TIANSTL Video Games

Things I Am Not Supposed to Like:Katawa Shoujo

Starting a new series if you will about things I am not supposed to like
because people tell me otherwise. The series starts with a photo.


This a picture of Lilly from Katawa
a free visual novel novel. She is appropriately enough waiting in
line for a tea sampling. Neither she nor I got into the room, but that is not
the point. What motivates someone to cosplay as such an obscure character? I
have seen two Lilly cosplays in my life and barely anyone recognizes them. This
is from a game that has no retail release, had no marketing. A game whose
popularity is purely through the words of others. And yet here she is. If that
is not all the indication you need that is game is special, I doubt my poor
skills at wordsmithing will convince you otherwise.

This game is unique in its ability to capture moments. You have a game like
Call of Duty that can very skillfully capture a feeling. COD makes you feel
tense, or excited, or angry, but has it ever captured a quiet moment? Some of
Bioware’s offering get close, but all these big budget triple A games fail
again and again to capture the moment. What do I mean when I say this? A
moment, as defined here, is a single interaction between people. A moment is
not bombastic, its not life changing, its just people talking, just
conversation. Here is
a perfect example. It is not special, nor unique, but its eight minutes and 54
seconds of a dozen or so people’s lives. Its raw, its unscripted, its life.
This is a moment and Katawa Shoujo is a game that captures these interactions
between its characters better than any other game. There is a clarity to
dialogue that makes the interactions seem so natural, so unforced. That is why
I love this game so much. Who cares that it is anime inspired, or a dating
game, or a made by a bunch of people from 4chan. This game offers the greatest
thing any form of media can give: a brief look into the lives of others. Is
that not what anyone wants? Some games are empowering, they make you feel
things. To be fair this game makes you feel a lot of things, but that is not
the point here. The point here is to see a person’s life over a few months.
That is unique amongst video games, it is awesome, and it is why I love this
game despite what others thing.


Melting Metal:Attempt 1

A little while ago I read a how to on melting
metal in a microwave. So having more money and time than sense I figured it was
worth a shot.

First I needed some safety equipment for this job:

Here we have some metal tongs for grabbing the dish the metal is going to
melt in, some gloves that can hold hot things, and a face guard to prevent
molten meal from showering my pretty boy looks.

Now here is the general setup:

Microwave plenty of distance from anything that can catch fire, safety
equipment ready to go, and a fire extinguisher in case things get out of hand.
As per the instructions I fashioned a brick kiln in the microwave. The brick under the steel bowl is
silicon carbide and should provide a nice hot surface to warm the bowl.

In addition I sealed off the entry and exit vents of the microwave to try
and get the inside as hot as possible. We do not want our hot air flowing out
the back.

Bricks with holes in them was not ideal, but it was what I had to work with.
The metal to melt is zinc:

Yup, I hand cut that with a hacksaw and it took a ton of time to do. The
melting temperature of zinc is 786.2°F. Supposedly the max temperature you can
achieve using this microwave strategy is 900°F-1000°F so it should be possible
to get the metal up to melting temperature. Fumes from molten zine are
relatively harmless, but if you breathe too much it is possible you can get
metal fume fever.
The long term effects are negligible, at most it seems to produce flu like
symptoms for a few days. Here is a material safety data
if you want to know more. Of course we are going to need a mold for
our molten metal:

A bit rough, but should work. This mold is made out plaster of paris with
wood blocks to give the plaster a form to mold around. Of course I broke it
getting the wood out so its been put back together and secured with a rubber
band. Nothing else to do but fire it up and wait. I turned on the microwave for
about an hour and here is the result:


I was unable to achieve a high enough temperature. The metal and bricks were
certainly too hot to handle, but I had no temperature gauge so I have no idea
how off from the melting point I was. A couple things contributed to this

1. After 30 or so minutes the microwave front became loose reducing its
ability to build up heat inside.

2. I did not make a full kiln with the bricks, and the bricks I did have had
holes in them making it harder to build up heat in there.

3. The microwave I was using was $5 and was made in 1993, it is possible it
just does not have enough power to build up the heat I need. Over time the
magnetron inside the microwave will weaken based on how much use the microwave
gets. Since I have no idea how intensively this 21 year old microwave was used
this may or may not have started to happen.

4. It was quite a hefty chunk of zinc. Perhaps things would work better if I
had a smaller block.

So things were a bit of bust, but I have not given up yet. I may try again
once I get some more bricks to build a better kiln. A better microwave might be
found at a yard sale or I might try doing this the old school way with
charcoal. It might also be good to try and get a baseline for this by melting
something with a really low melting point like solder (370°F).


The Lazy Workaholic

I have a curious perversion of mine to speak about today. I call it lazy
workaholism. What it basically boils down to is I do not like taking days off.
Most people who say this are called workaholics. The definition of a workaholic
(via Wikipedia) is: ‘a
person who is addicted to work.’ That is not true in my case, I certainly like
not working and on the whole, given the choice, would prefer to not work as
opposed to work. Yet my actions are in conflict with this statement. I have
almost three weeks of paid time off sitting waiting to be used and yet the
longest vacation I have taken since starting was two days last July.

It is not like my job is even that important. There are plenty of people
(who are more capable than me) of filling in for me while I take some time off,
but I cannot break away. There are emails to answer, bugs to close, projects to
finish for approaching deadlines. Oracle has no expectation that I never take
time off, but I do. It is as if I fear the consequences of leaving for too
long. That something will break that I am responsible for or that I will grow
slovenly in the time off and dread going back. I like being in the groove,
working everyday, following a pattern. It is breaking the pattern that I dread
most. So I just keep working. Maybe I will want to stop someday.

Review TV

Review:Real Love

Real Love is a six
episode romantic comedy weighing in at about 2.5 hours, about a bunch of
friends living in a Boston apartment a few years out of college. It is not my
usual fare, but it was actually kickstarted
by some people I know so I had to watch it. As such, I am not sure I can be
totally unbiased (honest) with my review, but I will do my best. Some minor
spoilers abound so if you want a pure viewing experience skip to the


Real love is a story about trying to find out whats next. In that sense it
captures the feel of TV shows like Freak and Geeks and
Undeclared. Without
spoiling too much of the plot, we spend most of our time watching the
interaction between Dylan and Beth. The back and forth play between them and
the other characters is funny, but still manages to be poignant at times. There
is a real good sense of characters just trying figure things out which
especially appeals to me. Some of the plot beats I found a little jarring, such
as the early marriage proposal between two characters and the strange closeness
already apparent between Dylan and Beth. I did not know the characters well
enough to understand why they were acting this way early on. Speaking more to
the script there is quite a lot of humor to be found here. A number of jokes
keep reoccurring and seemed to only get funnier the more they happened. I was a
little concerned things would get a bit cheesy, but the writing smartly avoids
these pitfalls and kept things feeling real. The plot moves along briskly,
there are no wasted scenes, and the dialogue is believable and not loaded down
with exposition.


There are four main characters, and three side characters. Of the main
characters my favorite would have to be Dylan. The actor, Patrick Skeyhill,
always manages to capture an otherworldly physicality that is really quite
humorous. He elevates normal scenes to funny scenes with just his comic
actions. Beth, played by Courtland Jones, is the emotional strength of the
series. She brings the gravitas and is a good foil to the general silliness of
Dylan. The other two main characters (played well by Richard Nickerson as Liam
and Jess Corey as Emma) provide a good compliment to each other and push the
plot forward. Jess generally plays it pretty straight, but her husband to be,
Richard, always has a non-sequitur to mix things up.

The side characters play effective roles in support of the plot. Eddie,
played by, Nick Wakely has a deep thundering accent and his strange thought
trains always keep the scenes he is in light. Adam, Beth’s boyfriend for most
of the film, is perhaps a bit too earnest, but that makes his deadpan line
delivery all the more funny. Finally Cara, portrayed by Katie O’Connor, is
perfect in her role as the crazy ex-girlfriend of Dylan. Her manic delivery and
borderline crazy voice provides a real believable edge to her character which
she uses to good effect.


You can see the indie roots most clearly in the technical aspects of the
film. The film quality is generally good, but scenes with a lot of light
suffer. Windows and doors to the outside are often bathed in high intensity
light. It looks odd and it was distracting. In addition I think some of the
characters lines were overdubbed in post and it did not sound good. It was not
super noticeable, but I did notice it.

In general I liked the score, I am not much of a musical fan so it is kind
of hard to judge this aspect of it, but I thought it complimented the emotional
feel of the scenes nicely. That said sometimes it felt like the music was too
overwhelming. Some scenes would have been better if the music was less obvious
or quieter. Shot selection was pretty standard, nothing too creative. One of
the few times Real Love gets clever is the pan from midday to a night time
party scene. It is smartly used and makes the transition slick. I would have
liked to see some smoother cuts, as most of time the camera just seemed to
bounce from character to character.


If you buy the special edition DVD (which I did), you get all six episodes,
the prologue, the soundtrack, and two audio commentary tracks. I have listened
to some of both commentary tracks and they provide good insight and more
laughs. I wish the DVD had included the deleted scenes and shorts they mention
in the commentary, but that might have required another DVD so it is not a big
deal. The case insert is good quality and its simple design looks nice on the


I liked this film, It had important things to say about life after college
and it was funny enough to not take itself so serious all the time. You can buy
it via their store.

Back of the box quote: “Real good, real funny, worth your money.”

Football Musings

A Few Words on the Greatest American Sport

Our long dark offseason has ended with the playing of of the Hall of Fame
game tonight. With that starts another season of the greatest American game,
football. Not that game with the round ball, the game with the egg shaped one.
I love football and many people think that is an aberration of my character. I
want to explain why I love this sport so much. So its time for my favorite
organizational structure, the numbered list.

1. I love the violence.

I am not going to pretend that football is not a violent game. Last year you
could literally hear the screams of a player tearing up his legs on live tv. Some of the most
entertaining plays in the sport involve the big crushing tackle from behind,
the power of players running over one another. This in fact could easily be the
downfall of the sport as it probably leads to long term
. Despite that, it is supremely entertaining to watch huge burly men
run into each other all day long. It is nothing refined, just pure, base,
animalistic love of violence.

2. This is a team sport.

All the other major sports in the US (baseball, hockey, basket ball) are
team sports too, but football makes full use of the team. Each play has 11
players try and work in unison to accomplish one goal. I do not mean to
diminish the team play of other sports, but no other game has so many players
working together at one moment. Football is a game the celebrates the
accomplishment of a team first and a star player second. Sure we all hear of
famous individual football players, but the actual impact these players have is
the least amongst professional sports. Tom Brady may be the best QB ever, but
if his receivers cannot catch or if his offensive line cannot give him enough
time, the team will lose every game. Plenty of other sports focus too much on
the individual or allow them to have too much of an impact. Basketball in
particular is notorious for this. A real good player can make or break your
team. Not so in football, it is all about the team working together.

3. This is a game of strategy.

When you have so many players on the field at once it can be a challenge to
get everyone working in concert, but that is the best part of football.
Watching 11 people (the offense) work in unison to accomplish a common goal is
amazing. Even better you can watch 11 other people (the defense) try as team to
mess that up. And this happens ever play. Plenty of other sports play lip
service to the idea of their game having strategy, but their game is so fluid
that it is hard to actually setup a play. To pick on soccer for a second, you
can see the players try and setup, as a team, favorable situations, but
everything is just moving so fast no one can really do anything but try and win
their individual battles. Football stops, resets, and lets each team make a
play. This allows a huge variety in plays a team can run, formations a team can
field, feints, and fake outs they can make. More diversity than all these other
sports means more options which means more strategy can be brought to the

4. Each play has many layers.

When you watch a play in football, on the surface, the actual facts of the
play are very straightforward. Someone throws a pass and it gets dropped,
someone tries to run the ball and gains a yard or two. The actual enjoyment in
these not so showy plays is in in the details. Here is a
dense example of that
. The thing to know is because football is such a team
game, tiny individual actions by each player combine to make big plays, or
small failures. In the example of a dropped pass, you can see the receiver
dropped it, but it really was not his fault because the QB had to throw it
early, he had to throw early because his offensive line was not able to give
him enough time to find better people to throw to, specifically it was the
fault of one player who could not block his assignment. All this detail happens
each play and happens to every player. It is that detail that makes both the
replay so satisfying to dissect and the actual play so complicated to

5. True league parity.

Every team in the NFL has a chance of winning the Super Bowl. This is
because the league works real hard through salary caps, drafting rules, and
trade agreements to ensure each team has a level financial field and an equal
opportunity to acquire and hold on to talent. This ensures that team that were
bad one year have a good shot at coming back the next year. A perfect example
would be the Chiefs who went from 2-14 in 2012 to 11-5 in 2013. Plenty of other
leagues are not so successful in this endeavors and it ensures teams wallow in
mediocrity for years. Not so with the NFL which means more exciting close
fought games and respect for a fan that sticks with a team in good and bad

So here is to another exciting season and to watching the New England
Patriots win the Super Bowl again.


Notes on House Hunting

I have been at the house hunting gig for over a month now and I have learned
a couple things I would like to put to words in an ordered list. This is mostly
me just complaining so if you have better things to do (which if you are
reading my blog you probably do not), go do them.

1. You are buying a house for the next person who lives there.

You cannot just buy a house with only yourself in mind. You have to consider
the resell value which means you have to consider who might buy this house from
you. This means things like three bedrooms, good schools nearby, a decent
neighborhood, is of great importance even if you do not care at all. That two
bedroom on a busy road might be nice, but how can you sell that 10 years from
now to the family with three kids? This should not stop you from buying a house
that appeals to you, but keep it in mind.

2. House hunting is great for nosy people.

The most private place you can have is your home. Now how would you like
letting a bunch of strangers tramp around taking a bunch of photos, poking and
prodding in all your little hidey-holes. I am just acting in my best interest,
trying to find flaws in the property, but it is another magnitude of social
awkwardness to look in other people’s closets. I also now have a great quantity
of photos of other people’s houses.

3. House hunting is about convincing yourself to spend more money.

The first time you start considering to buy a house you will arbitrarily
pick a number and start to look at houses near that number. For me it was
$150k. Every house below that price is a crack house. Every house above that
price is a mansion. So unless you want to live like an extra on The Wire, you
bump that number up. Then when you are at $200k the houses start looking
better, but you also start seeing some real estate euphemisms like ‘needs sweat
equity’ or ‘perfect for a diy person’. This basically means the house stands
up, but you are gonna have to fix some stuff. I am pretty lazy about things
like that so you start thinking well, maybe I can bust it up to $250k and not
worry about stuff like that. Houses at this level are nice and even livable for
the most part, but they just are not quite there yet. It is like having eggs
with no bacon. Either the road the house is on is too busy, it is too far from
the highway, it abuts a train track, etc. So then you start thinking, maybe I
should stretch to $275k-$300k. Then you realize you exceeded your down payment
and bank loan and you have to stop. The point is you can always spend more
money on a house, at some point you need to compromise on something that is not
the price.

4. The easiest thing you can do is not buy a house.

I visited four houses, and looked at around a 100 hundred online listings at
this point. If this were a bar it would be 7:00AM, aka amateur hour. That said,
you can always find something you do not like about a house that would make you
not want to live there. Chief among them at this point is all the houses in
Massachusetts that have oil heat. So many promising prospects dashed because of
oil heat. Natural gas is cheaper home owners! Get your neighbors to band
together and get the gas company in to install a line. Then sell your house to
me for a reasonable price. This is just one example, but it is a whole litany
of big/tiny things like this that just make it so easy to not do anything. It
is of course not helping that it generally takes me forever to change anything.
I literally have worn the same shoes for five years because I cannot be
bothered to buy new ones.

5. This task is not exciting, you are not a better person for doing it.

People keep saying, “It is great you are looking for a house at your age.”
or “It must be fun to go house touring.” The last thing I need is more people
to inflate my head
. I am not especially smart or good with money, I just happen to be
easily amused which means most of my money ends up getting saved. It is real
easy to get a house down payment going if you just SAVE MONEY. Everyone also
needs to disabuse themselves of the notion that this task is at all
entertaining. Every other homeowner must be so much more level minded than me,
because I am going mental running through all the possibilities here. This will
probably be the most expensive thing I have ever bought. Which means I have to
be extremely careful I do not buy a dud or a home that needs a lot of work or a
home that will lose all its value or any number of other obvious/not obvious
pitfalls I teeter on the edge of falling into daily. I cannot wait until I am
done with the whole sordid affair and have to (maybe) never deal with it ever

So despite all that complaining I still want to do this. If that does
not make you question my mental state, stay tuned readers yet more disasters