Less than a week to go

So I have my appointment at the University of Nebraska Medical Center next Friday, which is only 6 days away. I’m really excited. Like, really excited. Super-stoked. Anyway, in light of the fact that I’m going to soon be on massive doses of estrogen, I’ve decided to give quitting smoking a second shot. (More like an eighth shot, but maybe the eighth time’s the charm.) I’m doing it by cutting down my smoking by about 25% a week until I’m all done. I start today.

Also, I have been working super-hardcore on my female voice since school got out. This last semester was really crazy hectic, which cut down on the time I could spend doing vocal exercises and suchlike. It was really discouraging. But I think I’ve gotten the right voice now and I’m working on fine-tuning it. It’s really weird, because now I’m looking for excuses to talk to people just so I can practice it. To be honest, it’s much easier when I’m alone and only talking to myself, because then I’m not worrying about what someone else is thinking; when I talk to other people I find myself worrying about it and having a difficult time maintaining it. However, I think that problem will be solved as I become more confident with my voice.

All in all, this is shaping up to be a great summer. My transition is really going to take off, which has me super-excited. Plus, despite the fact that I was disappointed by the fact that this past semester was my worst grade-wise since going back to school, I realized that I still got a 3.87, which is still a ridiculously good semester average. At the very least, it’s good enough for the Dean’s List. Also, my dad is thinking of starting a web-based software/app company and wants my help with it, so this could be my in to the video game industry. At the very least, it’ll be a fun father/daughter business venture. Things are going pretty well for once.

This is what happens when asocial trans lesbians go back to school and rediscover the internet

So since my big mental snaffu a few years ago I’ve been hearing a lot of folks throwing this word, “asocial”, around in reference to me. At first I was a little irritated and offended, because I thought “asocial” was like “antisocial” and the only time I ever do anything truly antisocial is when I think that the relevant social norm/custom is anti-humanist. Anyway, I did some research and found out that “asocial” is basically just a fancy clinical word for folks who are pathologically critical of society, which, to me, sounds like it’s actually a good thing. For that reason, I’ve come to embrace the fact that I’m a pathological outsider. Really, it explains a lot about me.

Anyway, part of being asocial is that I never really understood the social media jazz. I’ve had a Facebook account since 2004 (or 2006: the first got deleted for making too many “mean” joke groups so I made a new one), but I’ve never really used it much. Anyway, my thing with friends is I have a few close ones that I deal with all the time, and then a bunch of acquaintances whom I hung out with regularly for a short time before deciding that thy bored me. So, I’ve never really understood the point of Facebook or Twitter or any of that jazz. If I want to know what you’re doing (or vice versa) I can text you or call you. Chances are, I already have a rough idea of what’s happening. Why you need the interweb machines for friend things?

Anyway, my internet horizons were broadened when I went back to school last spring. It started with the porn. You see, I had never really been exposed to pornography until the summer of 2007 when I got a job at a video store that sold it. Before I found out what pornography really was, I thought it was probably just videos of people making sweet, passionate love after a really romantic evening. (No, I’m not kidding; I really thought that’s what porn was like.) Turns out it’s not like that at all. It’s a bunch of sociopaths treating human beings as sub-human pleasure objects and forcing them to do the most ridiculously raunchy things they can imagine. Totally not hot. So, when I went back to school and took Philosophy of Feminism and saw that one of the paper topics was porn, I went crazy on that shit and got me an A. Anyway, part of my research for that paper was surveying internet porn sites, which tipped me off to the fact that there are such things as porn aggregators. Seriously. Google “Darlina.” And on these porn aggregators there is a category called “pizza porn.” Yes, people get of on jamming manly meat parts through the center of a pizza pie. I wish I were making this shit up. Anyway, this made me look at the internet in a whole new light.

Then, last fall, I took a political science class for which part of my participation grade was opening a Twitter account and twitting away about the news. At first I was kind of irritated, because to me this was like requiring students to go to a bar and make small talk with the other drunks, but then I discovered that Twitter is really secretly the world’s greatest news website. Seriously, just follow every new outlet you can find there and you’ll never miss out on what’s happening in the world. Fucking amazing! And then there are all the awesome radical twits. Just twenty minutes ago I discovered that Twisty Faster of I Blame the Patriarchy fame is actually on Twitter now. Now I can get Nobel Prize-worthy radical writings delivered straight to my phone device. Huzzah!

Finally, about a week and a half ago, I discovered that “liking” people and things on Facebook is akin to following them on Twitter, and you can repost whatever they post. This has lead to an orgy of me reposting everything on George Takei’s wall. This shit is fucking awesome! And now, just yesterday, I discovered Google+, which appears to be the new hangout for trendy artists and tech geeks. Totally the coolest of them all. Too bads most of my friends seem to think it’s not the coolest thing since Creepy Crawlers. Oh well, they’ll come around.

Anyway, I guess the point I’m trying to make is that all this social media bullshit might not be total bullshit. It does seem to help people spread news and share opinions. It seems like these sites have replace the Greco-Roman forums (or fora, if y’all wanna be smart about it). The internet really is the greatest invention in the history of inventing.

Some big ups to some progressive games

So my recent post about why I want to design video games got me going on all sorts of crazy issue which are very dear to me: namely, geekery and progressive social reform. Anyway, it got me thinking that I have a lot to say about the issue of how games could be more marketable to queers and that I can see it being something that spurns a lot of writing, so expect to see more on this issue, at least in the near future (until my next big project comes up and I find a new white whale). Anyway, I thought I’d start by giving some big ups to some games which I think have at least tried to buck tradition and be more woman-friendly (although not necessarily queer-friendly), as well as some of my favorite games which would be my favorite-est games if they made a few small changes.

Mad Props:

Xenosaga I, II, & III: So I must admit that I only play Episode II when it’s been so long that I’m fuzzy on some detail or other of the story (about once every 14-16 months), but the first and third installments are probably my two favorite games ever. I play Episode III more than any other game, even more than Final Fantasy III, Silent Hill 2,  and Harvest Moon: Back to Nature, which were my previous favorites before 2006. Anyway, there’s very little I would change about this game to make it more woman-friendly. Shion is a strong woman who is not necessarily independent yet, but she’s working on it and ultimately gets there when she helps to save the universe from imploding or whatever. She may be a bitch at times, but give her a break: she’s got a lot on her plate. I’m even fine with the fact that she’s straight, because the guy she pines for and thinks is dead turns out to be King of the Über-Douches, so it sends a message of “don’t always count on the knight in shining armor”, which I like for being decidedly un-sexist. Her friends are the ones who’ve always got her back, even her flaky big bro. And Allen, the other love interest, is pretty much a woman, so it’s sort of queer, right? Also, chaos strikes me as queer, so there’s that. And then KOS-MOS is the mother of all strong female characters. She’s one badass weapon of mass awesome, even if she is objectified a bit. I guess they could’ve toned the robo-erotic stuff down a bit, but still, it’s got some major pros in pro-woman category. If the Gnosis ever strike again, maybe we’ll even have a queer leading character.

Silent Hill 2 & 3: So Silent Hill 2 is another of my all-time favorites, and I think it’s got a fairly feminist message. Sure, the main character is a man–and not just any man, but the Emperor of Misogynistic Assholes–but it’s his blatant woman-hating that gets him sucked into a creepy demon-filled hell-town. The game is loaded down with more Freudian imagery than an Early 20th Century Avant-Garde art show, and it all revolves around James’s objectification of the lady-folk. The message is what makes this game pro-woman, and that message is: “Dudes, don’t treat your ladies like pieces of meat and then murder them when they can no longer satisfy your desires, or else they’ll turn into demon ghosts and try to kill you.” As for Silent Hill 3, it’s a game about a teenage gal who has to save the world from Evil Demon God and His Crazy Cultists (after carrying him in her womb! talk about a compelling argument for a right to get an abortion) with little to no help from others. How often do you see that in video games?

Needing Improvement:

Harvest Moon: Back to Nature: This would rank right up there with Xenosaga Episode III and Silent Hill 2 as Greatest Game in the Universe if only for two simple changes: Be whatever gender you want, and marry who the fuck you want. They could release a game that was identical in every other way–including graphics–and I would still pay $60 and end up flunking out of school after wasting 6 months of my life on it. It would just be that good.

Avalon Code: This hidden gem is one of the biggest unsung heroes of the RPG world, which is saying a lot since a lot of great RPGs slip by unnoticed in the seas of Final Fantasies and Elder Scrollses. It’s one of the best portable games I’ve ever played, and if they made one simple change, I’d think it was one of the greatest games ever. It’s the same thing as Harvest Moon: I dig that I get to save the universe as a young lady, but why the fuck are my romantic options limited to things with digital dicks? I mean, seriously, I can marry a freaky midget fire-spirit, but I can’t marry a girl? WTF, mates? Again, make that simple change, and it’d be Game of the Millennium.

Anyway, I could go through the list of all 80 of my games and tell you what’s sexist/heterosexist about all of them, but that’d take forever. Maybe that’ll be a new book project. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at creative nonfiction…

Why I secretly want to become a video game designer

Okay, so to people who’ve known me my whole life it’s not such a big secret. I nearly flunked out of high school because I spent most of my free time writing text-based adventure games for my TI-83+. Anyway, just this afternoon I finally decided to take the plunge and upgrade my lame old Google account to a fancy hi-tech Google+ account, despite the fact that most of my friends are on Facebook or Twitter. You see, I’m a huge Google nerd, especially since I’m either smarter than most tech nerds or much dumber (take your pick) and think that Apple’s only innovation was in combining other people’s ideas into “better” ones and then marketing them better than anyone else so people actually want to pay $1300 for a laptop they could get for $800-$900 if they didn’t just want an obscure Alan Turing reference that they don’t even get. </hating> Anyway, while perusing the Google+ world, I stumbled upon this post lamenting the dearth of women video game designers. It got me thinking about something that really pisses me off about video games, despite the fact that I spend exactly three billion hours a year playing them: they’re not only sexist, but heterosexist.

It’s something that’s been bugging me since I was 9 or 10 years old and my two best friends, the Heistman brothers, turned me on to what is now one of my favorite gaming franchise: Harvest Moon. The first game had just launched on the SNES (yes, they were still making SNES games in 1996) and Casey and Josh had just purchased their very own copy of what I thought would be an incredibly lame farm sim. Turns out, it’s one of the best games ever. Anyway, the one thing that bugged me about it was the fact that you couldn’t play as a girl. You see, even though I didn’t exactly know what transgender was or that people actually could switch sexes (I had just given up prayer as a viable route for fixing what ails you), I knew that I was really a girl, and I’d always had a hard time relating to guys, despite the fact that my two best friends were guys. When I watched movies and played video games, I always felt this disconnect between me and the male characters–and I still do. However, I also got pissed off by the fact that it seemed like the only female characters I had to relate to needed rescuing and marrying–sure, there was Samus Aran, but she was one fine lady in a sea of hairy dudes. That’s the first part of the Harvest Moon franchise that pissed me off.

Later down the road, Harvest Moon added a title with a female lead. This made me happy, however the fact that you could only marry dudes pissed me off. One thing I get touchy about as a trans lesbian is the fact that people assume I’m into guys. If they’re confused when the find out I was born a man yet identify as a woman, I don’t know what the fuck to call what they get when they find out that I am only sexually attracted to women. For some reason I’m into games that allow me to have a virtual love life, probably because I can look up what my partner wants on GameFAQs (that’s probably something I should work on in therapy). However, it’s very rare to find a game that allows me to both be a woman and marry women. The Fable games may be the notable exception, except I didn’t figure this out until after I’d played most of the main story of Fable 2 and realized by accident that I could propose to a lady-time. Sure, I’ve heard about the legendary “Best Friends system” in some Japanese Harvest Moon game, but they dropped that for the American port because they thought it would raise the ESRB rating. Why is it that virtual farmer dude can marry virtual pink-haired lady and make virtual babies and it’s still an “E” game, but when people of the same sex like to hold hands and live together the rating suddenly goes up? Granted, it never actually happened, but the fact that it’s even a major concern of Natsume’s should be a sad indictment of the state of our society.

So, the reason why I secretly want to become a video game designer: I want to make video games for queer folks. Epic fantasy adventures where you choose your own gender (I’ll even include gender-neutral options!) and you choose the gender of the love interest in the story (why does it have to be a love interest? why can’t they just be Best Friends? I’d do more for Josh than for any woman I’ve dated, with perhaps one exception) and you can save the world and marry the guy/girl/androgyne of your dreams in your own style. It would probably be a space opera, since the world is always in need of a good space opera.

So right about now this post is getting way too long and I still have a million more things to say because this is a topic that I’m incredibly passionate about as the Queen of the Über-Nerds, so I think I’ll break it up into parts. In closing, I’d like to say that this isn’t the last you’ve heard on this topic. If there are any enterprising young developers out there, look me up on one of the many social networking site and get in touch with me. My coding is a little rusty, but I’m an award-winning writer. I could make the characters and plot, you could write the code; together, we’d have the queer/feminist nerd market cornered.

 

The simple joys of Pokemon…

So I’m not working this summer, which means that I’m slacking off and playing video games for three months straight. (Also, going to the Henry Doorly Zoo as often as possible.) To kick off the summer of gaming, I went out an picked up Pokemon White Version. Because I’m an über pokenerd. Also, my friend hasBlack Version, so this way we can trade and battle and such. Anyway, I know Pokemon seems kind of like a kids’ game, but I’m here to tell you that’s not the case at all.

I was about 12 when Red and Blue came out. I loved them and played Blue all the fucking time, trading with friends and battling and such. Also, I had Pokemon Stadium for N64, which was nice because it had the fun of battling with awesome killer 3D graphics. Anyway, a few years later I sort of decided I wanted to grow out of it; trading and battling cute cuddly animal-like thingies is all fun and good when you’re in middle school, but high schoolers are supposed to like Grand Theft Auto III and all that nonsense. Also, Final Fantasy X with its obnoxious voice-acting (but awesome gameplay nonetheless). So, I shelved my Pokemon for a few years.

It wasn’t until 2009 when I had some money to burn and I asked my friend, Josh, who is 7 years my senior, for a recommendation for a good RPG. To my surprise, he recommended Pokemon. I was a little confused; he was almost 30, why was he still playing Pokemon? He explained that despite the fact that it was geared towards the younger crowd, it had all the qualities of an amazing RPG. So, I decided to revisit the franchise and picked up Pokemon Platinum Version. My eyes were opened.

Sure, it’s still collecting, trading, and battling cute-and-cuddlies, but the gameplay is where it’s at. The main thing that really takes me back to the days of Final Fantasy III and those games from the early 90s that sucked me into the RPG/strategy world is the difficulty level. You can’t just breeze through the game unless you’re up for a major challenge. In the Pokemon games, each gym represents a major leap in enemy levels, which means you either have to fight an uphill battle and go all-out on the strategy side of things, or you spend countless hours grinding. Honestly, I like grinding, mainly because the RPGs I played growing up all required lots of grinding to build up stats or money for the best weapons and armor.

The other thing that really takes me back about these games is the epic nature of the games. When I first played Platinum, it took me more than 40 hours just to get to the Final Four, and even then the game wasn’t over. I’m a huge fan of epic games when you’ve got such great gameplay. The thing is, once I get sucked into the battle system and the plot, I don’t want it to end. And then, when the main story finally ends, I want more, simply because I’ve devoted so much time and effort to character development and don’t want to just wave goodbye to all my companions. Pokemon totally delivers in this category. On White, I’m about 12 hours in so far and haven’t even gotten to the fourth gym, and then there’s that whole deal with Team Plasma that’s probably going to eat up a fair amount of time. And then the Final Four, and then the after-game jazz, plus playing with friends and such. Not a bad deal for $35.

Also, I love the battle system. With the weaknesses and only being able to know 4 moves and all that jazz, it encourages strategizing. I love games like that. I’m a deliberator; I like to plan things out carefully and go in with a well-formed strategy and everything. That’s why I like RPGs and strategy games.

All in all, Pokemon is a stellar example of an old-school console-style RPG. I am totally happy being a nerd and playing a game designed for preteens. It’s a damn good game and anyone who denies it doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

I thought there was a law against false advertising…

So this morning as I was getting ready for school and watching CNN I saw an ad for “clean” coal technology which claimed that “clean” coal technology has made a demonstrable impact on the environment. I found this a little fishy, since last I knew the earliest projected payoff from research into “clean” coal was 20-30 years from now. Granted, I haven’t done any reading on “clean” coal research since about last February, and it’s entirely possible there was a quantum leap in the technology while I was out to lunch, but I’m pretty sure one of my crazy liberal friends would have told me something about it. Anyway, it got me thinking about the real solution to the energy crisis: nuclear power!

In the nuclear business, there’s a saying that goes “the less you know the more you fear.” Essentially, the people who gripe about how horrible this truly amazing energy source is are all completely ignorant and have no right to bitch about a solution that could save the environment and create jobs. First of all, nuclear energy is more than 95% efficient, more than coal’s 90%, much more than wind’s max of 40%, and light years ahead of solar energy, which tops out at about 17%. Then there’s the footprint: the average nuclear energy facility takes up less than 1/3 of a square mile and can power an entire city. You’d need at least several hundred square miles worth of wind turbines or solar panels to get the same amount of energy. Also, for small developing communities, miniature reactors such as Toshiba’s 4S can be buried underground and maintained from a facility about the size of a city block. Then there’s the fact that it’s always on, unlike wind or solar, which require just the right conditions (I remember hearing that although wind’s peak efficiency is 40%, it usually operates around 10%, but I can’t remember the source so that may not be reliable). Also, government regulations stipulate that nuclear power facilities may not release more than 15 mrem of radiation into the surrounding area. Just to put that in perspective, the background radiation of the U.S. from radon and other naturally-occurring substances is 230-320 mrem. Breathing is a better was to get cancer than living near a nuclear facility.

But what about the risk of a major meltdown? Well, first of all, there has never been a true meltdown in more than 50 years of nuclear energy. Chernobyl was the worst nuclear incident (not counting the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, obviously), and that little snaffu only happened because the USSR was didn’t know what they were doing and the Chernobyl plant was so unsafe it’s a miracle it lasted as long as it did. Every nuclear country today has strict codes which would prevent anything on the scale of Chernobyl ever happening again. In all, there are only seven nuclear incidents at energy facilities I can actually think of. In about 60 years of developing the technology. There are or have been literally thousands of nuclear plants operating these past 50-60 years, and only 7 incidents. Furthermore, France, the world’s leader in nuclear energy, has never had an incident. They get 60% of their power from nuclear and shut down their last coal-burning plant in 2004 or 2005 (I forget; it was my freshman year of college). Their emissions are among the lowest in the industrialized world. Also, they make a killing selling nuclear-produced energy to neighboring countries. So does Italy. Sounds pretty good for the economy to me. We can either sell to Canada or buy from them; which do you want it to be?

About now I’m sure some ignorati is thinking I forgot about the whole “nuclear waste” issue. While it is true that nuclear reactors produce radioactive byproducts, I don’t like to call it “waste,” mainly because most of it is reusable. The only problem is that the U.S. government, which is loaded with ignorant nuclear-haters, will not fund research into the best way to reclaim this “waste.” Nuclear could be a renewable source of energy if only the government would cut the crap and get on the side of science.

In closing, I would like to say that I have heard some radical skeptics claim that radiation from Chernobyl has never been linked to a single case of cancer or a birth defect. Technically, this is true, but only because there’s no real way to tell exactly how most cancers or birth defects come about. The cancer and birth defect rates of people living in the area at the time were actually closer to the norm than one would think, but I am pretty sure it’s going too far to claim that it didnoharm. Also, there’s the issue of the people killed in the actual explosion. However, if you’re looking for damage to the environment, you’ll have to look elsewhere. The Chernobyl incident may have been the best thing to happen to the ecosystem in the area since humans first settled there. Now it is a beautiful forest absolutely thriving with wildlife, none of which seem to be suffering any ill effects from the remaining background radiation.

So, in a nutshell: coal is never clean and wind and solar are impractical. It’s time to go really green.

The amazing properties of Chinese purple

So I’ve been celebrating my Spring Break by geeking out and watching PBS and National Geographic documentaries on Netflix. I’ve always been a big Nova fan, but now I’m starting to get into the newer series Secrets of the Dead. I just watched an episode of the latter about the ancient Chinese terracotta warriors and learned something interesting about a rather popular ancient Chinese synthetic pigment. It’s called Chinese purple and its origins are most likely rooted in ancient Chinese alchemy. The theory advanced in this episode of Secrets of the Dead is that it was first created in experiments to synthesize jade, which the ancient Chinese believed to bring immortality (I guess it was the ancient eastern version of the philosopher’s stone). Anyway, the evidence for this argument is that the chemical composition of Chinese purple is identical to the chemical composition of a form of synthetic jade from that period known as Chinese glass.

Being more well-versed in Egyptology that ancient eastern anthropology, I was familiar with a similar pigment, Egyptian blue, but this Chinese purple stuff seems a lot cooler because of an interesting discovery.

A physicist inserted a sample of Chinese purple into the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory’s 45-Tesla/32mm Hybrid Magnet’s core (the world’s strongest magnet) and super-cooled it in order to analyze its physical properties and found that at extreme temperatures the pigment actually loses its third dimension! Not being a physics expert (but having been raised by one, if that counts for anything) I had heard that stuff such as this was theoretically possible, but I didn’t think it had ever been observed (some scrounging on the internet confirms that this is the first time such a miraculous occurrence has been experimentally observed). Being a computer nerd, I’m quite excited about what this could mean for the future of computing. (Secrets of the Dead tells us it also has some bearing on rail travel, if you’re a real nerd.)

More about Han purple and super-science.