Friday, December 7, 2012

Dead Island has devoured my life.

Dead Island. This game has devoured the last 6 weeks of my life.  As if I had a life.

With our shared cultural experience, you have no doubt guessed that those two words speak volumes. You would be quite safe to assume that I'm talking about a zombie uprising taking place on and island. And if you haven't surmised as much? Well I didn't know that the Amish were even allowed onto the internet. Get thee back to yon farm und buggy!

Yes, the Dead Island experience is effectively a tropical island vacation with a zombie apocalypse! Everything I wanted, and all of it without the hassle of flying to a tropical island and fighting off a horde of undead. No unbearable heat or humidity, no stench of decaying flesh. I don't need to worry about my fellow survivors shiving me in my sleep for my last mouthful of water. All in all I would say that it's a fair trade.

Dead Island is a combination FPS and RPG. If you aren't familiar with the acronyms, you can find Google at the top of your page. You take control of one of 4 characters, each of whom have a specialized style of play and set of skills. So in that respect you get to choose how you play this game. Do you prefer swords to guns? Or blunt objects to both? Well, Dead Island has you covered. Standard RPG fare really, but not unenjoyable for that.

The FPS element really tweaked me at first as I was learning the controls, and it has the problems with all FPS games. Namely that it is easy to get hung up on the map. Maybe a ledge is a little too tall, or perhaps an armature is sticking out and hooks you. I really hate the parts where I see it and say “I could step up on that with absolutely no problem what-so-ever! WTF?”

Fair enough, but the problem is that you get zero feedback on why you aren't moving. This has always annoyed me when it comes to shooters. Yet I still play them and don't mind terribly, as the trade off is being able run about and shoot things with absolutely no consequences in the real world. No matter how much carnage I endure, or how many bullets I take or cliffs I fall off of, I am still alive. And free of the jail house blues.

Hells yes! That is the best way to explore a tropical island! I don't know how many times I've plummeted to my death while trying to reach a ledge. I would guess dozens, with dozens more to come.

Plus there's the zombie slaying aspect! Blam!

This game has just devoured the last month of my life and is an excellent example of why I go out of my way to avoid the MMORPG genre. It devours your life. CGI rendered characters ask you to do Chores, and then you gladly go and do them. I could be doing chores in the real world, and actually accomplishing something. But no, I need to go grocery shopping for the digi-babe instead. All of this is for points. Worthless digital numbers! And yet I spend hours running chores for imaginary characters. This isn't a condemnation of the game or genre so much as flaws in my personality.

The sad part is, I am unwilling to do as much outside the game. But as the man says, actually doing things is for old people. I think the worst part of the play mechanics is that it rewards you with more worthless points for just doing what you might normally do in the playing of the game. “Here are 200,000 points for looting $1,000,000.00 imaginary dollars from digitalized bodies! Good work soldier! Now if you get $2,000,000.00, we'll give you twice as many points! Are you in?”

Yes, yes I am.

Graphically speaking I must admit that my first video game system was an Atari 2600, in which many games you controlled a poorly rendered square that has been set on some sort of vague challenge. Largely the games were simple, as the more complicated they became, the more inexplicable they grew. I suspect that I am easily impressed by modern jig-pokery in the computer arts. So, when I see a game like Dead Island that is nearly photo realistic, I do have to gush about the beauty of the graphics. The scenery is gorgeous! The first act of the game takes place in a posh resort – making it perfectly balanced with the second act, which is placed in the slums of a nearby town.

Though the scenery is beautiful(for the first act at least) the developers have gone a long way to hammer home that the apocalypse has arrived.

Not only the graphics, but I quite enjoyed the physics as well. How a body will flip and twist if you hit it right. Or arms will sever and fly off with a jet of blood. Yes, the game is violent and gory. It was rated Mature for a reason.

One of the problems with the zombie apocalypse, at least that I've found in my own writing, is that zombies are really boring to do battle against. Zombies are slow and cumbersome. They see you, they shamble forward to try and eat you. Rinse yourself off and repeat.

Dead Island has gotten around the repetition by throwing in a mixed bag of zombie types. Standard slow Walkers. Fast and agile Infected. Tank-like Thugs. You get the point, but there are six types in all, and each one is a worse surprise over the last. I think that the developers used them well to make the game challenging and interesting, requiring the player to display a little creativity and foresight, rather than just charging in.

Another note, the zombies level up parallel to the player, so the higher you get the more damage they soak up and the more damage the deal out. This keeps you from ever ascending into God Mode and roaming about with impunity. The zombies are always dangerous, also forcing the player to think tactically.

The game gives you a vast assortment of possible weapons to combat the undead(as well as hostile survivors). And like previous zombie games the weapons(and I suppose the real world as well) these weapons take damage when you use them against the undead. As they wear, the damage that they do lessens. Weapons can be upgraded and customized in order to increase the damage that they do. All of which costs money.

Where as customization requires that you also have miscellaneous parts on hand, some of which can be difficult to come by. Customization requires the use of blueprints that you find along the way. Some are sitting about on the ground, while others are rewards that the NPCs bribe you with in order to entice you to do their shopping. I came to enjoy this aspect of the game, as it is quite a lot of fun to build an axe that sets zombies ablaze. One note, don't sell any of the miscellaneous, non-weapon, detritus that you loot, it may come in handy later.

One thing I fail to be able to wrap my mind around is certain weapons available in the armory. The most basic set of gear is the standard found object arsenal, the pipes, shovels, paddles and various heavy tools that one might wield in a pinch when facing a horde of the walking dead. This of course includes knives and machettes. All fair game. Then there are the array of fire arms - well you have the military, police, and a vast array of gangs. Samurai swords? Well a little tougher, but the island was occupied by the Japanese during WW2, and some of their other artifacts still exist, so why not the occasional sword(they are relatively rare drops).

But Medieval European style maces? What the hell is that? Sure they're great fun and quite effective, but I am now threatening to surpass my ability to suspend disbelief each time I loot a mace. Where the hell did they come from? Is there some mad prepper blacksmith somewhere hammering out maces just in case the dead do get up and attack? Mumbling as he goes: “I've been telling them! The dead will get up one day and attack the living, and we need to be ready! But they called me mad! Well I'll show them!” And off to work he goes. If so, well I guess he did show us. Well played Mr. Crazysmith!

The high point for me was the aforementioned slum and how it contrasted with the resort. Where the fragile civilization has torn itself apart in a city full of the walking dead. For me, this was one of the creepiest gaming experiences that I have encountered, but to be fair, I have not played many horror games. Normally Dead Island makes use of sound cues to let you know what's going on around you. The infected/zombies are rather noisy – they scream, bellow and moan as they notice a character. But the rest of the world is quiet and serene. If it weren't for the blood and fire you might forget that you were in playing a zombie game.

Moresby is different though and the designers did a spectacular job in setting the player on edge. Set in a slum, it would look post-apocalyptic any day of the week. But with the wrecked cars and buses crowding the streets, rampant fires and scattered corpses it has become even worse. But what really tops it off is the background sound. While playing through the resort you become used to listening for those sound cues to tip you off to impending danger. Well, Moresby is awash in noise. Howls come from every direction, and that set me on edge from the beginning. I loved it.

There was one point in the Slums where I actually vocalized the word “Yipe!” I kid you not. That sound that a certain cartoon dog makes when he is booted off the table by his eternal antagonist.

Can't wait till the next arrives.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Now we interupt this blog for an important message from Joss Whedon

You may have already seen this.  But it's worth sharing anyhow.  Joss Whedon talking about zombies?  Yes please.

Maybe I'm just being selfish, but damn it, I want the zombie apocalypse to happen!  Sure, I still haven't learned parkour (sad as that was like my first post) and I really need to start hoarding canned goods.  My pantry is a bit bare.

It would appear that despite these many months of chatter on my part, I am still woefully unprepared for the uprising of flesh-eating undead.  Typical.

As for my international readers, well good luck to you.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Well, I'm borked here.

Is charisma a skill that can be learned and honed? Or is it just a natural talent that is exuded from one's genes? I think a little of both. Most people take pleasure in the company of others – they're blessed/cursed with extroverted personality types.

Human beings are highly social animals. We've gotten this far in the conquest of the planet by our ability to work together to accomplish goals. The most important, which has dominated all of our drives and actions for the last 200,000 years, being pure survival(On both individual and species levels).

I think that this was touched on in some way or another in my Religion post some months back.

None of this Ayn Randian pish and tosh (hey England, did I use that right?) about the uber importance of the individual. Yes, we are social animals, herd animals, and need leadership. We need direction for our societies to achieve these great things. This is why elections and quality candidates are so vital. But those leaders, though first amongst equals, are not more important than the masses. That probably smacks of communism, but it is the privates who make up the army and do most of the work, the sergeants who direct them. Straight on up through the hierarchy. Generals don't fight the wars themselves.

We need specialists to get the work done.

This is an odd and ironic statement for a blog with the heading of “Specialization is for Insects”. But to be completely honest, I don't expect to be able to learn a hundredth of what I've babbled about over the last several years. I am a generalist by nature, but lack the discipline to master most avenues of human knowledge. Just like I lack the ability to stay on topic for more than a couple of paragraphs.

Charisma. Networking. These are important talents and life-skills for use to have/hone. Much like the ability to proficiently perform oral sex. In order to survive and overcome we need that ability to work together, be it in small groups or great nations. And someone will need to take the lead and supply direction.

Ah, now for myself. I know that this is going to blow your mind but I'm an introvert. “Really?” You gasp audibly, whilst dropping your cinnamon bun in shocked astonishment. “Truly this man who spends his time writing essays about skills that might come in handy during/after the apocalypse is highly social, is hip deep in the club scene and is getting all of the bitches.”

Sorry, I didn't want to ruin your image of me. So feel free to keep on thinking that, while I continue on with my ramblings. I would like to point out that I do not in fact wear an eyepatch for purely stylistic purposes. I also have a kick-ass hat that I keep for emergencies.

The quiet loner type who generally prefers to keep to himself. That's me. Not a delightful descriptor of my personality, no matter how true. Generally we hear those words uttered by flabbergasted neighbors when interviewed by News Crews about their recently arrested serial killer neighbors. Yep, I expect about an hour after posting this admission that the FBI accompanied by a couple of SWAT Teams will suddenly appear at my doorstep to search my basement/attic/yard for anyone who has gone missing in the area over since the year that I was born(psychos start young).

I like persons and not people. What does that mean? Well as a buffoon with a history major I'm generally not interested in societies that aren't a thousand years dead on a distant continent. I loath several aspects of our popular culture and would like to quietly withdraw. But alas, those things I do like about our society (super markets and abundant internet porn) make that too daunting. To sum this up, I find groups of strangers exhausting.

And onwards onto the explanation. My small circle of friends is made up of Shining individuals that stick out of the pack. Many of whom happen to themselves be outgoing and sociable. I am after all attracted to that type just like anyone else, sad to say.  I do believe that I make a good and loyal friend, for anyone who has won my friendship.  It just takes a long time.

I work as a delivery driver, and have been told that I am to be the outward face of the company. To smile! And be friendly. Well, shit. I honestly prefer to stand quietly and let my counterpart do their job efficiently.  Not very compelling.

The strange part about this is that I do possess the capability to perform enthusiastically and entertainingly. I possess some modicum of wit and can be quite funny. I just lack that bit in my brain where when asked “How are you?” I respond “Not bad.” While forgetting the “and how about yourself.” 9 times out of ten.

I should really work on my attitude. Else the other survivors might just slip off and leave me to the zombies.  That is, unless I can weld with one hand all while setting broken bones and cooking one hell of a stew and reciting Shakespeare.

Well, we all know which of these is more likely.  Better crack open the Shakespeare.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Razor's Edge

Once again much time has passed since I bothered with my skills blog. I think I've been puttering about with this for about 3 years now, it appears that my first post came around October of 2009. That I'm still working on this project rather amazes me, as I have the attention span of a gnat.

Looks as if, regardless of who wins the 2012 election here in the states, the Palin-ocapylse will have to be postponed until at least 2016.  Good that, as it will give me plenty of time to prepare.

I guess it's about time for a check-up on my progress as a potential survivor. And my prognosis is still poor. I have hardly added so much as a jot of useful skills. My singular attempt at gardening was a learning experience (read as utter failure). I've not so much as touched the controls of an airplane, and nobody in their right mind would approach me to perform an emergency surgery on so much as a recently deceased hamster.

Hell, I've not even made much progress on the next volume of my zombie series. So much for all that research! Ah well, I work full time and have other hobbies, zombie 5 will have to wait.

But I have collected a tremendous amount of information in the form of books. My library has exploded as I've found books on topics ranging from farming to blacksmithing. Most of these skills I've yet to really develop in any sort of hands-on manner. The best way to learn is to do.

Last autumn/winter I happened upon the miniseries Gettysburg. If you're unaware, Gettysburg is about the American Civil War battle (circa 1863) that was a major turning point for the Union. What was striking about it was the mad style of facial hair that many of the historical figures had. Everything ranging from the standard beard to wild mutton-chops(sideburns/burnsides).

Upon finishing the series I declared “I wanna do that to my face!”

As I was completely unemployed at the time, so I did. I have a moderately-full growth of facial hair and some of the women in my life claimed that I looked good in a beard. But alas, I landed a new job and was asked to trim up the massive tangled growth on my face. So, I went through a piece at a time and trimmed away and manscaped, collecting pictures as I went, until my face was once again in pristine original condition.

I've discovered something with my aforementioned experiment, I don't really like having whiskers. They're scratchy and have a tendency to catch food. Whilst out exercising during the winter I experienced a damp feeling upon my upper lip. “Oh no!” I exclaimed, “I've developed a bloody nose!” Not so, it turns out that my mustache was the perfect collector of condensation. Really, this shouldn't have been a surprise in the least, but damn I never expected anything like.

Just this morning I realized that there is a daily life skill that I do not have. I don't know how to shave. This is remarkable in light of the fact that I am an adult male who goes clean shaven and that I have a moderately full beard when I do let it grow out. For short stints I've tinkered with growing beards over the last decade or so, but have always employed the modern convenience of an Electric Razor.

And this is where the “I never learned to shave” comes into play. This still seems really sad for a grown man to admit.  I live in a society where facial hair is generally frowned upon.  That is to say that most men are expected to be clean-shaven as the norm.  Strange I must admit, especially when compared to societies that view a full beard as a sign of manliness.

I tend to follow the norm.  Lazy as I am.

The electric razor is functional and fast, if not as effective as a proper straight razor. I suppose it doesn't help that I rarely change the blades – but they cost nearly as much as the device itself, and I'm cheap/poor. But as a tool it does an adequate job of at least taming some of my whiskers, if not leaving me utterly smooth. And I will be honest, I'm never overly concerned with my appearance anyway. The electric razor isn't elite, but it gets the job done well enough and quickly.

More so, and finally getting to the ever so pessimistic theme of this blog, that electric razor requires a source of electricity to make it run... blah blah blah... I don't plan to look like a hipster/hippie/pedophile when the Palinocalypse strikes... blah blah blah... straight razor!

I shall preface the rest of this and admit that I am a wimp. I don't like the idea of an extremely sharp blade running over my face and neck. They aren't amazing either one, but I'd like to keep what I got.

Here's the thing, an electric razor is a lot like an automatic transmission. Fast and convenient. And it doesn't involve a naked blade and visions of my life blood fountaining out of a gash in my throat Sam Rami style.

I've actually investigated the possibility of learning to shave. Youtube is a brilliant invention when the anonymous stupids aren't clogging it up, and I've seen some useful videos on various subjects. Thankyou helpful youtubers – just keep ignoring the worthless tools who add nothing to the conversation.

Ok, so I have a guide as to how to actually shave. Now all I need is the gear. Google, I need you!

Oh. $200 for a shaving kit? And that isn't even the expensive one? (the latter tops out at $3000.00 and comes with 7 razors). Sure, I could find a cheaper kit I am certain. But I don't think I want to goto the lowest bidder with something like a razor. Yeah, fuck that. Money, and my lack of it stands in my way once again.

That and laziness.

That wasn't very exciting was it?  Well, damn.  Did I mention that a solid straight razor can be used as a weapon?  Hells yeah, multi-purpose toiletries!  Give those savage mutant biker bandits that infest the wastelands a proper close shave.  Down to the shoulders.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Machines for the Mechanically uninclined(or lazy)

Mechanical competence isn't within my realm of experience. I know one end of a screwdriver from the other, but I have had very little actual practice getting my hands dirty. I am not a gear-head and when automotive mechanics tell me something, I just have to take their word for it (rather than fake understanding and offer banal banter). I would like to remedy this glaring failing upon my part but lack the time or energy. Or even the resources. Maybe I just have a case of the dumb. One of my favorite shows is Mythbusters. They so well combine entertainment with education. I know just enough to get a glimmer of what they're doing, while remaining ignorant enough to make them seem a Cabal of Magicians Extraordinaire. They combine a working knowledge of physics, chemistry and mechanical know-how to engineer their way past problems presented with myths (rocket cars, the myriad uses of duct tape and steam-powered machine guns). And then they invent problems to solve, usually with explosives. Yes, the Mythbusters love to make things go boom. Really, if you haven't seen the show, you're missing out. They make science cool. God Damn, why couldn't they have existed when I was in Jr High and High School? All we had back then was reruns of MacGyver and the A-Team. Cool enough for the 80s I suppose, but they were totally lacking a Kari Byron* stand-in. *Dear Kari Byron, I know that you're married and have kids, but you're still a Geek Sex Goddess as far as I am concerned. Well, this is a post-apocalyptic skills blog, so where does this bring me? Wishing desperately to emulate my heroes I suppose. I think I've mentioned the importance of engineering and a grasp of physics and the like in past posts. If I haven't, then I've thought about doing so. When I do get around to those topics, you can bet that I will drone on endlessly about the Mythbusters. Fair warning. They blow shit up. But around 50 posts over the course of 2 years, It's difficult to keep track of what I've done. I have been for the last few years assembling a library of books that may be helpful in the chaotic end times. Mostly this is a research library for my zombie books. Also, I look forward to the day when I can go out and kick it Thoreau-school and get my Self-reliance on. But I tend to get volumes on subjects that I'm interested, and my interests are both broad and shallow. I'm like a child in a room full of sparkley objects. Book review time! I found the book Basic Machines and How They Work on the Amazon. I was of course scouring their stock for more possible additions to the library. It went onto the wishlist directly, though I put off ordering for months. But anyhow, I have returned to this fascinating field. Sort of. And for me, this book seemed a great choice to get going. I feel that I was right in the decision to finally pick it up. I've not been disappointed in the least. Basic Machines makes a decent Wannabe Mythbuster primer. It was written by the Navy for their ranks of enlisted sailors. You don't need to know advance math to work the equations and the book walks you through them step by step. Good for me, as math wasn't my strong point. I wasn't bad at it, but I was lazy(still am) and didn't have the ambition or curiosity back then to stretch in that direction. Guess this is why I majored in Art and History in college and avoided the hard sciences. The author starts out with those basic machines that I know and recognize from my days in elementary school as a small child. The lever, wheel, wedge, screw and so forth. How they can be used to make work easier – in real world applications so that anyone may understand. With plenty of illustrations for even the thickest grunt to comprehend. There are 13 chapters, ranging from the previously mentioned first one on Levers all the way up through Internal Combustion Engines and Power Trains(12 and 13 respectively). You will know more on the operation of Block and Tackle than you thought possible. I haven't finished the book, so maybe my praise is premature. But, I doubt it. I have skimmed the later passages and dropped in to read blocks of text. I really look forward to finishing the rest of the volume. The only gripe I have is with the cover. Three interlocking gears. It seems to me that trying to operate them would make the mechanism lock up. But maybe I can't visualize it properly. Thank you Naval Department for this excellent work. So much knowledge for so cheap.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Swords, not words!

I like swords, and have since I was a kid. I think I've voiced that sentiment before. HeMan was my hero and he packed a magic sword. As was Luke Skywalker. Ninjas? They're all about swords. My childhood was awash in swords. We used to take those pointed sticks that are used as construction markers and pretend that they were swords. I had a sizable armory of various stick when it came down to it. I am still amazed that we never got hurt.

Swords and giant transformable robots. You can guess, Voltron – a giant transformable robot who packed a sword - was my childhood obsession for a couple of years after hearing the older kids talk about it.

In high school I “Collected Knives” - This should be read as “I bought whatever shitty and cheap knives came my way. And I really wanted to by a ninja sword for a bunch of eyars. I still have part of my collection. It makes me sad.

One of my burning desires as a youth was to get my hands on my very own sword. I never did get around to buying a sword, as by the time I had the money there were more important things to buy, and I also learned that the swords I could afford weren't worth spending the money on(do not, ever, buy a sword that is made of stainless steel. Wall hanging fantasy pieces are just that).

This being said, I have never myself owned a sword. I am a failure as an adult. I have money. I still like swords. I enjoy watching the Cold Steel Demo videos over on youtube. (look them up if you haven't seen them, they feature a large dude cleaving household with swords – all set to heavy guitar riffs). You would think that somewhere along the way I'd have been willing to drop a couple hundred dollars to secure myself a passable length of sharpened steel.

When the apocalypse comes, I'm hoping it'll be one that features swords. Maybe against zombies, or perhaps a nuclear scoured wasteland roamed by Sir Patrick Swayze Knight Errant.

This all brings us to the point, an addition to my Post Apocalyptic Survival library.

The Beginner's Guide to the Long Sword. I found this volume in the local library when searching out European Martial arts. I had watched a documentary on the perception of swords in our society on Netflix and re-discovered a flicker of interest in swords. Especially the aspect of actually learning to use a sword as a weapon. Learning the martial art rather than just joining a re-creationist society. Eff Theater, I'm about the practical.

Anyhow, I borrowed the aforementioned book and then acquired a personal copy to add to the library on a permanent basis.

The book covers the European Longsword, commonly called a Bastard Sword. The blade is around 3 feet long and is balanced to use with one hand and a shield, but the handle is also long enough to grip with two hands for further leverage and striking power. The top third of the blade is sharpened, while the remainder is left dull. This combination allows the wielder to take a hold of the blade for either powerful thrusts or to use the cross-guard as a hammer/bludgeon(especially useful against foes in plate-armor). Goto the wiki page for details about the weapon and its history.

Here is a slim and straight-forward volume that is heavily illustrated (with photographs, a picture is worth a thousand words) for ease of use. The language is easy and clear. The author is a seasoned martial artist with 20 years of experience. He covers the history of the sword as well as a list of gear for aspiring blade-masters.

The one down-side I think is that he doesn't cover the full range of the weapon. Mostly he focuses on using the blade and leaves aside strikes with the hilt and pommel. But then, it is a book for beginners and a fairly good introduction to the subject I think.

I've yet to put the new-found knowledge to use. I lack anyone to practice with and the energy to go out and find a group. I think that the book would be a good place to start learning how to use the sword. Most people are on about the same level when it comes to martial arts. They have a good idea which part of the weapon to hold and which is the sharp end. Assuming a lack of time-travel to ye old Midvealy times where the use of this class of weaponry is well know, I think that the book will be an excellent primer for technique. After which skill can be forged with practice and experience.

Now all I need is a sword.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Well done Siffee channel.

2012 Zombie Apocalypse

Warning: for the length of this post sarcasm will probably be indistinguishable from praise. I can't tell what I mean either.

Ah Netflix, my horrible enabler, you know me so well. I found this little gem in one of the 'you liked(watched) X so try Y' strings that Netflix is so infamous for. I have noticed that they sometimes make rather bizarre connections for their suggestions. But hey, I do like zombie movies and I do watch low budget flicks. This one is just my own damned fault. One day, Netflix will become sentient and it will look at my queue and history. And on that day my queue will disappear and be replaced with Shaun of the Dead.

From the get go, with the appearance of the Siffee(SyFy) logo, I knew I was in for quite a treat. I had found one of those delightful saturday morning films that the Siffee(the new name is functionally retarded and unnecessary, but what do you expect when a channel that features Science Fiction resorts to airing Professional Wrestling? Fooey and P'shaw) and it was about zombies! Of course I'm going to watch, I hate my brain too much not to.

I nearly turned it off after the intro. Standard zombie apocalypse, or even general plague outbreak movie premise. Outbreak begins and spreads and civilization collapses as people start dying (and getting up again) in the hundreds of millions. The outbreak began overseas, and was finally imported into the USA via Iowa. The geographic center of the country, well away from the borders and airports that might... No, must not over think this. Zombie movies don't have to make sense, they're about the dead coming back to life and attacking the living.

The military responds by blowing up bridges and roads to cut the arteries of traffic and stop the infection from spreading. This apparently didn't work because they end up unleashing Electromagnetic Pulses on the planet to stop the infected from traveling. Grrrrr. What a weak plot device to get the characters out and on their feet. Those who are bitten usually turn in a matter of minutes. Infected won't be traveling too far via those bad-assed Corvettes that they stole in their feeble last minutes of life. To me, this strategy would merely cripple the survivors and undermine their chances. After all, zombies also don't use phones or any other electronics. I think that they could have explained that reasoning better. Were survivors trying to whisk away their zombified loved ones in cars in the vein of Dawn of the Dead or Island of the Dead?

As such, it didn't make sense and that sticks in my craw. Nearly stopped the movie right there. But that sort of thing is what I expect in a Siffee movie. I've actually considered writing a script with the idea of making a Siffee made for tv movie, just for fun, and taking full advantage of the laxity to see what I could get away with. And you know that cliché where the Black guy always dies? Well this movie was a three-fer.

After the intro the movie opens a lot like the original Day of the Dead. It offers a good way to introduce the uninitiated into the lore of the zombie apocalypse. The dangers of being bitten. The only sure way to kill a zombie.

I nearly stopped the movie during the first fight scene when they whipped out the bad CGI effects. They just don't look right, and when poorly done they're just laughable. I have no idea what these things cost, but people have been using practical effects for years in low budget films. It seems a cop-out to me to skip that stage and just throw some 'eye-candy' in afterwards. Hopefully this phase is dying out and they recover the lost arts.

2012 offers a combination of zombie dynamics that I don't like. The fast zombie. And the zombie that is capable of learning. I like my zombies slow and dumb. Mostly because I am slow and dumb. I like the pressure of the millions of walking corpses that you can run from now but they will keep on coming and never give up. I think that this makes for a better atmosphere of horror. Though since I use it in my own stories I may be partial to the format. Despite what Romero says, I don't see zombies ever getting smarter. This movie presents them laying ambushes and actually dodging out of the way.

A philosophical nit-pick, and really it didn't take away from my enjoyment of the movie. I've stepped into their world and these are the rules that they chose to follow. At least the zombies didn't sparkle. Nor were they able to walk up walls and over ceilings( fuck you Day of the Dead “remake” Fuck you with a chainsaw!)

There were a number of good ideas in the movie that I really liked, and it avoided some traps that I've seen in other low budget flicks. Such as, aside from a wickedly tight pair of pants on the female lead, the women didn't dress skanky. And none of them were sporting shoes with high heels. There is a discussion of the advantages of bows over guns, and the disadvantages too. Clearly this screenplay was written by a zombie geek. Kudos my nerd brother.

I often contemplate the paradox involved in movies. By in large the people are pretty. Especially the women. This is a double-edge sword for me. On one hand it ruins the believability and prevents me from surrendering to the fantasy world that the film is working to create. If you have four women in your party and all of them range from pretty to beautiful, then... where do I go in life to have this mixture of beauty? My paranoia kicks in and this makes me wonder, did the menfolk just leave the ugmos as zombie bait? It adds another, darker layer, to my understanding of the film.

But then, we are all surrounded by the mundane, and the male actors aren't too bad looking either. Really, I come to the reverse edge, which is that I want to see pretty women on the screen. It may be that primitive part of my brain, but I am inclined to be interested in the fate of a hottie. Boobies > character development in an action movie. Who are we kidding, this was an action movie and we can't really expect the characters to grow and change in the span of a 90 minute slaughterfest.

They gave the Asian girl a samurai sword. Another cliché. I have a problem with the samurai sword on the simple fact that I have never seen a good one. The only swords I've really encountered in my travels have all been display models that are made of stainless steel. There must be well made and fully functional swords out there, but they have got to be rare and difficult to lay your hands on.

I would really like to see a movie where the filmmakers gave the actors a large trove of weapons and objects that could be used as weapons and then said “What do you think your character would use. What would you use?” And then let them puzzle it out. They also gave the characters armor. Laughable stuff such as shoulder-pads for football and shin guards.

Another minor peeve, the characters(actors) seemed to have been fairly clean all things considered. Their costumes were clean and intact. You would think that after months of walking, even with stops to raid stores

As it is, I watched the entire move all the way through. It was low budget and the CGI was annoying, but the movie was fun, the dialogue didn't make me groan, and it felt like a philosophical discussion/argument by the writer. I hate to give a back-handed compliment, but for a Siffee movie it was good. For a low budget zombie movie it was good.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Chemicals and cuts.

The wonders of healing.

Well, I already did a write-up on herb lore, and that post was hella-popular in Germany. I don't know why, I assume that it was a single individual hitting the post over and over again every day for a month. Or at least that's how I like to imagine the happening.

Anyhow, herbs have been seen to. But this leaves a large section of the healing arts untouched. It goes to assume that in the apocalypse people will take injury or become sick. All that extra stress, and those falling chunks of asteroids are going to play havoc on our delicate nerves. I swear I get the vapors just thinking about it all.

Medical science has expanded explosively over the last century. We've gone from 'bad air causes disease' to discovering the actual parasite culprits of so many of our woes. We've even managed to find ways to combat many of them, though as they grow and evolve they step beyond our current technology. Hey, it is highly possible that we've created our own apocalypse with these bounds in knowledge and technology. Honestly, our species has yet to fully understand the workings of our own bodies, and a little knowledge is dangerous indeed as we jump around and try to form hypothesis to explain observations.

Modern medicine, first aid aside, seems to be easily divided into two major categories. Cutting and chemicals. Surgery or Pharmacy. From what I've seen of those many delightful Hospital dramas, either one route or the other is often taken. Well, I admit that Dr. House might not be the best source of information on the subject. Shock I know, but it appears that sometimes television writers don't always do silly things like letting little things like Facts get in their way of telling a good story.


From my understanding there is usually two different approaches taken in day to day medicine. Either the patient is cut into through the delicate are of surgery or they are prescribed chemicals to alter the body's function. These are the two major approaches, broadly grouped, in the Western medical tradition. Once again, I am probably forgetting something but it's getting late and I'm tired. Plus, I really don't much pay attention to the medical profession. I don't think I can articulate the divide that well, as I do not Grok. But regardless, medicine and medical care are important. More so when the world becomes more dangerous. Unless the zombies have risen, then you'll wish you'd put your time into studying some proper marksmanship.

But for the rest...

There are so many different routes to take here and they all work together in a complex and interconnected fashion. First you have the doctors and other hospital staff. They diagnose any disorders and offer a plan for treatment. Be it “Acquire use this medicine” or “see this specialist for more options cause I'm out of my league.” Then you have the specialist fields, too many of which to name. Then there are the Nurses and Physicians Assistants and the rest of the crew who make up a functioning hospital. I really have no idea what they all do.

Ok, after six hours of waiting you've had your fifteen minutes of face time with the physician. Sweet. He told you to go pick up some chemical compound to help alleviate your symptoms. Cue a visit to the Pharmacist. Pharmacists(RPH) spend the same amount of time in school as do doctors. Though I think that their post-school fellowship is far shorter by a matter of years. The RPH specializes in all the chemicals that are produced as medication, and how those chemicals might interact with one another as well as with the human body. Most drugs have side-effects, some of which are unpleasant to say the least. As with many complicated systems, the more layers you add the more that can go wrong. This is where a good pharmacist comes in handy here and now.

In my writing I work under the assumption that some of the world's infrastructure will survive, and this means hospitals and pharmacies with parts of their stock and equipment will be there intact. I do mean part, as such places will probably be ransacked by the mob when things turn ugly. If you're part of that mob, how much more helpful to be able to tell the difference between Oxycodone, oxycotin and oxyclean? Yeah, that is a problem with medications, many of them have similar names, and most have radically different applications. No good for you you're looting a pharmacy to clear up a headache and take that shiny red caplet that cleans out constipation.

The problem here, is that both approaches involve years upon years of training and many of the areas of knowledge that lie under these branches are extremely specialized. The human body is far to complicated for most human beings to master more than a small piece of it's workings and mystery. In my years I've only gone so far to plumb the depths of it's secret workings to learn that sticking one's finger down their throat leads to unpleasant consequences(though funny in the right setting). I don't really have any interest in learning more about medicine – let alone devoting the next ten years of my life to learning the ropes of the profession. I'm a dabbler and that path is far to specialized.

My normal plan of “Buy book, read book when issue emerges” probably won't pay off this time around. PLAN B – locate and befriend a slew of medical professionals and hope that they survive the blast. Get plenty of vitamins and exercise in the meantime.

Plan B sucks.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

One Day You Too Could be a Badassed Biker

Transportation after the Apocalypse, the topic comes up quite often around here. I assume that there will be a point sometime after the collapse of society where you might want to get out of your basement bunker and go out and get some sun while seeing the remnants of the world. Maybe you'll be looking for some food that doesn't come from a can and is covered in brown 'gravy' or a working flux capacitor or some new nudie mags. You know, the necessities of life.

As you emerge and decide to wander the ruined face of the planet a mode of reliable transportation other than your own feet could be highly desirable. After months in the dark and dank dungeonesque confines, you might not be an efficient ambler. And even if you are, your foraging will be limited by how much you can carry. There is a reason why humans worked so hard to tame horses. And then have since gone onto building greater and more powerful modes of transport.

I've discussed the topic before in a previous post. I don't recall what option I backed at the time.

Hundreds of Millions, of not Billions of people all around the world use bicycles for their routine transportation needs. The Bicycle has been popular for more than a hundred years. Owning and learning to ride a bicycle is a rite of passage for many American children, especially those who live in suburban or rural areas. As a kid it seemed to take an hour to walk even a mile. I attribute this to the fact that children have short legs and a poor sense of time. A bike gives a child some freedom as their horizons expand.

Learning was intimidating as a child. My first bike was black with yellow highlights and came with training wheels. I would wish that the rest of life had training wheels, if I knew what the wish meant. Sounds absurd right?

It is possible to install a small engine to transform them into Motorcycles. This makes the bicycle fantastically adaptable.

I know how to ride a bike. I picked up the skill when I was six, though I'm not too practiced these days. I have a car for long distance travel and prefer my to have my feet on the ground for exercise purposes. I loved my bike as a kid, and had at least one stolen, mostly due to my own lack of care – a hard lesson learned for a 9 year old. My bike sits in storage waiting the final days, where it will remain until it is needed.

The pros: A bicycle is quiet and has unlimited energy. They're light enough to carry up stairs. Mechanically they're really simple and easy to maintain and repair. No additional and exotic fuel is necessary to operate them, just human food. Riding a bike can be fantastic exercise, good for the legs and heart.

Cons: they are relatively slow when compared to either motorcycles or horses. Lots of physical labor, and thus burned calories – calories you may need to survive. The helmets look stupid, even for Wasteland-Chic, unless you're the dorky side-kick and comic relief. There are lighter load limits for baggage, and I'm a hoarder.

In one of the recent issues of Popular Mechanics, there was an article about various motorcycles. They were off-road and Highway hybrids. Bikes built to handle both sets of terrain reasonably well. The article sparked a desire in my heart that my brain quickly quashed, and that is to buy one of these bikes and tour the country.

I would like to learn how to ride a motorcycle. Sort of. Maybe. Really, all the coolest post-apocalyptic survivors wear spiked leather, a cod piece and power around on motorcycles. They have canned dog food for lunch and rape for dinner – because Fuck Sky Cake! I want to be a cool PA survivor, fit in and all that.

I suspect, and mind I've not put the theory to practice, but all the credits I took as a kid in riding a bicycle should be easily transferred to the new school. There are the balance and physics issues that have been hardwired into my brain since childhood – sure there are greater speeds and weights involved – I think of it as an advanced course.

A scary advanced course.

What I worry about is the fact that I have a short attention span, and a tendency to let my mind drift off. Add this to my innate clumsiness and Zipping along on a two-wheeled nightmare of death. I have a feeling that there will be explosions in my future. Motorcycles can be extremely fast. This isn't a good factor to throw into the ring. This fear remains in my mind even as I sit in my living room and type this.

Here's what I am trying to find out: Where do I go to take lessons in motorcycling? And how much do those classes cost? There are driving schools, and piloting schools. Schools for handgun use. Sure there must be some community college somewhere that teaches hacks like me about wrestling a hog.

Pros: Fast. Small. Workhorse. Excellent fuel economy(some of the smaller bikes get 90mpg – the larger ones range around 45 to 60). Highly Mobile over a variety of terrain where an automobile could never pass. Intimidation/cool/rogue factor – you just look good straddling a bike. Skills from riding a bicycle apply.

Cons: Difficult to repair/maintain. Heavy and difficult to move when the engine isn't working. Loud. Limited baggage and few passengers. More difficult than a bicycle to operate.

You know what I like about cars? That metal cage to protect me. I like that they keep the elements off, they're like a rolling shelter. They can even carry more of my possessions. But I will let my car go for a bike of some sort.