Tag Archives: blogvember 14

Blogvember 2014 Wrap Up

Despite not hitting my target of a post per day for every day in November, I’m not going to call Blogvember 2014 an outright failure. As far as actual posts go, I wrote the same number of posts during November that I did for an entire year previously — 24 posts in November, 24 posts from October 2013 to October 2014 — which kind of explains why Blogvember was so needed. In terms of getting back into writing, Blogvember was exactly the kind of thing I needed, both to reassure myself I was capable of writing blog posts, and in terms of getting stuff up on my blog.

But all that said and done, writing is still undeniably hard. It’s not that I don’t have stuff to write about, as evidenced by the past month, but that actually getting words down into text form is something that just doesn’t happen without forcing it. That is, I can do it, but only if I’ve exhausted all other options. Only if I can’t sleep. Only if I haven’t played through as much Dragon Age Inquisition as I can tolerate. Only if no friends are online in Dota 2, and I don’t feel like queueing solo. You can see where this is going.

A lot of the time, it just comes down to motivation. I have no problems with getting paid to write, or writing as a hobby — but personal writing that only my blog audience sees is something entirely different. I have plenty to say about Dota 2, but finding the motivation to put those words down is hard. I have a few thoughts on Shadows of Mordor ready to go, but lack the motivation to finish it, or any of my other reviews. I could finish my story on getting the Sarkhan pin at PAX Aus this year any time I want, but what’s the point?

I want to write one thing every week. One thing every week doesn’t seem unachievable, especially seeing as I’m do daily news pieces for a number of outlets. But perhaps they’re part of the problem: after doing ~1400 words on Apple and consumer technology every day, I just can’t bring myself to bash out another couple of hundred, no matter how fascinating the topic.

I would have been an OK arts student. But apparently, a terrible writer.

These words are not a part of Blogvember 14, but they are related to the topic. Read more Blogvember posts, if you’re so inclined.

Magic, Part One

IMG_1795There’s this thing at PAX called Pinny Arcade, right, and it’s wonderful. It’s like a little subculture of PAX attendees who are obsessed about collecting and trading lanyard pins, almost kind of like Pokémon. You can buy many of the pins at PAX events or from the online store for little effort, but the most coveted ones are the ones that you have to trade other collectors for: Penny Arcade staff, some easier to find than others. Some, like the Sarkhan pin you see above, can be earned through a series of events. This is the story of how I came to earn the Sarkhan pin at PAX Aus 2014.

At first, I wanted to trade someone for it, it being the Sarkhan pin. I was wandering the area for panels with a few friends; they were searching for PAX Aus XP QR codes, I was mostly just killing time until the next panel I wanted to see.

An enforcer was standing outside one of the panel rooms, and I was drawn to his glittering lanyard of Pinny Arcade pins. After a quick glance, only one caught my eye: Sarkhan. I asked him if he wanted to trade, and pointed towards the mean-looking dude with flames. He seemed momentarily confused, as if this was the first time anyone had ever asked him that question before, before answering with a question of his own: “you know it can be earned, right?” I asked him where, and he said downstairs, at the Magic exhibition.

My companions at the time had heard about this, and informed me three tasks had to be performed before the pin was awarded. This being day two, one of them said the pin was actually easier to earn yesterday, on day one, as only two of four tasks had to be performed, but now, it was three out of five. Feeling a little like Hercules and his labours, I parted ways with my companions and wandered downstairs, passing through the many glittering attractions of the expo hall before arriving at the tabletop area, just past the console and PC free play areas.

Upon arriving, I made my way to one of the Magic areas, as they were cordoned off into various sections. I must have had a lost and/or confused look on my face, because I was soon approached by a guy who asked me if I needed any help. I asked him where I could perform the deeds to earn a Sarkhan pin of my very own. Looking pleased I was not there to collect his firstborn and merely after a collectible pin, he directed me towards another desk, currently staffed by a man and a woman. I thanked him for his assistance on the matter and moved on.

At the desk, I was greeted by the woman, who asked me what I was after. I stated my intentions on collecting a Sarkhan pin, and with a knowing look in her eye, she handed me one of the cards that contained the instructions for the five tasks. I only had to perform three, and from memory, I could choose from learning Magic, taking a photo, duelling, spell-slinging, and one more that I can’t quite recall.

Being the non-nerd that I am, I opted for taking a photo as that seemed the “easiest”. The goal was to get the pin in the shortest possible time, and I was thankful that PAX was such an inclusive place: they knew that a lot of people wouldn’t be up for the nerdery of learning to play a collectible card game, so they had an all-inclusive activity that everyone could enjoy. I donned a silly hat, picked up a sword, and stood in front of the camera as it took a photo. Looking at the photo now, and I wish I hadn’t chosen such a girly pose…

With the first of three tasks completed, I had my card punched. One down, two to go.

Wow, two PAX Aus posts in one day? Yeah, it happens when you’re six days behind in daily blog posts for the month of November.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.


DSC01210There was this one time at PAX Australia this year, when I was in the line to get some playtime with Far Cry 4. When you’re in lines there’s not that much to do — sure, if you’re queueing with a friend you can talk about what you’ve seen or are going to see next, but if you’re by yourself, you’re either smashing out some StreetPasses on your 3DS or doing something solo on your Vita and getting mocked for it on Twitter. But I digress.

Anyway, I was in this line, and it was almost my turn. There were perhaps 3 or so people before I was up, and the line was moving at a pretty steady pace — Ubisoft had between 8 and 10 consoles set up for the demo, and each person got maybe 10 minutes of play time, so it wasn’t too bad. From where I was in the line, I could see a girl playing the game.

I feel as though I have to preface this with “I’m not a sexist or anything”, because even though that should be pretty clear, what happened next could have easily happened to a guy, and I probably would have felt the same way.

With that out of the way, there was a girl playing Far Cry 4, and the thing I noticed was that she was dying, a lot. Like, over and over again. At first I thought she was just bad at the game, but then realised that wasn’t possible as the game wasn’t out yet, which meant everyone was bad at the game. My second thought was that she wasn’t familiar with console shooters — I know I’m definitely not, having two sticks to work with is confusing as all hell for someone who’s more experienced with a keyboard and mouse.

When I stepped up to the plate and had the PS4 controller in my hands, I was crazy bad at the game, too — I just kept dying, over and over again. Running into a guard unexpectedly and dying. Biting off more guards than I could chew, and dying. Trying to jump over something that couldn’t be jumped over, and dying. Glancing at the people who were doing the demo at the same time as me told a similar story, as they were dying a lot as well.

The interesting thing about the whole experience is that my brain automatically jumped to the conclusion that someone was bad at the game, even though no-one was particularly “good”, either. Like I said earlier, it could have happened to a guy or a girl, but it begs the question: did my own perceptions jump to a conclusion based on gender? Maybe. And if so, that’s kinda messed up.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.


Ever since I half-heartedly made a resolution to read more books last year, I can count the number of books I’ve read on one hand: four. Two were for an English unit I took as part of my degree, and the other two are Matthew Reilly titles: first The Tournament, and just recently, The Great Zoo of China.

Four. Four books in close to 18 months. Three physical, one digital.

I’d say it’s because I don’t have enough time, but that’s not entirely true. I have plenty of time most days, and do absolutely nothing with it when I should be looking for work, actually working, or at the very least, writing.

I think a lot of the problem is that I have trouble doing all the other stuff that goes into reading a book, namely the process of actually finding something to read. Reading stuff by your favourite authors is easy, because you already know what their stuff is like. All you have to do is pick up a copy of their latest work and go to town, even if it’s 12am and you have to work tomorrow.

Finding new stuff to read, on the other hand, is much harder. First, you have to decide what kind of book you want to read. Fiction, or non-fiction? Then if you’re reading fiction, you have to decide what kind of fiction you want to read: do you want to read about romance with vampires, magic, or perhaps sci-fi? Do you want to read thrillers, crime novels, or all of the above?

And once you’ve chosen what you want to read, how do you decide what author to go with? If only there was something like IMDB, but for books, that gave recommendations for similar movies/titles you enjoy based on the ones you do.

Or maybe you’re not going to choose what kind of books you want to read, and just want to work your way through the New York Times Bestseller list or something. That’s cool too, even if you’re going to pick and choose.

It sounds like I’m making a whole bunch of excuses as to why I’m not doing more reading, and to be fair, I kind of am. But at the end of the day, there’s only so many hours in the day and days in the year, and you’ll forgive me if I don’t want to waste time reading something I won’t enjoy, or something that doesn’t appeal to me.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

Planes with propellers

IMG_1752Oh man, we’ve reached that point where I just write about random shots from my camera roll? Seeing as I’m 6 days behind, yes, yes we have.

During my recent trip to Canberra I flew on three different aircraft on the four flights I took. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I’d guess that most domestic flights I’ve been on in Australia have been serviced by some Boeing 737 variant. This time was a little different: while the flights to and from Hobart were on 737s, the rest weren’t.

The flight was on a smaller Embraer E90, a tiny little jet with only two seats per side. I’m pretty sure I’ve been on one before, but I don’t recall them being ever so tiny — the overhead lockers in particular were downright minuscule, not even enough to fit my medium-sized backpack. It was also interesting to note how the seat allocations simply skipped a letter in every aisle. It was seats A and C on one side, and D and F on the other for reasons unbeknownst to me, although if I had to guess it’d probably some Virgin system limitation. Other than that, pretty similar to any other aircraft, if a little cosier.

The real surprise came when I flew in a ATR aircraft (turboprops and all) for the Canberra to Sydney leg. The particular one I flew on was VH-FVP, and I’d never been on one before. There was a bunch of schoolkids on my flight who had just finished a camping trip of some kind (also going back to Tasmania, interestingly enough, although they were flying back to Launceston), and I was somewhat apprehensive at the size of the thing.

The flight itself wasn’t too bad, except for the fact you can feel variations in altitude more readily than you can in an 737 or 747. You notice every bump and difference in air pressure, and dropping a few feet is really kind of harrowing. You also don’t appear to fly as high, staying below the clouds for the most part (land was perceptible out the window for pretty much the entire flight).

Overall, while I wouldn’t want to be travelling on a turboprop aircraft all the time, they probably have a certain advantage for shorter flights.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

Prints, Part II

Because I shoot film, once in a while I’ll choose to get prints done of a particular roll. Not because I hang onto some form of outdated media (I always get scans irrespective of whether I’m getting prints or not), but because I like to have some physical record of how my film photography is going.

Getting prints done isn’t some egotistical thing, either — I mostly use it as a way to remind myself that shooting film has a cost that’s not associated with digital photography, a real cost both in terms of taking the individual frames and work that has to go into the final roll. I still don’t develop my own film and probably ever won’t, but getting printed copies of my film photography gives me something I can hang onto.

I got back the two rolls I wrote about the other day, and they look pretty good. Taken as a set of 38 frames they’re mediocre, but there are some standouts in the two sets, like any roll. I feel as though I waste anywhere between 5 and 10 frames per roll of 38, just because I’m taking multiple shots of the same thing. There are one-time deals that work out amazingly well, and then there are those that take 2-3 shots and still don’t turn out right. That’s where digital still has the edge over film photography, and always will.

As much as I like some of the photos, and as much as I’m happy with how the shots I did take turned out — there’s this one that is an almost perfect shot of the front of the National Library of Australia — I’m still not content with the kind of photography I’m doing. If Monte Carlos are the only Arnott’s biscuits I’ve ever loved1, then street photography is the only kind of photography I really enjoy. Which kind of sucks, because I’m only average at it and almost never work up the courage to take the shots that I want to.

It’s honestly one of the worst things about street photography. You can’t just walk up to someone and take their photo, and while you can try and catch people in their natural — staring at their phone, waiting for the bus, leaning against a wall — as soon as you stick a camera in their face the moment is gone. If the second hardest thing about street is taking photos of people in their natural habitat, the hardest thing is working up the courage to do so.

But hey, that’s half of what makes street photography so thrilling. Thrill of the chase, and all that.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

  1. See https://twitter.com/bdyling/status/531385411742863361 

Compact Disc

IMG_1766Like everyone else, I stopped buying physical CDs for music years ago. The main computer I use these days doesn’t even have an optical drive, and the only use my PC optical drive gets is to occasionally read a CD full of film photo scans every now and again.

But to be honest, I was never a huge buyer of CDs for music or games. My collection of physical media for music and games isn’t anything to write home about, since I’ve always preferred digital downloads. Steam and iTunes have mostly sated my needs for both forms of media.

As with anything, there are a few edge cases.

If there’s a cool “Collector’s Edition” of a game that I’m somewhat into that has cool physical or digital bonuses, then I’ll pick up a copy of the game. It’s kind of how I ended up with two copies of Dishonored. I picked up the PC version of the game first and played through that. I liked it so much that I gave it my game of the year award for 2012 (wow, was it really two years ago?), only to be disappointed there wasn’t a Collector’s Edition of the PC version, which came some super cool, Dishonored-themed tarot cards. I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea to have special editions of only the console versions of the game, but a quick trip to eBay later and I was the proud owner of the Dishonored Collector’s Edition — for Xbox 360. I’m pretty sure the game itself is still in the original shrink wrapped packaging.

Which brings us to the point of today’s post, the edge case of buying music on physical CDs. I used to buy CDs from artists that I liked, but gave that up a few years ago when physical media fell out of favour. These days, I pirate or stream pretty much everything, only buying digital when I really, really like the artist and album.

I’ve been listening to Taylor Swift’s 1989 for weeks now, and Shake It Off for months before that, but when I heard about the awesome collection of polaroids included with every copy of the album, it was Dishonored all over again. For the briefest of moments I contemplated buying multiple copies of the album, seeing as there’s actually 65 “Photos from Taylor” you can collect — you get 13 with one copy of the album — but I quickly realised that was a little too crazy. I mean, it’s a good album and all, and Taylor Swift is* incredibly pretty, but buying multiple copies of the album is crazy talk.

And yeah, I had a bit of a look on eBay for just the polaroids, but I couldn’t find anything reasonably priced. They’re also not actual Polaroids, seeing as that would be prohibitively expensive — they’re more photos printed on glossy paper to look like Polaroids, but they’re still insanely cool. I don’t have my favourite lyric from the album in the set that I got, but I’m cool with that, too.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.


IMG_1763Film is so strange. For the first time in a long time, I took photos with my film rangefinder during my recent working holiday in Canberra, and that’s kind of a big deal because the last time I did so was back in January this year.

Only there’s one difference between the photos I took in January and the photos I took earlier this month. The film I was using — the only film I use with my film rangefinder, Kodak Ektar 100 — expired back in May. From what I’ve read everything should be OK, or maybe the colours will be slightly funkier than usual, but the film has had a pretty gentle life — it hasn’t been refrigerated, but has been stored away from direct sunlight.

I made the silliest mistake when winding back the first roll of film, too. I forgot to set the shutter speed low enough for a short exposure, and accidentally left the shutter open at f/16 when winding it back. Granted, it was in a dark room, and the camera was pointing downwards towards the floor, but the shutter was open for perhaps the last fifth of the roll, as I wound it back. It was such a rookie mistake. I’m not sure what effect — if any — that will have on the final exposures. Maybe it won’t have any effect at all, or maybe the last few shots will be overexposed by a stop or two.

Either way, I’m not sure how the last two rolls of film will turn out. You never are, of course, film being film and all, but that’s just how it is when you choose to shoot film. There’s all this potential contained in those little canisters — huge potential for some really great shots, or the potential for blurry, out of focus, over/under-exposed messes.

It’s half the fun, really.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

Return to Dragon Age

Dragon Age: Inquisition is out this week, and I have absolutely no idea what is going on anymore.

Sure, I played Dragon Age: Origins when it came out back in 2009 (!), but I never finished the game. Seeing as it’s been almost five years since the last time I played, I don’t remember much from it. From what I do remember, I made it though about 75% of the game before calling it quits. I think the game just got boring after a while, and my interest waned. I’ve basically ignored everything Dragon Age from that point, including Dragon Age II.

I went to BioWare’s panel at last year’s PAX (after queueing for easily over an hour), but I was pretty much only there for Mass Effect stuff. A large percentage of the audience seemed way more interested in what they had to say about Dragon Age, which I didn’t really understand at the time.

But it’s 2014. Rick Astley was just interviewed on the radio, Taylor Swift is no longer on Spotify, and this week, Dragon Age: Inquisition comes out. All the reviews I’ve read have been overwhelmingly positive, which means it must be time for a new foray into the Dragon Age universe. After all, BioWare are renowned for their storytelling (see: Mass Effect) and characters — two things which are right up my alley in terms of gaming, even though most of my gaming is spent losing at Dota 2 these days.

Unlike Dota 2 or even something like Shadows of Mordor, the biggest problem with lore-driven games like the Dragon Age series is that it’s hard to get into, once you’ve been out. Dota 2 has problems of its own in that it’s not really a game but more a life commitment, but that’s for another time. The Fallout games are pretty similar, I find — because you’re coming back to a playthrough you’ve spent upwards of 50 hours in, you’re not really sure what you’re doing or what’s going on. What do all these buttons do? What weapons am I using? Why do I need to find this weed on the other side of the map?

It’s like that with Dragon Age: Origins, too. I had backups of my character files and wanted to finish the game before it Inquisition was released later this week, but after loading it up and getting it all setup again, I realised I had no idea what I was doing, where I was going, or what the status of the story was. I walked into a room, ran into some rabid dogs, and died almost immediately as I had no idea what any of my skills did. I must have had some idea, about five years ago, but yeah, no idea today.

I quickly gave up on that idea, and checked out other places on the internet. Thankfully, Kotaku published a semi-coherent read of the races and factions within the Dragon Age universe. There’s references to Lord of the Rings which is handy for some, but I managed to glean an OK amount of information from it — enough to get started, anyway.

In preparation for Inquisition I also checked out the Dragon Age Keep, which let you shape your world status using a number of questions in the game. It was alright, but I felt as though there wasn’t enough backstory to back up the choices — mostly it was just “did you let this character live or die”, “did you side with the Templars or the Mages”, without giving you any context why you might have made a decision either way. Maybe I was expecting too much from it, and that kind of stuff was reserved for people who actually played the games.

Anyway, between the Dragon Age Keep and the Dragon Age wiki, I managed to cross-reference enough stuff to make informed decisions about what choices I “made”. All that’s left now is to create a character and dive right into the Dragon Age universe once more.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.


For the longest time, I’ve wondered why it’s hard for those who are merely average — myself included — at Dota 2 to improve at the game in any kind of reasonable timeframe.

My own theories revolve around improving at Dota is hard because a lot of the time, you don’t recognise your own mistakes. Whether you’re playing in the so-called “trench-tier”, stuff that wouldn’t work in the pro scene works, and stuff that works in the pro scene doesn’t work in your trench-tier games, mostly because people do (and don’t do) things you wouldn’t expect. It never ceases to amaze me that people who have literally no idea what they’re doing or how the game works can be playing the same game as those who play Dota 2 professionally. It’s completely insane, and totally a topic for another time.

We can probably blame Dota’s “fair and balanced” matchmaking for slow improvement, too. Maybe people just don’t play enough games to notice any real rise in skill, but a lot of the time I feel as though because Dota tries to match you up with and against people who are at the same skill level as you, you often don’t see when you’ve climbed up an MMR bracket, because people will still be, relatively speaking, the same feeding bastards they were when you started out.

Now that I know a little about the game, I’ve often wondered if I should be starting a new Dota 2 account and playing ranked only to see what kind of MMR I end up at. To be fair, it’ll probably be around the same MMR that I am now — how do I know? Because even though I often perceive myself as better at Dota than my teammates, I can’t seem to carry myself out of the rubbish tier I’m in. It’s kind of sad, and is mostly the reason why I don’t play much ranked.

But forget perfect last-hitting mechanics. Forget perfect decision making. If I could choose to be insanely good at just one aspect of Dota 2, it would be in the critique of my own gameplay.

Analysing where you’ve made mistakes is a truly underrated skill, in my opinion. By looking back on games you’ve played and identifying where you could have been more efficient in farming, or where you should have gone through the jungle instead of walking through the river, or where you should have just TP’d out of Dodge as soon as you saw all the other lanes missing, you can learn to improve you own game much more than if you had perfect last hitting mechanics. Perfect decision making would probably help, but if you’re bad at the game to begin with, there’s only so many good decisions you can make, you know?

This ability (or more accurately, lack thereof) to self-analyse and identify mistakes is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. My favourite pro player at the moment asked about this in relation to Dota 2, and got an answer from Dr Dunning himself. You can check out Aui’s questions and Dr Dunning’s answers over on Reddit, but long story short, the DKE probably explains why people can’t improve at Dota as much as they might like, and sadly, there’s probably no real way to combat the DKE when it comes to improving in Dota 2.

I know I’m incredibly mediocre at Dota 2. But if I want to improve, it’ll take more than just playing games. Analysing games where I played awesome will help as much as analysing games where I played rubbish, but overall, it’ll be a real struggle.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.