Let’s Talk About the Generational Divide

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about the constant battle between the generations.  You know what I mean, the age old “back in my day” and “kids these days”.  Every generation seems to think they’re the only ones with their heads on straight and all the others after them are just doing it wrong.  It even goes the other way, with younger generations being bitter towards the older because of a perceived lack of forethought on their part, with their past actions affecting the younger generations in a wide variety of ways, not all of them good.  It’s no secret (or at least it shouldn’t be) that the situation of millennials is a bit screwed, with the cost of living continually going up but wages not keeping the same pace.  All of this leads to a lot of back and forth between young and old, and a lot of resentful feelings.

 

 

“I’m gonna get those dang kids…”

 

I remember when I was younger, video games were often the target of politicians and activists, with both claiming that they warped kid’s brains and made them violent.  Of course, the science never truly backed that up, but it didn’t stop them nonetheless.  It was a new thing that the older folks didn’t understand, and therefore it was dangerous.  They didn’t have video games when they were growing up, so it must just be some fad thing that the kids are into these days.  And as time went on and it became more apparent that video games were here to stay, they drew more and more criticism from people who probably never played a single game in their lives.

It’s the same with tablets and smart phones in today’s world.  I can’t count the amount of times I’ve rolled my eyes when someone says something like “kids these days don’t get outside anymore…they just sit in front of their computer screens and waste away”.  Yeah because clearly your generation was the only one that got it right.  Everyone else is just stupid.

Wait, which generation thought spanking was an acceptable idea again?  I forget.

 

 

The thing is, it also goes the other way.  Often we of the younger generations are bitter towards our elders because we see them as the root cause for a lot of the issues facing us: climate change, student debt, the rising cost of living, and so on.  We felt like we were dealt a bad hand, and that older people just don’t understand that.  So we’re bitter, resentful, and grumpy about our lot in life.

“You ruined the planet, and now we have to pick up the pieces,” we often say.

But here’s the kicker: neither side is technically wrong in this.

 

It’s true, the actions of older generations did have a lot to do with the current climate we live in today, economically and otherwise.  But at the same time, there was likely no good way to predict the effects their choices would have thirty or so years down the line.  However, there is something to be said about self-awareness, about accepting the fact that choices were made which directly led to the predicament the younger generations are in now.

And the older generations aren’t wrong in the idea that new and popular things should be approached with at least a modicum of caution.  Until we know for certain what the effects can be, it might not be wise to simply adopt some new thing or idea without really understanding the ramifications.  But again, immediately assuming that it is bad and rallying against it isn’t the answer either.

It all has to do with understanding.  Understanding goes a long way toward solving our issues.  We should understand that different life situations lead to different mindsets, and one isn’t necessarily better than the other.  We should understand that, for us as human beings, it’s difficult to chart what effect our choices and actions will have decades later.  Sitting down and actually coming together to work on the problems facing us would go a long way.

But instead, it seems most people just want to turn it into a generational pissing contest.

“I was spanked all the time as a kid, and I turned out fine!”

“You voted in people who drove up the price of living, and now we have to deal with it!”

“You young people are so spoiled!  You want everything handed to you!”

“You old farts don’t realize how easy you had it compared to us!”

It just goes on and on with no end.  And it solves nothing.

Every generation has their faults and successes, their pros and cons.  No one is perfect.  It’s the human condition.  So instead of assuming that one size fits all, maybe we would be better served with a multi-faceted approach to our problems.

Words are just words.  Actions are progress.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post, and as always, have a wonderful month!

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

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Let’s Talk About Black Holes

A week ago today, scientists released this image of a black hole:

 

 

And while the image itself might not look too impressive, the context behind it is.  This is the first ever actual photograph of a real black hole.  Not just a conceptual image.  Not an artist’s rendering.  Not a computer generated simulation, but an actual, physical picture of a black hole out there in the universe.  It took a team of over 200 scientists, including Katie Bouman, whose Twitter post showing the image being processed was retweeted by MIT:

 

 

This simple image inadvertently made Bouman the face of the project, turning her into a magnet for praise and a target for criticism from right-wing trolls.  But to talk at length about those types of people would simply lend credence to their opinions and give them the attention they crave.  Besides (and I think Bouman would agree), the achievement itself is more important than whoever was behind it.

The first real image of a black hole…can you imagine that?  Black holes are something science has recognized as existing for many decades, but until now we never had a way of seeing them visually.  We could only tell where they were via their effects on nearby celestial objects.

But just what is a black hole exactly?  Let’s get down to some science.

 

At a basic level, black holes are intense gravitational anomalies in space that are so strong, theoretically not even light can escape once it passes the event horizon.  They are the remains of massive stars that became so big, they collapsed in on themselves.  All stars eventually use up their nuclear fuel, and in a sense, die.  But it is their mass that determines their final fate.  Smaller stars will simply use up their fuel and die a quiet death, often becoming what is known as a planetary nebula and leaving a small “white dwarf”, what remains of the star’s core.

 

A planetary nebula.

 

However, if the star is large enough, it will manage to fuse heavier elements such as helium and carbon once its supply of hydrogen runs out.  But once it finally runs out of fuel, the star will collapse in what is known as a “supernova”.  Think of it as a massive explosion, larger and more powerful than any bomb you’ve ever seen by billions of trillions of times.  These explosions are so powerful that it’s pretty much impossible to wrap your mind around it.  The aftermath of a supernova can take the form of two things: a neutron star, which is the collapsed core of the former star, or a black hole.  It all depends on how large the star is.  And once the star has collapsed, the black hole can get even bigger by consuming the matter around it.

Black holes, simply put, are the most destructive force in the known universe.  And there is a supermassive black hole at the heart of nearly every galaxy in the universe, including the Milky Way.  But don’t worry, we’re not in any danger of being eaten by it anytime soon.  They mostly just serve as a gravitational anchor, keeping planets and stars in their orbits.  Besides, our Sun will run out of fuel eons before there’s any reason to worry about the black hole at the center of our galaxy.

The vast time of the universe…kinda makes your head hurt doesn’t it?

 

Check back on the third Wednesday of May for another post, and as always, thanks for reading.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Let’s Talk About Joe Biden

It’s no secret that the political climate has…changed in recent years, to put it lightly.  Five years ago, few would have thought a man like Donald Trump would stand a chance at becoming president.  And yet, here we are.  The political divide and the wealth gap have only deepened in this country, and with the 2020 election cycle right around the corner it stands to reason that it’s only going to become more prevalent.  Health care and economic disparities are going to be huge talking points once again.

So yes, things have changed.  Which is why I think Joe Biden running for president might end up being a terrible idea.

 

 

Let me be clear: I have nothing against Biden personally.  I don’t know enough about the man in all honesty.  But from what little I have seen from him, I know that he will, much like Hillary Clinton in 2016, have a lot of trouble attracting younger voters.  Voter turnout may have been higher in the 2016 election than in previous years (roughly 58% of eligible voters showed up), but there was lower turnout in key areas that ultimately led to Clinton losing those electoral college votes.  And a big part of that likely had to do with younger voters’ apathy towards the Clinton campaign.  She just simply couldn’t engage them on the same level that Obama had during his run.

And I’m afraid the same thing will happen if Biden wins the nomination.  Not because he’s old or a man.  Because he’s simply…familiar.

He’s too similar to the politicians that younger generations have been railing against for years.  He claims to be a middle-class American (Middle-Class Joe), but his net worth is still probably near a million dollars.  Not to mention that since leaving office, he’s made plenty of money off of speaking gigs as signed a book deal that’s likely to bring him an even heftier sum of money.  All of these things don’t necessarily doom him, but they damage his attempt to position himself as relatable to blue-collar individuals.

And some of the things he’s said could come back to haunt him.  Last year on Trump he said he would “take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him” if they were in high school.  It may have just been a joke, but in the world of politics perception is everything.  And then there’s what he said on income inequality: “I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason we’re in trouble. The folks at the top aren’t bad guys. But this gap is yawning, and it’s having the effect of pulling us apart. You see the politics of it.” It’s like he’s trying to juggle having a stance on the issue while not ruffling the feathers of the big money donors that back him.  By contrast, someone like Bernie Sanders has a consistent stance on those kind of issues and isn’t held back by big, corporate money donors.

As of this writing, Biden hasn’t officially announced his campaign yet.  But he still holds a considerable margin over the other democratic candidates according to at least one poll. And maybe I’m just missing something, but he seems like just more of the same.  If he wins the nomination, Republicans will have a field day tearing down his “Middle-Class Joe” image and painting him as a stodgy, out of touch political insider.

Because this election isn’t just about defeating Trump.  It’s about breaking the cycle of politics that has been dominant for decades.  It’s about future generations finding a reason to be hopeful again.  It’s about once and for all changing things for the better.

Those that come after us deserve a chance to have a good life, rather than deal with the consequences of our excess, don’t you think?

Love Yourself

Love Yourself

Being an adult isn’t easy.  You have bills to pay.  You have to go to work.  You have to deal with every little stupid thing life throws your way.  But one of the hardest things to do as an adult might not be something you would expect:

Learning to love yourself.

And I’m not talking in a narcissistic ego-maniac type of way.  I mean in the sense that you’re comfortable in your own skin.  It might seem obvious to people out there reading this, but you’d be surprised how many people truly don’t know how to do it.  There are those that think they know how, but really all they’re doing is hiding the insecurities beneath a mask.

It’s not the type of thing you learn right away.  Oh no…it’s the type of thing that takes you right through hell and back again.  It’s the type of thing that puts you through the wringer.  But sometimes it takes your darkest hour to realize where the light shines.

Some never figure it out.  And those are usually the ones who take their own lives.

I’ve had my fair share of rough patches in the last few years.  It never got to the point that it has for some out there, but there was a decent amount of self-loathing involved.  And the thing is, I didn’t really come to an understanding on it until fairly recently.

I wrote last year about how I got to the point where I really burned out on writing.  And it took nearly another year before I realized that I took it as me somehow being a failure, rather than just a natural part of life.  Because that’s the thing: oftentimes self-loathing magnifies the insignificant things, making them seem like world-ending catastrophes.

But facing your worst self is what helps you become your best self.

 

self-worth

If self-worth were a street or some other tangible location, life would be a whole lot easier wouldn’t it?

 

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that your feelings don’t matter.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you that your problems don’t matter because other people have it worse.  That’s bullshit.  Your feelings matter.  Your problems matter.  You matter.  If you can’t take care of yourself, then how are you going to make the world a better place?

This isn’t about ego-soothing.  It’s not about being self-aggrandizing.  It’s about waking up in the morning, being able to look at yourself in the mirror, and say “hey you…you look good.  You’re doing good.  And you are good.”

 

Mirror Demon

Not you though. You’re a demon.

 

Thanks for reading.  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post, and as always, have a wonderful month.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Let’s Talk About the Power of Isolation

We’ve all had one of those moments: you’re alone at night.  Everything’s quiet.  Everything’s still.  Maybe you’re reading a good book or watching television or something when an unexpected noise causes you to jump, alarm bells ringing in your head.  There’s usually a reasonable explanation for it, such as the cat knocking something over (or, in my case, deciding to run a marathon through the house in the middle of the night), or just the creaks and groans of an old house.  You’ll look back on it a few minutes later and laugh at how foolish you looked.  You’ll be glad no one was around to see it.  But that moment of panic, that moment when you weren’t sure what you heard and your adrenaline started kicking in?

That, my friends, is the power of isolation.

 

Isolation is one of the most powerful tools in a storyteller’s arsenal.  It’s an effective way to immerse your audience in a setting.  Isolating a character means that, in the absence of another person to talk to, their surroundings come to the forefront.  In this way, the setting itself can become a character.

One of the most apparent examples of this comes from Stephen King’s “The Shining”.  The Overlook Hotel is shrouded in menace and mystery all throughout the book, especially room 217 which is implied to be one of the most haunted in the hotel.  Throughout the majority of the book very little actually happens until the last two hundred pages or so, but the raw tension and the sense that something is wrong with the hotel permeates the entirety of the story.

This “wrongness” pervades the film adaptation as well.  The layout of the hotel is purposefully surreal and the impossibility of it factors into the tense atmosphere throughout the film.  That, combined with the quick cuts and jarring camera angles, makes for a very unsettling watch, even if nothing truly makes you jump out of your skin.

Isolation as a tool to enhance horror doesn’t just extend itself to movies and books.  Video games have put that idea to great effect as well, and I would even argue in greater ways than either.  For the longest time, horror video game fans wanted a game set in the “Alien” franchise that mimicked the first movie more than the second one.  And they finally got it back in 2014 when “Alien: Isolation” (hey, isolation is even in the name!) released.  Unlike previous game adaptations (which focused more on the sequel “Aliens” with its more action-heavy tone), “Isolation” puts you on a broken down space station with a singular alien lurking throughout the game.

The sense that you’re being hunted is present throughout the game.  And that’s because…well…you are.

“Isolation” also takes after the first movie in the sense that all the technology is retro ’70s style, right down to the CRT computer monitors.  It creates a strangely believable science-fiction setting.

I remember back when I took a class on science-fiction and fantasy back in college, we talked about isolation as one of the cornerstones of science-fiction.  But isolation isn’t just locked into the sci-fi and horror genres.  You can find it at play in many things, including “Myst”, a game I have talked about many times.  From the moment you start playing, you’re hit with the sensation of being alone.  Nothing pushes you forward aside from your own curiosity.

 

That feeling of solitude is one of the reasons people so fondly remember “Myst”. Very few games at the time really nailed that sense of being alone, of being on your own personal journey.

 

The idea of being left to your own devices is why “Myst” and other point and click adventure games appealed to me so much.  I liked being forced to wander and figure things out at my own pace, rather than have the game point me in a direction and say “go”.  This open-ended style is something that has only just recently crept back into gaming consciousness, particularly with the advent of survival crafting games such as “Minecraft”.  But regardless, isolation is a very powerful that can pull people into your fictional world.

And hey, sometimes a little solitude isn’t a bad thing.  Everyone needs to be left to their own whims every once in a while.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post.  Have a wonderful January folks!

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Let’s Talk About Space

SPAAAAAAAAAAAAACE!!!

Sorry, had to get my Portal 2 reference out of the way.

But yes, space.  It’s big.  Like…really big.  In fact, unfathomably big.  It’s so big that some of the things we can see through our telescopes actually occurred thousands of years ago because it took that long for the light to reach us.

So yeah, it’s big.

But that doesn’t stop us from wanting to know everything about it.

Why is that?  What is it about this vast expanse of mostly nothing that entices us so?  Some might say because we could find resources or other life out there, something that would benefit us as a species.  But I don’t think the answer is necessarily that pragmatic.

Think back to when Galileo was gazing through his telescope at the stars above.  Was he doing so because he was concerned with the state of the planet’s resources?  Did he have a longing to discover alien life?  I doubt it.  In fact, I think Galileo was looking up there simply because he could.  Simply because he wanted to know.

Let’s use a metaphor for more context: say you have a baby with a toy next to them.  They haven’t focused on it in a long time and show no interest in playing with it.  But the moment you move to take it away, they suddenly turn and reach for it, almost like saying “GIMME GIMME GIMME I WANT IT”.  Because sometimes it’s when you can’t have something that you want it the most.

 

 

Space is something that, despite our technological advancements, we still have yet to conquer.  And that irks us and makes us want to know more about it, as if to say “screw you universe, we’ll learn your secrets someday”.  Because much of what humanity has accomplished came to be simply because we could.  Fly like the birds?  We can do that.  Go beneath the waves and enter the world aquatic?  Hell yeah bro, we got this.  There may have been some crucial discoveries that we made along the way which improved the quality of our lives, but I bet the beginning of all that was a lot less focused.  It was about exploration and discovery.  It was about the chance not to learn something specific, but to see what we could learn.

I remember when I was younger, I had this telescope that I ended up barely using.  Because back then, I was just a kid.  My major concerns were little more than when I got to see my friends again and my homework for school.  But now that I’m older, I wouldn’t mind getting back into the stargazing hobby.  Not because it’s going to be my career or anything, but because I find space so fascinating to think about.

It’s more than that too.  Gazing into space gives you a perspective unlike any other, shows you just how insignificant you are in the grand scheme of the cosmos.  And while that might sound cold and disheartening to some, I don’t see it that way.  I see it as a sign that there’s so much more out there, so much more for us to see and do.  That perspective makes me want to safeguard this planet and our species for as long as we can, so that future generations can grow and add to our collective knowledge.  Understanding that our planet is a minute speck in the blackness shows me just how petty and stupid our wars are, how inconsequential they are on a grander scale.

I want our future generations to be able to go out there, to see all there is to see and to experience the wonders of the universe.  And hey, maybe they’ll run into another species that dealt with those same quandaries, those same problems of war and pollution and resource scarcity.  Maybe they’ll meet other creatures who dared to ask that simple, yet haunting question:

Are we alone?

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month, and have a great new year.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Spotlight: September 1999

Every once in a while you come across something you weren’t quite expecting, something that manages to surprise you.  “September 1999” was that something for me.

I stumbled onto this game while browsing the Steam store one day (Steam is a digital service for buying and downloading games).  There isn’t much of a description on the store page.  It simply reads “a free, VHS styled, first-person found footage horror game, which runs exactly for 5 minutes and 30 seconds.”

That last part is intriguing no?  Why exactly five minutes and thirty seconds?  I won’t lie, that’s what really got me interested in playing it.

Now I’m going to go ahead and describe the entirety of the five and a half-minute experience, so if you want to see it for yourself you can download it and play it for yourself before continuing.  It is free to play after all.

But without further ado, let’s get into it.

 

 

 

 

18 September 1999, 03:24

It’s the middle of the night, and the wind howls outside.  The rain is coming down hard, and occasionally the sound of thunder rips through the air.  Cans and bottles of what is presumably alcohol litter the place, some left carelessly lying on the floor.  A single mattress with a leopard-skin blanket lies on the floor along with a small radio.  A tiny lamp sits on the floor, the only light in this dingy little room.

 

 

Outside there is a small hallway with three doors and a window with blinds on it.  There is a door at the end of the hallway with a metal bolt holding it shut.  There is a Bible lying on a small table as well as a picture near the window that might be of some sort of crucifixion.

 

 

After a couple of minutes, the tape ends.

 

19 September 1999, 01:14

The silence is immediately apparent.  No rain, no wind, no thunder.  Again, it is very late into the night.

A moment passes, then a sort of knocking or pounding makes itself known.  It’s coming from the door with the metal bolt.  It only lasts for a few seconds before the silence regains its dominion.  The tape ends.

 

21 September 1999, 04:01

Red and blue lights flash outside the window, which is now boarded up.  The garbled, indistinct sound of a radio dispatcher reaches your ears.  Someone is knocking on the front door.

It is dark.  No lights are on anymore.  Continuing down the hallway, you enter the small bedroom from before.  Scanning around the room, you don’t see much at first, but when you approach the bed, you notice it isn’t empty anymore.

 

 

A figure wrapped in some kind of tarp or bag lies on the bed, motionless.  As you get closer, a chill runs down your spine.  You can hear…

…hear…

……breathing.

 

22 September 1999, 21:11

Someone’s crying behind the bolted door.  Trails of blood are all over the floor in the hallway.  The faint sound of classical music creeps into the hallway.  It’s coming from the bedroom.

As you enter, the room is pitch black.  Continuing forward, the mattress seems to dissolve into existence out of the darkness, this time on its side and covered in blood.  What appears to be body parts wrapped in plastic lie on the floor, and the walls are covered in plastic sheets stained with crimson droplets.  The tape ends.

 

Pictured above: a stock photo of a cute kitten instead of bloody body parts.

 

 

 

30 September 1999, 04:01

The camera lies on the hallway floor, perhaps carelessly left recording.  After a few seconds, the unmistakable sound of a chainsaw revving up comes from somewhere off to the left.  It growls and roars, the sound guttural and intense.  The tape, and the story, end there.

 

Analysis

In a way, “September 1999” reminds me of “Thirty Flights of Loving”.  Both games take a minimalist approach to storytelling.  But whereas the latter bored me with its presumptuous focus on style rather than substance, “September 1999” really intrigued me with its focus on you observing the details in your surroundings and then interpreting their implications.

And there is a strong implication behind the things you see:

The person behind the camera is a serial killer.

A number of things led me to that conclusion.  The blood is the obvious one, but it’s really the second to last tape that cemented it for me.  The bloody body parts are one thing, but then there’s the plastic stuck to the walls.  Clearly this is someone who has done this before.  He/she knows that using plastic on the walls will make the blood easier to clean up afterwards.

And then there’s the bolted door.

Initially, during that second tape, I didn’t know exactly what the pounding was.  But after I finished and my mind was going back over things, I realized something: it wasn’t a person asking to be let in.  It was someone begging to be let out.

“September 1999” really succeeded for me in terms of a short experience in video game storytelling.  It knows its limitations, and doesn’t try too hard to tell a story beyond its reach.  “Thirty Flights of Loving”, on the other hand, seemed to want to tell a complex story but with all the fluff ripped out of it (it worked for some people…I just wasn’t one of them).  “September 1999” doesn’t have any characters, dialogue, or really any sort of game mechanics aside from walking around and observing.

But for what it was, it worked.

I’ve always been a bigger fan of horror that does its job through subtlety and unease, as compared to the usual tactic of things jumping at you and screaming.  I understand why that tactic is so common.  It’s cheap and easy, whereas setting up a tense atmosphere takes time and effort.

“September 1999” doesn’t throw itself in your face.  It doesn’t try to scare you with loud noises or cheap musical cues.  In fact, the nonchalant way it presents what’s happening actually makes it all the more horrifying.  My conclusion was that the person behind the camera was simply recording everything for their own pleasure, to have a record of the atrocity they committed.  And that realization sends a chill down my spine.

“September 1999” won’t resonate with everyone.  Some people will find it boring.  Some will probably see it as pretentious.  But for what it is, it’s an interesting narrative experiment, and one I liked a lot more than “Thirty Flights of Loving” (it might have helped that “September 1999” is free, whereas “Thirty Flights of Loving” you have to pay for).  It’s a sign that games have, can, and will continue to experiment and evolve.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back in a month for my next post, and as always, have a wonderful month.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.