photo in the album has my notes on what I’ll do differently next time, but if you’re an expert who can tell me how to keep the darned surface of the leather from cracking, please leave a comment!

In addition to completing the leather pouch, I recently ended a 10 year search for something.

Yes. Ten years.

For the last ten years I’ve gotten this song stuck in my head. I knew it was from an upwards scrolling puzzle video game, and I knew that video game has Yoshi in it, and I knew that video game was on the Game Boy. I had asked around, I had search the Internet, I had spent years trying to figure this thing out.

Finally!

Then one day I ask someone, and they said, “Sure, I just played that game last week. It’s called Tetris Attack.”

Sure enough, he was right. The song that got stuck in my head all these years was Yoshi’s theme. I could finally hear the full song after only remembering one small phrase of it all these years!

Then I found the game used and bought it for my Game Boy Advance. It is a fun game.

So that’s a happy ending to that search. There are still a few memories I am trying to fill in, but that was the biggest, most frequently bothersome one.

Last of all (for this post) I finally got to see a real space shuttle. Sure, I had been to see Enterprise at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center, but Enterprise never flew in space. It was hardly a shell of a shuttle. It was the right size, and the right colors, but that’s about it. No real action. No battle scars.

But this last week OV-103 Discovery was flown out to replace Enterprise at the Udvar-Hazy Center, and on Saturday I took my daughter to see the shuttle.

This shuttle is COOL.

It was awesome.

And while I was there I got a new picture of myself in front of the shuttle for use on social networks. I liked the angle of the old photo better, but this one with a real shuttle is better since A) it’s a real shuttle, and B) I am wearing my super awesome hat.

Alright. That’s going to be it tonight. I didn’t need to write a blog post tonight, but I wanted to. I hope it was worth your time, because then it will have been worth my time.

Oh, and real quick: in related [to the shuttle] news, I am making slow progress in the design of my deep space exploration vehicle. I worked on the escape pods and their hangar bay today. Not done yet, but happy with the progress.

Related to escape pods-I recently read parts of an extraordinarily interesting article (I’ll read the whole thing later because it is relevant to my interests) and in that article the author notes that he doesn’t feel escape pods ever make sense for a deep space exploration vehicle.

The point he makes is that if you have to escape the vehicle quickly, it’s usually (in science fiction, at least) because the ship has a problem and the “reactor core” or something is going to blow up. He notes that leaving the comfort and life support systems of the larger ship makes little sense. You should just eject the core.

My system is designed to completely separate into its separate modules in the event of any mechanical emergency anywhere on the ship. Even each of the six main engines can act as emergency life boats, and so the dinky escape pods (which seat twenty adults) are not meant to be actual life boats. Everything separates after all the passengers are on the life boat engines or in the escape pods (which can dock with the engines if needed), and the computers on each module of the larger ship assess damages. Any module that is still usable docks back together and the escape pods and life boats all transfer the people back into the habitable parts of the ships. Even damaged modules attempt to repair themselves or salvage useful resources.

So emergencies would more or less be handled in a way that makes sense. You’re not permanently leaving the ship behind, but you aren’t sticking around to see if everything is going to explode either.

I think my system adequately addresses the author’s concerns, even though I didn’t read any of his remarks until after I had designed my system.

Because remember: Dream big or go home.

Science Fiction and Dreaming Big

Your average politician when asked about manned missions to the stars.

A while back I watched a video that spoke to my inner child and reminded him of why he is so depressed. In the video, Neil deGrasse Tyson explains that we, as a human race, have stopped dreaming. Watch the video here:

I look around me, and it’s true. Those who dream are shot down by politics, finances, or safety concerns.

Did the men who broke the sound barrier worry about safety? Yes. As much and as ridiculously as we do? No. What about the Gemini astronauts, or the Apollo astronauts? Some of those men died. A few of them came close to dying. They were heroes, and they knew the risks when they signed up.

These guys almost DIED for science.

Now though, we’re not even allowed to risk the life of an animal for scientific advancement. Remember Laika? It wasn’t that big of a deal back then. Why now? Why are people so afraid to dream and take risks to make those dreams a reality?

Then I read an article in my Popular Mechanics magazine titled, “Why We Need Big, Bold Science Fiction.” That got me excited. Even if people won’t accept the risks, or are too afraid of being politically incorrect to sacrifice a dog to test human safety systems, we can still create inspiring science fiction. Our generation may be paralyzed by political poison, but perhaps our children’s world will be different. They may be willing to take the risks.

And that is why I love to dream. I love to write. I love to create those systems that cannot yet be created.

You can tell me why my deep space exploration system won’t work, but it doesn’t matter. That’s why it’s called science fiction.

Some of my favorite television science fiction is Star Trek: The Next Generation. Remember tricorders? Yeah, so does this guy who is building them. He was inspired to do something amazing, just by watching a television show.

Someday...

What will my science fiction inspire some day? Probably nothing. But it’s worth it to dream. It’s worth it to take the risk of being ignored, so long as the possibility remains that I could one day inspire a mission to another solar system and beyond.

Don’t stop dreaming.

Cool New Facebook Feature

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

I joined Facebook when it was “The Facebook” and you needed an approved school’s .edu email address to join. I’m talking around six months before it was opened up to all colleges, and then opened up to the public.

I’m not trying to be all hipster on you. I’m making a point. Bear with me.

Back then I only joined because my classmates all joined in a frenzy when our school’s .edu address became accessible in one of that last waves of schools to be added. If I didn’t join, I would have missed out on all the sharing of assignment tips and whatnot on there. Being that I went to an art school, we weren’t sharing answers (since most of our grades were from projects). We really were sharing tips on how to get the uncooperative gouache to work right, or reminders about what the professor would be looking for in the finished project.

Then I quit going to school, Facebook opened up to the public, and I started having problems with Facebook. So I quit using it. In fact, I deleted my account and stayed off the site for two years. Then my coworkers wanted me on there, so I joined up again and resolved to keep it simple. No applications, no “friends” I didn’t really know… I thought I had it figured out (and for the most part, I did).

Though I still doubted whether I really needed it.

Then I did an experiment to see if I really needed my Facebook account and friends. Eventually, I concluded that I could (and should) live without Facebook (mostly for simplicity’s sake).

So these days I watch Facebook (and people on Facebook) with a bemused detachment.

Boy did I have a good laugh at their latest feature: Groups for Schools.

HA! At first I thought it was some sort of joke. But a quick Google search revealed that this is for real. Facebook is actually introducing an exclusivity angle for .edu addresses, rolled out to groups of schools in waves, as though it’s something new. So let me get this straight:

  1. Introduce exclusive social network for schools.
  2. Realize everyone wants in and open it up to the whole world.
  3. Attempt to sell idea of exclusivity again.
  4. ???
  5. PROFIT EVEN MORE? Yeah right.

Wow. Are they just trolling college students?

U MAD BRO?

Rhino Skull Troll-Face: U MAD?

Actually, I’ve seen something like this before. I read about it on the New York Times website a while back. It was a really neat article about how marketing companies pry into our private lives and use psychology to get us to buy and use their products.

When they first got started, it seems Febreze had problems selling a product that eliminated odors. They were actually doing very poorly as a business. However, their researchers (or someone) stumbled upon a woman who actually used their product. When they visited her, they found that she was using it as a finishing touch in her household chores, not to eliminate odors as it was intended to be used.

This crazy lady would make the bed with fresh bedding, then spray some Febreze on it. She’d wash and fold her laundry, then spray some Febreze on it. The bottle said, “eliminates odors!” Yet she was spraying things that already smelled good.

Rather than asking the lady from what height she was dropped on her head as a baby, they asked why she did it. Of course she wasn’t all that sure, but she knew she liked the way it smelled. So the Febreze guys looked at each other in disbelief, returned to the lab, and increased the perfume in their product. Then they turned around and marketed it again.

This time it wasn’t marketed as a product that eliminates odors; it was marketed as a product to make clean things smell nicer: Like a spray-on liquid air freshener that makes things smell pretty. Their commercials showed people doing what that crazy lady was doing: spraying it on things that were already clean.

Eventually the product really took off. This baffles me to no end. But the funny part is, once they were selling really well and making a ton of cash, they changed their advertisements again. They started telling people, “Oh yeah, and our product eliminates odors too.” They actually never removed that feature, but people didn’t care about it at first. After Febreze got big and made that announcement though, people were going, “oh cool.”

Sheesh.

Anyhow, perhaps what Facebook is doing isn’t all that different from what Febreze had to do. Maybe Facebook is trying to get back to its roots.

Or maybe they are just crazy.

Rewarding Creativity

Caine's Arcade

Have you heard of Caine’s Arcade? If you haven’t, you can be forgiven. But if you don’t go read about it right now, and dedicate ten minutes to watching the short film about it, then you are less likely to be forgiven.

My most immediate thought was, this is one heck of a father. Rather than getting on to his son for the “mess” he’s made of his business, he’s been tolerant, patient, and supportive.

And man, when you see the look on his face when he realizes what’s going on, you’ll see how creativity pays off. You  just can’t put a price on stuff like that.

We can all learn something and feel good watching a story like Caine’s Arcade. These sorts of stories are certainly one of a few redeeming things about the Internet, and perhaps even our species.

Tiny Things

80's McDonald's Toys

I had most of these high quality McDonald's toys.

When I was a kid I had some great toys. I’m sure I complained to my parents from time to time that I wanted more, or that I was bored (despite having a room full of wonderful toys). That hasn’t stopped me from looking back with fondness on the toys that I had, the adventures we shared, and the array of senses recorded in my memories.

I liked some of my toys for a particular smell they had, others had great textures. Some of them were pleasing to the eye, with nice shapes. There were probably a few that I enjoyed for the way they tasted (even after my toddler years I was known to put toys in my mouth). I remember a handful of my toys for the sounds they made.

Most of my favorite toys though appealed to two or more of my senses.

The thing I liked best about toys though was that they were small. Little toy guns, little hats, little torches, little boats, little planes, little cars, little swords, little knives, little instruments… I loved shrinking my imagination to play with those tiny things, and the world we created together was so huge that even my immense imagination couldn’t fill the expanse.

I had the red one.

I absolutely LOVED Mighty Max toys.

Perhaps one of my favorite things that I ever watched (a strong claim for someone with so many favorite movies) was an ABC Weekend Special titled, “The Mouse and the Motorcycle.”

The boy had a toy motorcycle, much like many of my toy vehicles, and the little mouse could actually ride it. He had a tiny helmet too.

Oh how I wished to have a little friend who could play with my little things like they were full sized things! I had a rubber ducky (a cool one, not like the crummy ones they sell in stores now), and my dad gave me a sailor’s hat from one of his G.I. Joe action figures (his own childhood favorite) because it fit perfectly on my rubber duck.

I often wonder what became of that rubber duck and his hat.

Perhaps my favorite little things though are LEGO. I love their MINIFIGURES and the little accessories you can get for them.

When I was little I had a LEGO pirate set that came with a cool lantern, and I used to love that lantern. It was actually several pieces that you had to put together, but I held on to it. When I was sad, I’d sit in a corner in my room, pull out my lantern, and gaze at it for what felt like an eternity. I soaked it in. Every detail of it is forever recorded in my memory.

Fortunately, I held on to the lantern. I still have it. It is part of a small collection of my favorite little things. My son ended up with most of my childhood LEGO collection, but the lantern remains with me.

I may give it up one day, but sometimes I still like to pull it out when I’m feeling sad.

This isn’t to say that physical possessions make me feel better. I love the idea of owning the fewest possible physical items. I love simplicity. I love mobility (and you aren’t very mobile when you’re burdened with tons of stuff). But I do enjoy having a few personal possessions that mean something to me. They may bring me a little comfort, but they don’t make me happy. Happiness is not found in a drawer or shoe box.

I think I had the spider.

Yes, Mighty Max was awesome for being SUPER TINY.

Anyhow, my favorite things are miniature things. I love smaller versions of things that we use. I love little dollhouse furniture, I love tiny tool chests, tiny computers, miniature books, and the list goes on. The idea of miniature things is just pleasing to me. It’s not so much that I think they are cute. It’s almost more like an impulsive desire to collect these things.

The other day I was looking at a small tin (like an Altoids tin, I suppose) and I wondered what the inside would look like if a tiny person lived inside. It could be a fun craft project someday.

A long time ago I saw this cool street art where the artist took tiny people and put them in the world doing things that big people should do. Some of them were construction workers, except that instead of carrying boards or windows, they were carrying cheese puffs. They looked gigantic in the little people’s hands. I loved the art, but at the time couldn’t find any information about the artist.

Well, I found him. He goes by Slinkachu. The name is funny. It reminds me of when my daughter asks to play “the Pikachu game.” I tease her by calling it “the stinkachu game,” or sometimes “stinkychu,” “stinkypoo,” or anything else I can make up that sounds like Pikachu.

Regardless, I really like a lot of Slinkachu’s work because it’s so tiny. I wouldn’t necessarily want one of his prints, and I’m not as into tiny figurines as I am into tiny accessories for tiny people.

I spent a good deal of time looking at Slinkachu’s installations though, while simultaneously working on clearing out some of my Amazon.com wish lists (they get out of hand sometimes because when I get depressed I go into “collector” mode and try to collect all the stuff I’d need to take up a new hobby or assemble the perfect first aid kit). In one of my Amazon wish lists I found a bunch of tools and things for working with leather.

Off and on throughout my life I’ve had a mild interest in doing leather work for fun. Not stamping, but sewing it. I want to make myself the perfect leather satchel. But in researching the tools, supplies, raw materials, and work space requirements, I discovered that it will be a hobby better suited to my later years than now, since I lack the funds and space required to do real leather work.

This is made out of fake leather. Mine will not be.

Tiny Satchel: I will make you.

Then I had an idea. What if I started small? What if I started really small? I could make the perfect leather satchel for a 12″ tall guy. Then I could go smaller or bigger. I could get a small bit of thin, quality leather, and print the patterns right on an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper. I could hand sew it all in no time since it’d be so tiny.

Heck, I’ll bet I could even make a miniature version of my favorite hat, and I could find a toy to wear it.

This blog is about me, right? So I wanted to share this with you, because tiny, miniature things are an obsession with me, and now you know.

Charlotte and Jonathan

Charlotte and Jonathan

Charlotte and Jonathan

I generally avoid writing about things here that are trendy or popular. If I find out about something on a social network, I avoid writing about it.

Sure, I’ve discussed current events from time to time, but I generally avoid it (mostly because the media annoys me so).

But a day or two ago I added a video to my YouTube “Watch Later” list from a post on Google+ and I just watched it.

I just now watched it.

There are still a few tears lingering in my eye, and that doesn’t happen often. Not from YouTube videos.

I’m just not the sentimental type. So for me, it’s always embarrassing when something tears me up, especially a YouTube video.

Anyhow, if you haven’t already heard of this Britain’s Got Talent performance by Charlotte and Jonathan, you should go watch the video.

Two mice; the mouse on the left has more fat s...

Two mice; the mouse on the left has more fat stores than the mouse on the right. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s the thing. I’m generally pretty critical of the large number of overweight people in the world (especially America). I try to avoid judging the individuals, but the fact that our society is producing so many people that are morbidly obese bothers me. I feel that most of it is due to poor choices in lifestyle and health, and thus it is preventable.

But people complain about it.

If it’s preventable, and you don’t prevent it, then you don’t complain when people talk about it.

Right?

But I do understand that some people, no matter how much exercise and healthy-eating they do, just can’t avoid putting on weight. And the severity of this condition varies. So when I see people like Jonathan lumbering about, I try to assume they have some sort of genetic problem.

Here’s the kicker. I am by no means a saint, but I also am not the most harsh when it comes to judging these overweight people. There are some very cruel people out there who completely dismiss heavy people as being irresponsible, unhealthy, lazy, or otherwise unworthy due to their physical appearance. These meanie-heads would never stop to wonder what kinds of talents the big people might have, or what they might be able to contribute to the world around them. Even I have sometimes found myself inappropriately labeling obese people as being more of a burden on society than a contributing member.

So when fat, obese, ridiculed Jonathan opened his mouth and let a powerful, rich, clear, steady stream of vocal energy loose on the microphone, I nearly let tears fall.

I’m sick of these talent shows with all of the singers. Music is wonderful, and singing is a beautiful talent, but for more reasons than I care to mention here, I wish those talent shows would quit showcasing the singers so much. But in this case, I make an exception. Jonathan, at only 17 years old, has reminded me that each and every soul on the planet can contribute something to the world to make it a better place.

No amount of disfigurement, handicap, obesity, or even poor choices can remove a person’s intrinsic value. Their kinetic (actual) value may vary based on their current choices and actions, but every human being has an intrinsic worth that should not be overlooked based on their outward appearance or circumstances.

Oh yeah, and Charlotte was OK too, though I’m pretty certain she missed at least a few notes on a couple of occasions in there. But I still like her.


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