Monday, October 5, 2015

Nerd Hour: 10 Video Games That Changed My Life

Let's face it. I'm a big nerd and I love geeking out. For many years and to this day, I'm a big fan and appreciator of digital entertainment in the form of video games. So, I thought, why not write up a blog post on this? Now, chuckle as you may, I'm sure many of you will identify with the emotional content and life experience surrounding the way we spent time having fun as kids.

So, without further ado, here are...!

PS. The life lessons are at the end of the post. Feel free to skip on if its too nerdy for ya ;)

10 Video Games That Changed My Life

1. Aldo
Aldo was this ridiculous Super Mario type game which was actually ridiculously addictive. No sound. No real ending. Just changes in background and levels that were the same which got increasingly harder until you finally died with the game ending. It was the closest thing to Nintendo I could get my hands on waaaaay back in the day which meant Aldo was my first at home video game experience.

Captain Comic was definitely a level up from Aldo. However, it was such a hard game! It was truly linear and you could only beat it by going through the world in a step by step fashion. Without doing it in exactly such a way, you wouldn't have the inventory, tools, and weapons required to beat the game and would die very quickly. It took me ages to beat this game. And, a few years back, I tried to play this game again. Suffice to say, it was just as hard as it was when I was a kid.

Commander Keen was the hero alias for kid genius Billy Blaze. He was thought by some to be the grandson of the hero in Castle Wolfenstein. Whatever the case, this kiddo wearing a purple shirt, blue jeans, and a Green Bay Packers football helmet goes on the save the galaxy a number of times over. I was such a nerd I ended up finding the secret island with the Vorticon Alphabet.

4. Warcraft 2
For many, WC2 doesn't need any introduction. I found my first RTS experience here with Warcraft 2 and played this for hours during my early teen years. I even went onto a local college campus for a LAN battle before I could drive, just to get a good feel for what real multiplayer RTS was all about. There were many great memories with this game, especially with the crafting of my own missions in the map editor.

5. Starcraft (original)
SC is another game that doesn't really need any introduction. It was a game play that was still good over 10 years later. Some even argue the original game play remains superior to StarCraft 2. Regardless of how it all pans out, I remember many great hours of Starcraft both in high school and in college. No wait... I even played this with modified maps on Battle Net during the months when I met my wife. Yeah... good times.

6. Rainbow Six (and series)
Rainbow Six was one of the first 1st Person Shooter games which involved a fair amount of realism by which players couldn't run around and Rambo the levels. Doing so would mean immediate failure. I loved this game because of the tactical planning required during the campaign. Online play was a lot of fun as well as it was so easy to dominate with grenades and having a keen sense of surroundings. Either people never played paintball before or just appeared to tunnel vision when playing multiplayer. For me, it only meant an easy win with the heartbeat sensor. Years later, I would go on to play many of the Rainbow Six games. Even just as recently, it actually remains a favorite game between my wife and I. Just remember to pie your corners ;)

7. Counter Strike
Counter Strike was my game of choice between my senior year of high school and college. I got way too good at this game to which I was even invited out to a west coast LAN tournament. Of course, I was too young to go and wouldn't have been allowed to. It was also one of the first games to teach me a lesson. It pays to win because the more you win, the more money you get and the more weapons you could buy. So, just keep winning and you won't ever lose!

8. Halo
Halo and the Halo series basically changed 1st person games forever. For me, it turned into a guys night activity into a true interest in digging deeper into the stories of game play. I feel, especially with Halo 4, that the franchise did an excellent job of creating a deeper story while leaving plenty of gaps to fill for future games. After all, Halo Reach came about just because of one sentence in the opening scene of the first Halo game.

9. Rome: Total War
Alright, we're about to get hardcore. Rome: Total War was my first experience with the Total War series. It was also an excellent play as it dealt with historical battles of the ancient times along with the history, geography, and even some cultural contexts. Believe it or not, I actually learned a lot about history by playing this game. I got so into the game play that I started digging into the code and text files to see what I could do to optimize the play for myself. This included customized characters and army units which, personally, felt more accurate what we know of history.

10. Chrono Trigger
Finally, Chrono Trigger. This game is a game I played to death. I got every ending and every sequence and every level up I could. All my characters became truly maxed out to which I still need to dig back to see how many hours of game play this actually took. What was really fun about this game beyond the conceptual genius of it all was the story about a young group of people trying to save the world as they know it. Later, I would tell my wife about one of the healing spells called "Aura Whirl." It became a thing in our early marriage times; I told her that I'm the tank, you're my healer. I need you to stay strong.
The spell is basically a duo combo where the tank character is charged up by the healer and then everyone in the group gets healed. She thought it was romantic when I showed it to her =)

And, apparently, there's a lot to be said about guys asking girls to play games with... I'll agree!

Honorable Mentions include:
-Empire: Total War
-Earthbound (SNES)
-Final Fantasy(s) - 2, 3[6], 7
-Mario 64
-Original Mario
-Super Mario 3 
-Duck Hunt (never shoot your buddy, he'll only laugh at you for trying)
-Zelda (some puzzles in life are meant to be solved by the book)

And, a final uncategorizable honor to:
-The Lego Games including that of Star Wars, Pirates, Lord of the Rings, Marvel Superheroes, and Jurassic Park.... for the simple reason that my wife and I have played way too many hours of these together to even begin to discuss the significance. Suffice to say, if one player wins, we both win.

The Life Lessons I Learned:
  • Life is ultimately like an RPG. So, it is your choice to make your life the best character you can. You can be your own hero, your ultimate fantasy if you make that choice to grind XP.
  • Duck Hunt taught me to never shoot at your buddy. He's there to help you and he'll only end up laughing at you for trying.
  • Zelda taught me that to solve certain puzzles in life, you simply NEED the book.
  • Super Mario 3 taught me that sometimes, sitting back and playing a musical instrument is the best strategy.
  • 1st Person games taught me to keep my head on a swivel and pie my corners.
  • RTS taught me that the devil is in the details; strategy is great, but to get to strategy, you need tactics.
  • Finally, the retro games taught me that it doesn't have to be the most complex game to be the best. Personally, I miss the old stuff... there was so much intellect behind it. The game was driven by the play, not the graphics.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What is the Powerhouse of the Cell?

The mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell... if this doesn't ring a bell... then Houston, we have a problem. Or, is it a problem that we actually know this...?

A few weeks back, my wife and I were having a conversation about how we want our son to experience education. She immediately brought up this Tumblr phenomena where everyone is complaining that public education has taught them every single useless piece of information.

5, 10, even 20 years after high school, everyone knows what the powerhouse of the cell is. But...we don't know how to file taxes, we don't know who to vote for or why... that is, unless some celebrity is causing some social issue to trend on Twitter and people are obviously outrages in one way or another. We don't know how to get a passport and travel internationally. We don't know how to "get stuff done" at the DMV. If our car breaks down, we have no clue how to fix it. If our plumbing stops up, we have no clue how to deal with it. We basically have no life skills.

But, we know the mitochondria. And, I guess we're doing alright then. WRONG!

Welcome to the first of my honest conversations about academics.

If we've been interacting for some time, you know that I'm no stranger to school. I have two graduate degrees; both which I was conferred with honors. And, I have undergraduate studies in Bioengineering and Psychology. I know school and I know it well.

This also means I know what works and what doesn't work. Moreover, I served as a tutor for quite some time. As an academic instructor to AP tests, SATs, and various other subjects, I saw a definitive trend to a terrible economic quandary to students.

Is school financially worth it?

The answer: It depends. In fact, everything depends not on going to school, or the major you took, or even the school you went to. The center of it all was this: Do you have a career plan for your life?

In my experience, if a student had a plan on very precise and direct pathways between each level of schooling and a way to earn money, they were doing well. If they had this attitude of "I'll just decide when I get there" -- in a survival mode of sorts just to make it through the course load... these were the ones in trouble.

The worst cases were found in students who saw school as their purpose. They couldn't see beyond graduation or getting into the next level of higher learning. Life was about school; not about...! There was no thought given to where the student was going to live post grad, how they were going to make money and pay for bills/loans/etc, nor how they were going to manage wealth and retirement.

They had nothing. All they had was this terrifying and detrimental focus on "I must get in" or " I must pass." After all this, they accumulate a 4 year degree as well as tens of thousands of dollars in debt -- after which, they were still jobless.

Well... that's not life. Not knowing what the end goal after school should be is the biggest reason why students should NOT go to school. If their plan in life has nothing to do with school, they shouldn't be in it. Now, I'm not talking about taking every middle-schooler who hates school out of class. I'm talking about the high school junior who wants to do something that nothing to do with a 4 year university experience. That student should graduate high school and get straight to work. School will be there if they want to go back.

And, on the bigger playing field... so much of education has now glued itself to test metrics. However, tests don't measure character. Don't we want people of character in our future? Rather than, people of great test taking skills?

If we're complaining about how under-prepared and immature our students are currently, we have only ourselves to blame for how we are teaching them. Rather, wouldn't it be better of some of the life skills above were seen as priority? There are already thoughts as to how the future of education should unfold; in a precise and purposeful way... no longer in a general way.

I would rather that students have no idea what the powerhouse of the cell is. And instead, know everything about how to start a life on their own; earning a living, buying a house, filing taxes, a sound understanding of civil duties, and most importantly... how to live as citizens of good character.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

5 Signs That You're Waiting Too Long

Some people just can't seem to clearly see the signs, positive or negative. For others, they are simply blind to them. Many times when this is the case, a relationship will grow stale and linger into detriment. At such points, something needs to be done. The relationship needs to progress and develop, otherwise, it will be doomed to failure. After all, life is about growth and growth requires change. What's more, if you can't grow with the person you're with, you will end up growing apart.

Here are...

5 Signs That You're Waiting Too Long

1. People mistake your status.
This is my personal favorite. You know the situation, you're being introduced or you're introducing your significant other or visa versa... and your friends, family, and coworkers give your relationship status an upgrade. If you're "dating" suddenly you're introduced as "boy/girlfriend." If you're in a relationship, suddenly you're engaged. Or, if you've been engaged for a while, people start assuming you already got married. It gets better. After a while, even you are getting it mixed up... not sure where the lines are to address your significant other per social labels.

2. It's been more than 18 months...
If there has been no change in 18 months, then you've been waiting too long. Either you need to move the relationship forward or move on from the relationship. Really, if it's been that long and everyone's all happy, then it's "time to put a ring on it." ... or get a ring put on. 18 months should be more than enough time to progress the relationship to the next stage.

3. More old flames.
Just like signs when you should move on from a bad relationship, this is similar signal to which your relationship needs to move forward because you are still waiting too long. See, enough time has passed for old flames to swing around and check back up on you... again.... and again.... and, again. If that much time has passed, you have definitely waited too long.

4. You're thinking about waiting.
It's like that movie 7 Year Engagement where the couple kept putting things off because of life. It would've been healthier for the relationship to have just committed on all levels first. Sure, it's Hollywood romance to fiiiiiight for it. But honestly, it's emotionally damaging. Stop waiting and get together already!

5. Other people are lapping you.
Yeah. When other people are lapping you; people who just started a relationship suddenly get married... except that this has been a pattern -- this is a huge sign you are waiting too long. As those couples who commit and tie the knot with less time being together start to seemingly come out of the woodwork, what it is really telling you is that you have waited far too long to progress your relationship.

I know that in the millennial age, labels and names and calling it "a thing" is a scary... well... thing. We have this strange cultural expectation of immediate gratification without any lingering commitment. It's no wonder that many subscription based businesses are moving away from yearly contracts and are going to month to month models. People are phobic of commitment for fear that they make the wrong life choice.

However, that, in and of itself, can be the wrong life choice in its entirety. By waiting, you are choosing to delay something that could be marvelous and beautiful.

So, stop waiting! Choose the life you want.

Well! There are a few more relationship posts I've had sitting in the queue so I'll be working on those and some other expanded content. I'm also really looking forward into getting into some honest talk on the academic & career path conundrum which is facing the millennial age as well as some ideas on what we can do about it. Stay Tuned!