Sunday, July 18, 2010

I write like JB

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Today's Toronto Star introduced a website entitled "I Write Like." The site analyzes any text that you put into it and uses keywords to map your writing style to that of a famous author. Based on my latest entry, I write like David Foster Wallace, some American author who wrote a whole bunch of things that I've never read.

My girlfriend, Sandlot, apparently also writes like David Foster Wallace, "full of irony and self-created acronyms and abbreviations and long-winded sentences." I guess that's what makes us such a power couple. Birds of a feather, right?

Well, we do have similar writing styles... sort of.

Or maybe he's a default.

What's more disconcerting is that Justin Bieber's hit song Baby also channels David Foster Wallace (I'm sure that would be disconcerting for the late Mr. Wallace as well). While I'm sure JB doesn't write his own material, being associated with a prepubescent pop star doesn't sit well with me... although, this would explain why I like that song so much.

Luckily my Bieber association doesn't have to stick. The site admits limited accuracy with only 50 or so authors to compare with and no measure for the degree of correlation. Site founder Dmitry Chestnykh confesses:

I think that people really like to know how they write, even if it's not accurate results.

I think a statement like that makes us all suckers for trying this site.

Addendum: Apparently, the above entry reads like Dan Brown.

Addendum2: Tally of ten most recent Chronicle entries:
  • Cory Doctorow - 5
  • David Foster Wallace - 2
  • Dan Brown - 1
  • Vladimir Nobokov - 1
  • Stephen King - 1

Friday, July 16, 2010

Does this make me a xenophiliac?

Photo credit: Mass Effect Wiki

So I just finished barreling through BioWare's latest science fiction epic, Mass Effect 2. While the game provides numerous junctions at which the player can make small choices, the most intriguing (as in Dragon Age: Origins) was the protagonist's choice of romantic partner.

Male versions of the heroic Commander Shepherd have three options on which to focus their courtship: the down-to-business and initially cold-hearted Miranda, the extra-terrestrial Tali, and the foul-mouthed convict Jack.

Jack, a psycho-killer bitch with tattoos running the length of her body was an automatic out - particularly since I ended up having to choose early on between her and Miranda. Jack might have been fair romantic game for more adventurous gamers... Stewie perhaps?

Miranda seemed a perfect win. Voiced and modeled after the smoking hot Yvonne Strahovski (Sarah Walker from the TV series Chuck), she was the first character Shepherd met in the game and was responsible for bringing him back to life from his untimely demise at the hands of an unknown alien menace. Furthermore, she sported a sexy Australian accent, she was genetically engineered for both combat prowess and the aforementioned smoking hotness, she walked with swagger, and she blew through battles wearing ass-accentuating spandex and high heels (okay, the high heels were actually a bit of a turn off... but I imagine for many people it would not be). Indeed Shepherd spent most of the game getting to know Miranda, and Miranda had all but given the wink wink nudge nudge by the time Tali joined his crew.

Enter Tali. Tali was an alien engineer as well as one of only two companions to reprise their role on Shepherd's crew from the first Mass Effect. As such, bringing her on board felt like bringing back a long-lost friend, and the interactive dialogue suggested as much. Tali, however, is hardly what one would consider a sensual character. First of all, she's rather shy and awkward, unlike the assertive Miranda. While she's humanoid in form, she also only has three fingers and three toes per hand or foot, respectively. Her race of aliens has such a weak immune system that they have to wear environmental protection suits at all times - the Mass Effect equivalent to the bubble boy. What her skin or face looks like is a complete unknown. She could be a five tentacles squid-face under that mask (her species name "Quarian" is indeed uncomfortably similar to the "Quarren" of the Star Wars universe). As if that weren't bad enough, kissing or making love to Shepherd could result in her contracting an infection severe enough to kill her, requiring that she load up on antibiotics and immunomodulators before engaging in any hanky panky - talk about taking the spontaneity out of a relationship!

While Tali is a returning character from the first game, she was never a contender for Shepherd's affections (though I had previously considered that she should be). He was too distracted by his gunnery chief Ashley Williams and the blue-skinned and bisexual Liara T'soni. However, when Tali returned for Mass Effect 2, Shepherd's ship counselor gave him the heads up that Tali's body language indicated that she was out for more than just friendship.

Let's break it down then:

Door #1: Smoking hot Australian girl who Shepherd has been courting for the whole game and has already said yes to him.


Door #2: Socially awkward immuno-compromised alien with only six fingers. Could die from sex.

Yet, as straightforward as this decision seemed, I found myself vacillating from one to the other. When push came to shove, Miranda was a barely compelling character who seemed transparently placed in my crew to a) kill things and b) be sexy. She had very little meaningful dialogue and even less in the order of meaningful personality.

Shepherd's idea of a pickup line for Miranda came while she was brooding about how she was nothing but the sum of genetic engineering experiments and how her body and talents were not earned. Shepherd threw in something along the lines of, "So I'm not allowed to admire your body or your talents? You're great because of how you choose to live, not where you come from."

She tossed back a fantasy win, "Wow, thank you. Nobody's ever said anything like that to me before, and maybe I wouldn't mind if you admired my body." /gag

Tali, on the other hand, had loads of character. She was defiant in the face of danger, loyal to her family and friends, and awkwardly adorable in her banter (in real life, this is one of Sandlot's many charming traits). Dialogue with her felt warm and familiar, and she often invoked adventures she and Shepherd had braved together in the original Mass Effect.

Having Shepherd choose between Miranda and Tali felt like a choice between lusty good times and potential true love. Tali was an alien with immune issues and an unknown face. Did she even have the requisite... parts? What she and Shepherd did have, however, was chemistry. Miranda on the other hand had the face of a Hollywood actress, an alluring Australian accent (I cannot overemphasize this!), and was willing to strip down and dry hump Shepherd in the engine room. Could I really deprive him of that?

In the end, I threw hotness to the wind and paired Shepherd with Tali - she just had so much more character. Shepherd went to tell Miranda that it was over, and to be honest, she didn't seem too broken up about it. "Oh, I'm sorry that you feel that way. Still, it's probably better this way. Simpler. Strictly professional." We'll see if I regret this when my decisions get imported to Mass Effect 3. If Yvonne Strahovski steps it up a notch in the sequel, I may need to change Shepherd's mind.

Martin Sheen and Yvonne Strahovski?! Watch for more.

On the plus side, choosing Tali is not the weirdest possible outcome. Female versions of Commander Shepherd can have sex with Garrus. /gag

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Codenames, aliases, and call-signs

Sandlot recently tweeted that her codename in militarized alphabet would be Tango Tango. This got me thinking about all the codenames I'd taken over the years. No, I'm not a super-spy, just a hardcore gamer.

Growing up on games in the 90's, it was typical to use an alias of some kind for multiplay. I think it was somewhat built into geek culture to have some kind of alternate online persona. Hackers did it. ZModem text-based RPG players did it. My brother and I did it.

The popularity of aliases is not just rooted in anonymity - it's also rooted in pop culture. First of all, there is a kind of distinct power in being branded with an alternate persona. Think of Dwayne Johnson of WWF, popularly known only as "The Rock." There is a legitimate coolness and intimidation factor to being known only by a forceful alias.

Secondly, gamers like to take on the mantle of the fighter and the hero. Oftentimes, this is done so under the allure of a military or fantasy setting. Military order is exciting. Military culture is cool. Enter then the concept of the "call-sign." Call-signs are aliases used by pilots in the air force and in numerous fictional settings. Take for instance the 1986 classic Top Gun. Tom Cruise's "Maverick" butting horns with Val Kilmer's "Iceman" while the comical wingman "Goose" provided witty banter. Every little boy imagined having their own call-sign emblazoned on their helmet, and every little boy was inspired by the fast-flying fighter jets and military honour code. Heck, I'll never leave my wingman behind.

Thirdly, aliases are an outlet for imagination and expression. My brother, for as long as I can remember has run under the alias of Peregrine. Oh, the years I spent being blown to bits, fragged, and gunned down by this very name. Peregrine refers to a type of falcon, and falcon is a raptor - a bird of prey. My brother was a predator. There was something mystical about this deep and hidden meaning behind the name. When Peregrine was not available, my brother occasionally defaulted to Merlin as a call-sign. This referred not to the mystical wizard of Arthurian lore, but rather another type of falcon.


My own childhood was much more schizophrenic. I settled not on a single alias, but constantly invented new personas: Neon, Cateye, White Griffin, Bloodline - each tackier than the last. They were, in many ways, the evolution of my creative juices.

Neon was the first name that stuck with me, and was used throughout the majority of my youth. It was not an invention, but stolen from the Chrysler vehicle of the same name. This didn't stop me from making it my own. In elementary school, I produced an entire backstory to the Neon persona including short stories, drawings, comics, and even a supporting cast.

Cateye was a short lived title, inspired by a sticker set from the bicycle headlight brand of the same name. I used it in video games around the time that I was into physical forms of play such as mock sword-fighting with plastic swords. I would go out into the backyard and find sword or dagger-shaped sticks, painting them with elaborate decor including the name Cateye. I guess I was very tribal at this age.

White Griffin was a long and cumbersome name I used around the time that Transformers: Beast Wars first began airing. I really liked the white tiger character and played around with a variety of aliases that involved white animals, such as White Siberian and White Griffin. In many ways this was my attempt to emulate my brother's animalistic Peregrine alias. I was, as a child, quite envious of it. I also used White Griffin as a springboard to create a "secret club" of sorts in which I enlisted my next door neighbour and best friends. I even made little ID cards with our aliases on them. That didn't last long.

Bloodline was a return of my original Neon character, probably around Grade 7-8. He was the sequel, and I actually drew up a fairly nice looking set of mock trading cards featuring him and his enemies. Again, short lived.


As an adult, I've finally settled into a gaming persona with some permanence. It's not stolen off a car brand or a sticker or inspired by sibling rivalry. Warden, the final iteration of my gaming alias is a rearrangement of the letters in my first name, Andrew. It's also intended to carry with it the imagery of a guardian or warrior.

When I first started gaming with J-Rock, he recoiled at the codename Warden. He pictured it to be some mundane station, like a park ranger or prison guard. This reaction surprised me, as I had not stopped to consider that these would be the most common images conjured by the average person's mind.

Warden, to me, was a powerful image. It's an oft used term in fantasy games to portray an order of powerful guardians. For instance the Night Elf wardens in the Warcraft universe or the Grey Wardens in Dragon Age. Additionally, I could recall the term being portrayed similarly in military fiction or science fiction settings. Finally, wardens in real life (and outside of the prison) are often persons of supervisory or governing roles - an elite and aristocratic terminology.

So remember the next time you're fragged by Tango Tango and Warden - the Warden is an elite warrior, not a park official.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Yesterday, my girlfriend Sandlot took the liberty of PhotoShop tweaking one of the pictures she took of me last week. The product came with a warning:

Sandlot: It might look saturated on your comp... because for some reason all my pictures look saturated on your comp.

Andy: I look like I have jaundice...

Sandlot: Yeah, I'm a PhotoShop n00b, mkayyy? This is the first time I've actually used these functions. You can desaturate it.

Andy: Haha, I don't know how to do that!

Sandlot: Really? You don't? I thought you were a PhotoShop pro.

Andy: Well, I usually don't saturate my photos...

Sandlot: HAHA!

Andy: Besides, I try to avoid altering colours, because it'll probably end up green.

It's true. With a mild case of red-green deficiency, tweaking colours that aren't labeled can be dangerous. I learned this in Grade 8 art class when I ended up mixing a perfectly "normal" looking skin tone (to my eyes) that turned out to be green. I learned it again in Grade 9 when I made a Flash movie with an unintentionally green Pikachu.

Even so, I decided to open my PhotoShop and take corrective action. I opened the Color/Saturation menu and given the cue that the picture was too "saturated" I decreased the Saturation. This was a pretty safe bet since this would reduce the intensity of the colour without altering the colours themselves. (I steered hard away from the Hue slider, since I didn't want to turn myself green or purple) I stopped when the skin intensity seemed about right with the caveat that I was taking a bit of a chance on the colour (seriously, fleshy tones are my enemy). I sent it back to Sandlot:

Andy: Here, I think I fixed it.

Sandlot: You sepia'd yourself...

Andy: No, I didn't! My shirt is still blue, and my hair is still black.

Sandlot: Well, you made yourself almost black and white.

Andy: You crazy, or your compy is... one or the other.

Sandlot: No, you are. What did you do? You took all the colour out! This is not your skin tone at all. Maybe it's because you're colourblind.

Aside from how uncool as it is to constantly invoke my colour impairment as an excusatory argument, my desaturated image is not sepia. While I admit that the skin tone may not match mine (I can't tell all that well), I certainly didn't suck all the colour out of it. For reference, I've added a copy that's actually been cast in sepia.

Readers, what do you think? Whose computer monitor (or eyes) are broken? Do I look like a sickly jaundiced inpatient through door number 1? Do I look like a colourless sepia'd fiend through door number 2? Does door number 2 look like door number 3? Let us know.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Andpire will strike back!

Like it? Create your own at It's free and fun!

Hello friends, I hope that you have all been enjoying this super-hot summer weather. I've spent it more or less between hardcore gaming and logging quality time with my lovely girlfriend, Sandlot. I apologize for my MIA-ness and would like to assure you that I have not forgotten that I do have a blog. More entries will follow.

Until then, enjoy this lovely Domo rendition of Scenes 337-338 of Star Wars: A New Hope. I spent the whole afternoon productively working on it.