Pointy Sticks

Life of a Stick


  • Getting Shot

    Let me dig into the past and tell a fun story of my youth.

    I visited some relatives in Utah again recently, and cleared up a few facts about this story that I hadn’t been remembering correctly. So hopefully this will be one of the more accurate retellings that I’ve done.

    I live in Washington state, near Seattle. However, a lot of my relatives are in Utah. Every few years, we take a jaunt over there and say hello to everyone.

    A couple decades ago, when I was about nine years old, we had one of our family reunions and took a trip over there. My father and uncle decided it would be a good idea to play around with some of the guns they had. And by “play around” I mean take the guns up into the hills, away from people, and have a big dirt hill backdrop and set up targets. Guns are dangerous things, and it’s important to be professional when playing with them.

    My older brother, about a year and a half older than me, was there. But my younger sister stayed back at the house. And as I mentioned, my father and uncle were also there. I remember other figures being there, but I don’t remember any faces or names.

    All of the guns that we had were .22′s. At least, all of the guns that they gave the kids were .22′s. I remember both pistols and rifles that we were allowed to play with. The way the cycle went was that the kid would be given a gun. They could expend the magazine*, then they would return the gun to an adult, and be given a new, loaded gun.

    The first thing the adults did was to keep the children entertained. They set up some empty pop cans on an old log, then gave the kids loaded guns, ready to fire. Then they went out beyond the pop cans and started setting up more distant targets for the adults. While young, I felt that something was wrong with this picture, and asked if we should be shooting these loaded guns while there were people out beyond the targets. I was told no, that probably wasn’t a good idea. So I waited for them to come back before doing so.

    My attempts to shoot the pop cans did not go very well. While a .22 pistol is fairly easy to control in the hands of an adult, I was a nine year old boy, and was a runt compared to much of my family. I also didn’t know the first thing about handling a firearm, and the short crash course I was given wasn’t good enough. I would pull the trigger, and the gun would leap upwards as the bullet was fired, and completely miss the target.

    After a while of this, my father took notice and told me to hold the gun still. To not let it jump away from you, but try to control it. How novel! I would try this method instead.

    My first attempt at holding the gun still went fantastically. I fired at a pop can and hit it. The bullet went right through the middle of it, leaving a small clean hole, and the pop can didn’t even move. I had expected it to bounce around when it was hit, like with a baseball bat.

    I was so excited I wanted to share this with everyone. I pointed the gun towards the ground — I wasn’t interested in shooting anyone by accident — and pointed at the pop can, excitedly trying to tell my dad what I’d just done.

    Then the gun went off.

    I’m not sure how it happened. Maybe I pointed with one hand and ended up clenching the other. Maybe I jostled my weight, and the gun bounced a bit, and my finger (which was still on the trigger) ended up pulling the trigger as the gun came back down.

    However it happened, it wasn’t a problem. I was aiming the gun at the ground. Though apparently the bullet had hit the ground with such force that it sent a vibration up my leg, because it felt kind of weird. I took a look down to try to find the hole in the ground where the bullet went, but noticed a little trickle of blood coming out from under the lip of my shorts.

    My memory of the following events isn’t really impaired. But the memory of them is a bit different. Like I was dipped in a vat of freezing water.

    My first response, as a nine year old child, was to burst into tears. “Daaad,” I whined. “I shot my leg!”

    My dad’s response is priceless, and I share it with you now so you may have the wisdom to respond with something of the same when your child encounters a similar situation. My dad’s reply was, “walk it off.”

    The first aid kit was retrieved, and I received a small band aid on the outside of my leg and just below the knee. There was no exit wound, and the entrance wound was as small as the hole on the pop can I had shot just before. I was then loaded up into the car, and made to lie in the back seat. I remember trying to figure out a way to wear a seat belt in such a position — wouldn’t want to get hurt in case the car crashed, and people were a little more excited than normal.

    We stopped by the house on the way to the hospital. My mom and sister looked from the doorway. I remember my mom’s expression being horrified. My little sister, just a child, was clinging to her leg. Looking up, she asked, “does this mean we don’t get to go to the water park?”

    My next memory was being carried through the walls of the hospital. I was being carried through the air by two people. One was my father, I think the other was my uncle. I remember the walls being uneven, with some support beams every now and then. Twice they ran my injured leg into one of the support beams.

    My father was then arrested, because apparently that’s what happens when someone gets shot. My mom waved goodbye to him and stayed with her son.

    My uncle is a lawyer of no small fame. I remember one time we visited, and there were a lot of signs around, as he was running for the position of a judge. My father, being my uncle’s brother, shares the same last name, so he wasn’t held for very long. It’s good to have friends in high places.

    I stayed in the hospital in Utah for two weeks before I was able to go back home. It was some days before they could do surgery to remove what fragments of the bullet they could. However, they had a Nintendo at the hospital. My parents had never let me get one, and it was so awesome.

    Turns out the bullet missed a major nerve center by an inch. I used to have partial numbness on my right foot, though it’s mostly gone now. The bullet had traveled down my leg, shattering both the tibia and the fibula, and stopping about at my ankle. The small hole below my knee on the outside is still visible, and I still have a long scar down by my ankle where they cut me open. When I flex my shin, things visibly bunch up a little funny, too. No pins, no rods, no screws. I was young enough that things eventually healed on their own.

    I believe I was in the cast for two months. Eventually it went from a full leg cast to a knee-down cast. And while I never did regain full mobility in my foot (I can’t lift my toes up on the right as far as the left) I blame that on me being lazy and not exercising it after the fact like the doctor told me.

    No serious lasting physical effects from all this.

    Years later, I believe it was in middle school, one of the teachers shared a statistic with the class. One in thirty people will be shot by the time they’re 20 years old. “That means,” she said, “someone in this classroom will be shot by the time you’re 20.” One of my friends stood up and yelled, “Creighton’s saved us all! He’s already been shot!”

    So the moral of the story is: If you’re going to do something stupid, do it while you’re young so you can heal better, and have a good story to tell. Oh, and maybe you’ll get to play some Nintendo, too.

    *A common mistake is to call the magazine of a firearm a “clip.” A proper explanation of the two can be found in this article: Clip vs. Magazine: A Lesson in Firearm Terminology

     


  • Site Upgraded to WordPress

    I’ve been wanting add a number of features to the blog for some time. From adding comments, to properly linking to and from other blogs, RSS feed, etc. WordPress is a famous pieces of blog software that lets me host it on my own servers, and still interact well with others.

    All of the old posts from my custom brewed blog software have been converted into WordPress, and are available in the archives. I’ve repaired some of the old links that I noticed, but some of them are broken beyond repair — sites or things they refer to simply don’t exist anymore.

    There is a list of things I would like to blog about. Various topics, philosophical or otherwise interesting to me, and I hope to eventually get to all of them.

    The look and layout of the site may change at various points in the near future while I find an arrangement of things I’m happy with and that is comfortable to work with.


  • Another Year in a Wheelbarrel

    Site’s paid for through next year. Long live the site!

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  • Graduated!

    Just a post to announce that I officially graduated from a four year sprint at DigiPen. They will (eventually) mail me the diploma they gave me an IOU for at the graduation ceremony. The degree I graduated from is a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Production Animation.

    It was tight on a couple classes, but I managed to pass every class without failing one. I was just shy of a 3.0 GPA, but I’ll settle for just graduating.

    Longest four years of my life. Trying to manage business and school at the same time, taking summer classes to lighten the load on the normal school year — which was great, but meant I never had a break.

    I am extremely glad it’s over, and very excited to have actually graduated. I made a lot of friends, met a lot of talented, intelligent people, and learned a lot about art and myself.

    Here’s to an exciting future!


  • Fall 2009 Grades

    My grades were actually better this semester than I expected.

    In short:
    ART401 Concept Art: C+
    ART450 Portfolio: A
    FLM250 Post-Production: A-
    FLM275 Music and Sound: A
    INT390 Internship: Pass

    And the long of each class:
    ART401 – Concept Art
    Matthew Dudley was a bit harsh at first. He wanted something specific from our work, but (like me) has a problem communicating sometimes. So he was frustrated for the first few weeks — and so were we — until he figured out how to get his points across.

    He knew the subject — he’s a lead/senior character artists at Gas Powered Games. Like I’ve mentioned to a number of people before, skill at doing something and skill at teaching something are two separate skills. He picked it up quickly as the class progressed.

    Not sure if that was his first time teaching the class or not. He might have been a new hire at DigiPen. It seemed like he was new to it, though. He learned real fast if it was, though. If he keeps teaching it, in three or four years he’ll really learn the ins and outs about how to teach people effectively.

    There were a few people in the crowd, like Sarah Markley, who are looking to get into concept art after graduation. The class had a few frustrations for them, like switching assignments with someone else in the class and finishing what they started. But that’s how it sometimes works in the industry.

    ART450 – Portfolio
    Monte Michaelis is a pleasure to learn from, and is just a fun guy to have around in general. He recently got hired at Popcap and helps them with their hiring process now.

    There is no doubt this man knows his stuff. Kamal Siegel, founder of Digital Double, was teaching the other sessions of the class, and they combined their knowledge and created the perfect class.

    Besides learning about and creating the foundation of resources that will follow me through the rest of my professional career (portfolio, business cards, resume, demo reel, and everything about how to find a job) I had a lot of fun, and really looked forward to his classes.

    Sadly, all good things come to an end. And Portfolio’s end included bacon maple bars. Epic to the finish.

    FLM250 – Post-Production
    Post-production is what you do after a film is created or rendered. All those neat special effects, like the lightsabers? They’re added in post-production.

    The class was specifically an
    Riley Prigg taught this class. And while he really knew his stuff, After Effects is really one of those programs where the more you know how to do, the more you realize you don’t know. The amount of combinations and uses for effects are ridiculous.

    The class was fun, and a lot of the students created some really neat projects.

    FLM275 – Music and Sound
    Lawrence Schwedler is one of my heroes. If it wasn’t for visual art, I’d probably be studying music. The man is audio director for Nintendo Software Technology.

    There’s the saying: those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach. Well, there’s a third category, one I try to fall into myself. Those that are able to do so well, and have the knowledge so built into their lives, that they teach people by reflex, and sometimes by accident. Lawrence is the kind of guy who can write a paper and cite himself as the reference used.

    The class was a joy to participate in. It was like a DigiPen ART101 Lite, except for music. He taught principles, the foundational knowledge, that are useful no matter what you’re doing with music and sound.

    INT390 – Internship
    This really deserves its own entry. I’ll get around to it some day.


  • Pointy Sticks and Paul Graham

    I purchased a new domain name. A friend recommended it, it was available, and I’ve been needing one for a while.

    http://www.pointystick.org

    Currently, it’s housing a make-shift portfolio. I’ve applied for an internship at Virtrium for my senior year at college. You may remember Virtrium as they released a press release that had my name on it. Don’t know if I’ll get the internship or not, but everything I’ve seen of them shows they’re really great people. So it would be awesome to get it.

    At some point in the future, I will make skaarj.com redirect to pointystick.org and ask people to update their bookmarks. Maybe around Christmas, maybe later. The redirect will likely last a significant amount of time, after which I will repurpose skaarj.com with a more appropriate thing than my personal blog and etc.

    Also, I recently learned of this Paul Graham guy. I’m sure he’s someone famous, as it certainly seems that’s the case, but I’ve only just recently been made aware he exists when Soft Linden twittered about him. He does something like I do — taking established conventions, realizing something’s horribly wrong, and puts forth the truth of the matter — except whereas I write something like bad poetry, he writes stuff like Mark Twain. Definitely worth giving some of his essays a read.

    http://www.paulgraham.com/articles.html

    I’ve only read a couple, but How to Do What You Love caught my eye, and speaks things on the subject I’ve been telling people for years, and other things I hadn’t even thought of.

    (On another note, Alex’s Soapbox on The Daily WTF has some very insightful things in the same vein as “why hasn’t anyone else figured this out already?” style of thought.)


  • Morrowind Werewolf Mod

    Hey, I found some an old Morrowind mod website and put it online.

    It’s stuck on my home machine for now (eg, slow connection) but when I get unlazy (eg, when I graduate school in a year and have a spare second) I’ll put it on my faster server and maybe remind people about it.

    http://werewolves.skaarj.com/


  • How To Make Goals Work For You

    Introduction
    I’ve recently come across a Truth which has had a rather large impact on my life. The pieces for it have been in my life for a while, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that they’ve clicked. And the more time moves on, the more it becomes a central part of my life.

    Prelude Parts
    So when I was young, and I’d do stupid things, or things my parents didn’t understand, and my mom would explain to me that nothing happens without a reason. I’ve found that to be true. There are some situations where the reason isn’t immediately obvious or is otherwise unknown, but there’s always a reason. Science dedicates itself to finding out reasons. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to specifically talk about people’s actions and the reasons for them.

    Another piece of the puzzle is one of those business-speak paradigms. I hate those business “paradigms.” That’s an entirely different blog post, though. Anyway, one of those things businesses always talk about is creating goals. Which is another piece of the puzzle.

    The last piece is a cardboard box I saw. That comes later.

    An Example
    So those two pieces: a reason for everything, and having goals. Let me start with an example.

    Jane sees Sue enjoying some ice cream. Jane tells Sue that she’s going to get fat if she keeps eating ice cream.

    Very simple. At least the surface is. Let’s take a look under the hood and see what’s really going on.

    Two things have happened in the example:
    1) Sue is eating ice cream.
    2) Jane is telling Sue she is going to get fat.

    Here’s the key to it. Sue is not just eating ice cream. She’s working towards a goal. And Jane is not just talking to Sue. Jane is also working towards a goal. The common misunderstanding is that people’s actions are exactly what you see, and that’s almost never the case.

    What is Sue’s goal? When I eat ice cream, I usually have a few reasons that bring me to that action.
    a) I love how it tastes and want to experience that sensation.
    b) It’s really hot out and I want to cool down, but sucking on ice cubes isn’t near as fun.
    c) I’m bitter and angry and want to enjoy something.

    These are goals. Ice cream is a means to an end. Ice cream is not the only solution for any of the above goals. Each of those goals above could have various other solutions.

    Sue may have similar goals for eating ice cream. If you know Sue well enough, you may be able to see behind the action and into her reasons. Unfortunately, I just made Sue up on the spot, and know nothing about her. Some friend I am.

    Now how about Jane? Nagging on poor little Sue, right? Maybe not. The reason behind spoken words is a lot harder than actions. The actions can just have a shadow goal behind them. Words imply their own shadow goal because they have meaning in themselves. However, speaking words is just like any other action. The goal may be totally unrelated to the words spoken.

    Once again, I’ll example my own reasons for saying something like this.
    a) Reminding someone else of something helps me remember it. I may nag someone about getting fat because I’m worried about my own weight.
    b) I may be doing them a favor. Reminding them about their diet they’ve told me about.
    c) If I’m not paying attention, I may apply stereotypes or generalizations to someone. Thus, all women are worried about their weight, see last reason.

    So what’s Jane’s reason? If you know her, or witness the exchange with some general knowledge of social behavior, you may be able to formulate your own guesses as to the goals behind the actions.

    And that’s the point behind the example: Every action someone takes has at least one goal behind it.

    The Usefulness
    So now you know that everyone’s actions have a goal or two behind them. Why do you care?

    Ever been offended by a friend? Maybe his goal was innocent, and he just didn’t word it properly. I know I have a problem with failing to word my goals clearly.

    Ever found yourself behaving oddly? Acting to impress someone? What possessed you to behave like that? It’s actually pretty easy to find out what your own goals for things are with a little introspection.

    This is useful because it makes your life easier. It prevents misunderstandings. It helps you understand yourself and communicate more clearly. It lets you see through people’s lies, or their poorly worded sentences, to the true meaning behind what they’re saying.

    And if you’re on the other side of the coin, it lets you know people can be keeping an eye out for goals. By picking your actions based on false goals you think they would want to see, you can disguise your true intent better. But I didn’t say that.

    Goal Based Planning
    So let’s take this concept and put it into application.

    One of my biggest beefs with massively-multiplayer online games (MMOGs) is that they’re all the same. There’s a few that are slightly different, and a few that have creative ideas or small unique features, but barring a few outliers everything is pretty much the same. And to me, that really kills the fun because I’ve already played “that game.” Sure, a new story would be nice, but the story never comes fast enough to be interesting. There’s too much “game” which I’ve already experienced.

    So let me take a detour real quick and return to that cardboard box I mentioning at the beginning. It’s a small one. It held candy bars or something. My mom had taken the last bar, and I was in the way of the recyclables, so she asked me to fold it up and toss it in with the rest of the cardboard. As I started folding it up, I realized it was a very different style of cardboard box. I turned it over in my hands, looking at it, and realized why. They had built it in such a way that the top easily popped off so you could access the candy bars, even if they’d fallen sideways along the bottom when there was just a few left. By doing that, they had to redesign the rest of the box so it could still hold its shape properly.

    What that company did is look at their goal: We need a box that lets people access the contents. And they designed it from the ground up to meet their goal. I’m sure they had a few other goals, like reasonably cheap to print and make, is about yea big, and doesn’t make people sue us.

    Looking at that cardboard box, I saw a company that could have just done what everyone else had done, but instead figured out what their goal was and worked towards that.

    Looking at MMOGs, I see company after company that builds the same “cardboard box.” I’m sure the reason is fairly simple. They picked their goals differently than I would. Maybe they just wanted money, and so they design the game to be like all the other games out there that make money. Maybe they just wanted to focus on telling their unique story, so they just used a cardboard box like everyone else used and painted it differently. Or, it’s possible the companies themselves don’t know what their main goal was and they were just having fun.

    In some situations, the goal is speed. Doing what you know “already works” is a great shortcut in that situation. But when you’ve got the time, or the item is important enough, just churning out what already exists because it worked for someone else is a poor substitute. Figure out what your goal is and work towards that.

    Summary

    • Anything someone says or does has a goal behind it, which may not match what they’re doing through either poor skills or intentional misdirection. By analyzing their behavior, you can plot a path to their goal and find their true intentions.
    • Beginning anything by listing out the ultimate goal, and then the lesser goals, you can create something worthwhile. Instead of just another cardboard box.

     


  • Moral Ladders

    Let’s start with some hearsay (as opposed to heresy). Back in Biblical times, near the coming of Christ, the Jews had it all figured out. They had run through the Bible, found every possible sin, and prioritized them. Well, organized them. So they had a nice ordered list about how severe each sin was, top to bottom.

    As a side note, in Matthew 22:26, when the lawyer asks Christ what the greatest commandment was, he could have been referring to this “list” and simply testing Christ’s knowledge of the system. True to Christ’s form, he acted instead of reacted, taking control of the situation. But that’s another topic.

    So right, Jews had this nice ordered list of sins. This is a natural inclination people have. Is forgetting to brush your teeth worse than murdering some random stranger on the street? Is murdering a random stranger on the street worse than murdering a close family member?

    I propose that we all have our own personal order of “sins,” from worst to not-so-bad. I say sins so I don’t have to refer to them as something like “no-nos.” Substitute whatever word you want. Most of us agree on some of the larger landmarks: lying, theft, adultery, murder.

    But not everything lines up evenly. For those sexual purists among us, you may find that a sin like fornication slides along the scale for different people. They may be horribly adverse to lying, but see no problem with sex outside of wedlock.

    So this is the concept of a moral ladder. Everyone has one, however solidified and pre-decided, or wishy-washy and waffling with the situation.

    Let me touch on exceptions. If someone holds a gun to your head and threatens you with death, would you lie to save your life? Would you steal? Would you kill someone else? What if they deserved to be killed? What if they wanted to die? Generally, the higher up on the ladder something is, the more extreme an exception must be for the rung to be stepped on.

    Now here’s the problem I had that let me figure all this out.

    I have friends and relatives that do or did consider themselves gay. But when I associated with them, it felt awkward and uncomfortable. And I couldn’t figure out why. Normally, my associations with them weren’t enough to force me to deal with the issue, but it eventually reached the point where I needed to figure out why. With a little logic and introspection, I realized I was uncomfortable because I felt like they were obsessed with sex.

    Wait, what? Nothing in their behavior indicates something like this. Some of them are quite religious and have the same opinions regarding sexual behavior as I do. Where in the world did such an opinion come from?

    If you recall, a while back I talked about Truth. And how people have a tendency to apply their personal truth on a social or universal level, which is a big cause of offending people. Turns out — I was doing just that with my moral ladder. Wanton sexual activity is below the homosexual behavior rung on my ladder, and I was unconsciously applying my personal truth as a social/universal truth. It really had no business being there.

    Once I realized this consciously, it stopped being a problem, and things are just dandy.


  • Merry Christmas!

    I wish you a Merry Christmas now, because the future forecast sounds grim. A year ago we were without power for about a week and a half, and it may be as bad this year.

    Hopefully nothing bad will happen, but if trees fall over and kill a host of power lines again, it may turn out to be a survivalists Christmas, so we’re grabbing some supplies today while there’s still time.

    Merry Christmas!

    And for those that don’t celebrate Christmas, Happy Ecksmas!



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