Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Pink Hats

I have a pink Red Sox hat.  It was a gift to me from my mom's boyfriend when I graduated from high school.  He and I are both big Sox fans (unsurprising; this IS Boston).  It's medium pink with a navy B.  I like it.  I have two other Sox hats (one traditional one, and one that's light blue; the light blue one is my oldest one, and I stuck a lobster pin in it and got it signed by a minor leaguer way back when), as well as a Celtics hat.  I've also got a bunch of Sox number shirts, one with a giant American flag-colored B, and a pair of plaid boxer pants.  I used to have a pink beanie (that and the PJ pants were another gift from my mom's boyfriend), but it died in the Great Basement Mold of 2010.*

I'm too broke to buy a lot of Sox tickets, and too lazy to try to get tickets last minute on game day.  But I follow or watch as many games as I can, I know the players on the team, and I am absolutely an annoying Sox fan.  Just missing the accent.

And yet, my sex (female) and my ownership of a pink Sox hat both make me somehow not a real fan.  In the media, "pink hats" refer to female fans who are either bandwagon fans, just interested because of their boyfriends/husbands/crushes,** or mostly disinterested except everyone else seems to care and OOOOH, Jacoby Ellsbury is cute!!  A pink hat is not a real fan, doesn't know anything about the team or the sport, and is to be ridiculed.  Ownership of a pink hat is enough to indicate that the stereotype is true.

I'm not always reminded of this awful stereotype that so many female fans have to contend with.  Boston has always struck me as a sports-obsessed city in general, and I see PLENTY of hardcore women at Sox games, at least as many as the hardcore menfolk.  Additionally, I tend to wear my traditionally colored hat to games, mostly because it's the one that fits the best, and the color (navy) usually works better with whatever else I'm wearing (especially if the shirt I'm wearing is a Sox shirt).  But then I get reminders about how "real fans" don't wear pink hats:
The regular (not a pink hat in the bunch) sweater-clad 17,565 filed into the air-conditioned barn with considerable trepidation.
This line is from an article in the Boston Globe about how the Boston Bruins, our hockey team, is going to the finals for the first time in 21 years.  The comment about the pink hats here is to demonstrate, just in case the reader was worried, that REALLY, the folks at the Garden last night?  They're REAL fans.  None of those ladies who are taking up seats that should have gone to real, deserving fans.

Well, fuck you, Boston Globe.  I'm a female sports fan in Boston, I own and wear a pink hat, and I'm a deserving fan, too.  Granted, I live and die for the Sox, not the Bruins, but this isn't a sport-specific sexism.  Whether or not I lose interest when my team is sucking (which plenty of my male friends do as well), whether or not I wear pink, whether or not I find any athlete on any team attractive, I'm still a real fan.

So fuck you.  And for the record, while I DO find Jacoby Ellsbury attractive (because, as you may have noticed, he's attractive), I also was thoroughly annoyed and frustrated last year with his ribs.  Like plenty of dude fans.  GET OVER YOURSELVES, please.

* I was told I could use the basement of my new (old) apartment for storage.  And then it flooded over the summer and everything in it was destroyed.  It sucked.

** The whole "pink hat" bullshit also relies on a lot of heteronormative stereotypes.  It assumes that only the womenfolk like pink, or that ladies would maybe only be interested in sports because they are hetero and want to impress a dude.  Ack.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Define "happier"

On my way to work this morning, I was daydreaming about late fall/early winter, when I'll be able to run again.  I'm aware that when I run, my body becomes a running body; while I never managed to keep running long enough to see any dramatic changes, I did become more compact, more defined.  The difference between me in August 2008 and October 2008 is pretty obvious; I managed to lose all that awesome running-ness in about a month and a half, once my calves gave out.

I know a lot of folks have this suspicion that I only want to run to lose weight, that losing weight is one of my goals, and that I'm somehow lying when I say this isn't true, and that I'm happy in my body right now.  I've got some news for you folks.  I'm actually not lying.  Let's talk about this. 

You like how your body changes when you run, therefore you dislike your body now.

My body now is pretty great.  Yeah, I'm fat.  I've noticed.  But I also understand that my fat is from a combination of three things.  First, my metabolism: it's not "slow" so much as it's more efficient.  I can eat the same amount of calories as a person with a so-called "fast" metabolism, but still be fat.  It's because my body can make do with far fewer calories, and so it stores the rest of them.  There are advantages to having this kind of metabolism, and there's nothing actually WRONG with it.

Second, the pill: I've been on hormonal birth control for almost 10 years now.  From what I know from my own experience, and from speaking with other women who are or who have been on the pill, weight gain is the rule, not the exception.  I'm tired of doctors pooh-poohing that experience.  "It's just water retention," "It's not real, it's perception," or, "That's just an anecdote."  Yeah, just an anecdote from every single woman on the pill I've talked to.

It's really not that strange to attribute weight to the pill.  More importantly, it's fair to attribute difficulty losing weight to the pill; I have to do more than just limit calories and walk a couple miles a day to lose weight.  Medication plays a role.

Finally, I can't run.  I know there are other ways to lose weight, blah blah blah, but we're talking about reasons why I'm fat, not why people (generalization) are fat.  I can't run.  So I stay fat.  I have an invisible disability.  The end.

So do I dislike my body now?  I dislike my CALVES, that's for sure.  And not how they look, but how they function.  Because obsessing over how my body looks is pointless and exhausting.  I care much more about how my body functions.  Right now, it mostly functions well.  I'll be happier once my calves function properly, and once my body becomes a running body again.  If it's a fat running body, so be it.  As long as it's a running body! 

How can you be happy when your body is so repulsive?

Well, my body isn't repulsive, at least not to me.  So I guess I can be happy because I don't hate myself?  Does that work?  It's not really debatable that beauty standards are dynamic, so I'm not going to worry about whether or not I can have different perception and opinions. 

How could you claim that you wouldn't be happier if you lost weight?

This is generally the biggest question that people have that leads them to believe that I'm a lying liar who lies.  If I'm happy with my body now, they believe, it's only because I don't realize how much happier I would be if I had a "normal" body.  But that logic would only work in a world without thin privilege.

I am reminded every single day that my body is unacceptable in our society.  I'm fat.  I'm a burden because I'm fat.  I'm destroying America.  I'm repulsive.  I will never be loved (by a man).  There's something wrong with me.  I can't be happy in my body.  Etc.

I went shopping Tuesday night with a friend of mine, who has gained weight during her first year of graduate school.  I think she looks totally fine, but both of us were frustrated as we searched for flattering, appropriate* party dresses.  Sizing was a mess; I am by no means tiny, but I should be able to fit into a large or extra large; we found an "extra-large" dress that was almost too small on my friend, who typically wears a medium.  We found that the current most popular dress type, bandage, made both of us look ridiculous.

We ended up finding some clothes we liked, including a dress for her (I was thrilled to find a dress the next day on Modcloth, which is hit or miss with sizing, but it's the right cut and style, and the fabric is flexible enough that I should be fine).  But the whole trip was frustrating.  Neither of us hates her body, neither of us is worried about our health or our attractiveness (although I'm sure plenty of people think I should worry about both because I AM SIZE FOURTEEN OMGGGGG DEATH SENTENCE).  But I left the mall feeling like SOMEONE hated my body.  It's a strange feeling.

So I know that I will be happier if I lose weight.  Not because I hate my body, but because OTHER people hate it.  I live in a world where being thin is privileged, so of COURSE I would be happier with that privilege.  I would also be happier if that privilege ceased to exist.

Body weight and shape is one of the few things that I could change in order to gain or lose privilege.  I cannot become cis-male, for example.  My friends who are not white cannot become white.  My queer friends can usually pass if they choose, but cannot change their sexuality.  Etc.

I can lose weight and join the ranks of the privileged men and women (mostly women) whose bodies are deemed acceptable (not perfect, just acceptable).  But I could also fight back against thin privilege.  Part of that fight is loving my body.  Part of it is dropping the services of doctors who insist that I need to lose weight, without any actual reason besides, "Well, your BMI is high."  I can continue to speak out against the use of BMI as a measure of health.  I can wear sleeveless shirts and skinny jeans.

I would be happier if I were skinnier, not because there's something wrong with my body now, but because there's something wrong with the culture I live in.

I don't judge people for wanting to lose weight in order to gain thin privilege.  I don't think that losing weight, for whatever reason (life circumstances, actual effort, illness) is some sign of "giving in" to kyriarchy, or that it constitutes a loss.  While I believe that many people could do more to fight kyriarchy, often we can be more successful when we gain privilege.  We can still be allies.

When my calves have healed, and I can run again, I'm going to run like hell.  Not for my health, which is excellent, or to lose weight, since I like my body, but because I LOVE running.  Yes, I would be happy if running led to weight loss, only because my life would be happier if I didn't have to deal with other people hating my body for no reason.  But I would still insist that weight isn't an indicator of health.  I would still vehemently disagree with anyone who claimed that no one has an excuse not to exercise.  I would still pressure clothing stores, such as Modcloth, to include more sizes, or to standardize sizing for women.

I just wouldn't have to deal with my mom fretting over my weight.  I wouldn't have to scour the mall for party dresses and leave empty handed.  I wouldn't have to forgo impromptu sleepovers because I know I won't fit into my friends' pajamas.  Life would be happier, not because I hate my body now, but because our culture is designed to Other me, to deem my body abnormal, and to make it inconvenient for me to exist.

* By "appropriate" here, we mean "appropriately short and cleavage-y to wear to a club."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Personal style

I've been thinking a bit about personal style recently, for several reasons.  While "exploring" Google Reader, I discovered a blog called Already Pretty, run by Sally McGraw, which is about style and body image.  I also have been going out to clubs and bars more often, which necessitates a different wardrobe (not because someone TOLD me that, just because going out changes what I want to wear).  I'm starting to make very different fashion decisions these days, to the point where I think I need to clear out a significant portion of my wardrobe.

What do I typically wear?  Like most people, I love being comfortable.  I'm usually wearing boot-cut jeans (moved on from flares about two years ago), a tank top or T-shirt, and some kind of cardigan or zip-up sweatshirt.  My go-to cardigans are pretty boring, black and navy, and look a little schlubby, especially because I'm a large person and I stretch them out after the first wear post-wash.  My favorite zip-up is great, but I usually accidentally zip it up all the way, hiding whatever shirt I have underneath.  All of these cardis/zip-ups are neutrals/blacks, thus requiring very little coordination.

A great deal of my tank-tops are blindingly bright and quite boring (Old Navy).  While the style is fine, very basic and flexible, the colors are not.  They're not not neutral (lime green?!), and are difficult to use with layering.  Meanwhile, the neutral colors, which I love, are so often used with layering, I often don't get a chance to wear them on their own.

Another problem?  My current body image insecurity revolves around my arms.  It's been difficult for me to practice self-love on everything, so I allow myself this insecurity for now.  It's not going to stop me from going sleeveless all the time.  After all, it's about to get warm out (we hope?  It's the end of May and I had to wear a winter coat this weekend), and if it's hot, I'm going sleeveless, damnit.  I'm going sleeveless at my brother's wedding, I went sleeveless at the club this weekend, and I'm going sleeveless whenever I damn well feel like it.

But again, it's my current insecurity, so I avoid it when it's not necessary.  I got a super cute cardigan from the Gap that's been perfect for, well, everything.  It's a ridiculously light shade of seagreen/blue, with cute beading details on the tops of the shoulders.  The sleeves aren't too long, and the cut is slim enough that it doesn't add bulk (nor it is tight).  I've been wearing it with blacks and neutrals, and it's great for going out because it covers my arms without causing me to combust.

So I want to keep a black basic or two, but need more of these seasonal, stylish cardis.  I also need to extend my wardrobe to have some light, summery shirts with sleeves (short or otherwise).  I have some T-shirts that are cute (more Old Navy basics), but they're boring, they're a bit tight (in general, and in the sleeves), and they don't flatter my figure.  I've got a great bust, and while I'm not always looking to draw attention to my boobs, I don't like necklines that hover halfway between boobs-a-poppin' and super modest.  I also hate suffocating crew-necks; one of my favorite long-sleeved shirts is from H&M, and while it's technically a crew-neck, the neck is wide enough to give me some breathing room.

Either way, I need to keep investing in neutral basics, while also getting some adorable stand-alones.  I've got a great shirt from Anne Taylor Loft (with a similar neckline as the H&M shirt), as well as a couple from Old Navy.  I don't consider them basics, in that I can and do often wear them on their own, sans cardi, and never layer them.

I've got a seriously long torso, unrelated to the size of my stomach, and need to invest in more shirts (basic or otherwise) that are long enough for me to feel comfortable wearing them with jeans.  I have some shirts that I can't wear comfortably with jeans; they ride up too easily (WHYYY, I hate that!) or just aren't long enough in the first place.  I'm not big on skirts, so that's really a no-no for me at the moment.  While I don't think that it's always flattering on me, I can usually work empire waist/billowy stomach type shirts; why don't I have more?

As I said, I'm not big on skirts.  I can't wear pencil skirts, since they make my ass look fetish-y huge, and I can't move my legs in them.  I don't always want to wear something A-line either, though, so if I'm not in the mood for something A-line/billowy, I can't wear a skirt.  Length can also be a pain for me; I've got relatively short legs (again, see long torso), so even when I err on the side of short, I'm often stuck with a skirt with a cut meant to be worn shorter.  I dislike capris because somehow, they all seem to hate my ass, which also goes for shorts.  I stick with jeans pretty often, even in summer, especially since I work in a lab and often go to the animal facility (no shorts/skirts).

Shoes are a source of shame for me.  I have a terrible time in heels, to the point where I'm regretting buying these BEAUTIFUL shoes for my brother's wedding because I'm sure I won't last 30 minutes in them.  I wear the flattest shoes I can find on a regular basis, running them into the ground before buying new ones and braving blisters.  I tried practicing this weekend by wearing a pair of 3 inch stilettos to a club, and I actually managed to stay standing/dancing from about 8:30 until 11:30.  But then it was breaks every 15-20 minutes.  More practice needed.

So I need to clean out my closet.  I've got some clothing I'm holding onto for sentimental reasons, or because I don't have another opportunity to wear it.  I've got other pieces of clothing I wear every so often, like some old layering tanks I hold onto for when I need clothes to wear to the laundromat, or when I need a red shirt for some reason (stop-light party maybe?).  I've got shoes I SWEAR I'll wear again.

I need to get rid of the stuff I'm not wearing regularly.  I need to get rid of some shoes.  I need to replace these items with a variety of comfortable flats and low heels, as well as some new basics, and new stand alones.  And then I need to start planning my outfits.  Yes, I have some low heels I could wear to work!  Why didn't I wear them today?  No idea.  Gotta change that.

I'm going shopping this week for some clothes I can wear out, that are more stylish than my workday duds.  Hopefully I'll pick up some cheapish pieces for everyday wear!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Discouraging signs

I think I'm starting to have compartment syndrome symptoms even though I've only used the elliptical once since my compartment test, just one time last week.  My right calf has been slightly achy since Thursday.  Of course, I've done my share of walking, I've done a lot of T surfing that's involved leaning on my right leg, and I went dancing last night.  But even so, it's strange to have the pain still linger.  I'm so anxious about working out on the elliptical now that I might quit the gym this week.

Quitting the gym would make some sense.  It would help financially, since I'm not going as frequently as I was in the winter, and that's wasting $60/month.  Additionally, my hatred of the elliptical knows no bounds.  I understand that it's a great machine and gives you a great workout with low impact on joints, and less impact on calves.  Great, fantastic.  Don't care.  It took me years to discover how much I loved running, and that's the only thing I want to do.  The elliptical is not a replacement for that.

I mean, I was going to stick with the elliptical, or try to, in order to maintain some of my fitness throughout the summer.  First, it was until I found out what was wrong with me.  Then it was going to be until I had surgery.  Then until my brother's wedding.  Now, I'm loathing going to the gym, and even when I bring my gym bag with me to work, I'll go home instead.  This never happened when I was running, even with compartment syndrome.

Meanwhile, as I said, I think my symptoms are popping up from T surfing and powerwalking (and yeah, clubbing).  Point is, my calves are unhappy now when I'm not running.  That makes me want to use the elliptical even less.

My cardiovascular health is excellent enough that I feel okay about not going to the gym until my calves are healed.  But it's still distressing to be dealing with low levels of pain when I'm not doing anything "wrong."  A lot of folks asked me if surgery was really necessary if my symptoms were only activated by running.  I stand by my decision to have surgery, even if I wasn't experiencing symptoms regularly now.  Because "not running" doesn't solve any problems, it just postpones them.  Telling me to just use the elliptical ignores the reason I became a runner, and creates a new reason that, quite frankly, is bullshit (if running causes me to lose weight, I'm sure my mother will be very happy.  If not, who the hell cares?  I'm running!).

Again, I'm frustrated about my symptoms right now.  I'm anxious for my appointment with the surgeon in two weeks, specifically because I'm worried he won't be able to (or just won't) do the surgery in the beginning of August.  The time crunch here is very frustrating; July is too early, and anything after the very beginning of August is too late.  Arg!!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Portal 2: Great ending? Or GREATEST ending?

I finished Portal 2 recently, and ever since, I've been doing two Portal 2 related things: Obsessing over the ending, and trying to find time for my friend and me to play co-op.  This post is about the former.

There will obviously be spoilers all over the place, since I'm, you know, talking about the ending of Portal 2.  If you don't want to know about the ending of Portal 2, or about the middle either, you should probably go read something else.  Or go play Portal 2.  That's probably the right thing to do.

Like I said, I've been obsessing over the ending.  Here's a recap.

After trying to dispose of GLaDOS, we have put Wheatley in charge of the Aperture Science Enrichment Center.  However, this ended up being a pretty bad mistake.  Not only has Wheatley become drunk, high, and horny with power, but GLaDOS recognizes him as the moron personality core that the Aperture scientists had developed to try to dumb her down and prevent her from flooding the Enrichment Center with deadly neurotoxin (because she had flooded the Enrichment Center with deadly neurotoxin).

(She could bathe in this stuff.)

By the end of the game, Wheatley has decided that he's tired of you and GLaDOS, and he's going to kill you (this is that part).  However, there's a little bit of a hitch, besides the fact that you're trying to NOT die: Wheatley is such an incapable personality that the Enrichment Center is about to self-destruct.  The goal isn't just to keep from dying; you need to put GLaDOS back in charge.  Otherwise, you'll die anyway; it's been established already that escaping the facility is extremely difficult and complicated.  GLaDOS has agreed to let you go if you put her back in charge, and we have no choice but to trust her.

When you finally arrive in Wheatley's lair (his term, not mine), he's ready for you.  But he needs to kill you quickly because the facility is going to blow in about six minutes.  Great.  Except he's watched the tapes of you killing GLaDOS, and has become genre savvy.  He's even got a 4-part plan: 1) no portal surfaces, 2) neurotoxin immediately*, 3) bomb-proof shields for him, because 4) bombs for you.  He probably hasn't thought things through, though, since there's a pipe carrying white portal gel right in front of him.  The first thing to do, of course, is hide behind it and wait for him to try to bomb you.  SPLAT; there are portal surfaces everywhere.  Naturally, Wheatley says he meant to let that happen.

The plan you and GLaDOS have concocted to stop Wheatley is to have you stun him, have her grab a corrupted personality core from a trash pile, and than have her hand it off to you so you can place it on Wheatley.  After a few cores are added, the system will consider Wheatley too corrupt, and require a manual core replacement, just like the beginning of the game.  At that point, GLaDOS was corrupt enough that the system asked for a manual core replacement as soon as Wheatley was plugged in; when GLaDOS refused to be replaced, you had to get over to the Stalemate Resolution Button and override GLaDOS' refusal.

Sure enough, after three cores (one obsessed with space, one interested in adventure, and one spouting off nonsensically wrong "facts"), Wheatley is deemed corrupt enough for the replacement.**  But, naturally, there's another stalemate.  A fire in the area where the button is actually alerts you to the location, but also serves another purpose; the fire activates sprinklers, which wash off almost all of the portal gel.  There's only a small patch, directly underneath Wheatley, and we must portal to the ceiling above the button in order to reach it.  By forcing the player to put a portal under Wheatley, Valve is forcing you to set up your portals in a way that is essential to the ending.  Meanwhile, Wheatley is loudly demanding that you not press the button, while GLaDOS is desperately pleading with you to press it.

Once you reach the stalemate button, you learn that Wheatley's 4-part plan included a 5th part: the button was booby-trapped.  This is where the game seques into cinema instead of regular gameplay, and it does so using visuals and music that actually gave me chills.  After the explosion, your viewpoint is exactly the same as it would be if you had died normally within the game (which I did on my first two tries against Wheatley--both times, he bombed the hell out of me before I could even look around to formulate my strategy).  However, as the music starts to crescendo, the camera of your viewpoint moves, and you can see your own hand and arm as you look for your portal gun.  Wheatley is simultaneously scolding you for ruining everything, and panicking because the center is about to explode and he doesn't know how to fix it.

Meanwhile, we're injured.  We've managed to grab our gun and flip over, and as we do so, part of the ceiling breaks.  The full moon is above us, looking particularly large and detailed.  And, strangely, our portal gun sights reappear on the screen, a signal to the player that we are now out of the cinema mode and that you can shoot the gun.  And it's right over the moon.

I knew that I had placed my orange portal under Wheatley, since I play on a Macbook Pro and it's easier for me to place blue portals.  It's much more common for me to accidentally set a blue portal when I want orange than it is for me to set an orange one when I want blue, so orange tends to be my "close/entry" portal, and blue my "far/exit" one.  I'm not sure it matters if you click the correct portal at this point, or if the game just assumes you set a blue one, but either way, your portal gun sights are directly over the giant, tempting moon, and there is nothing else in sight.

I remember thinking, "This is crazy.  But there's nothing else to do," before shooting my blue portal at the fucking MOON.  Sure enough, the music and dialogue stopped abruptly, and I could hear my character's heart thump before a little twinkle pinging noise signalled that the portal had indeed landed.

But, you know, you just shot a portal on the moon.  And, thanks to Valve's smart thinking, the orange portal is currently directly below Wheatley.  And space is a vacuum.  WHOOSH.

Oh, but you're dragged out, too.  The strange handles on Wheatley that, according to the developers, were supposed to function as cheek muscles or eyebrows, depending on the desired expression, are actual handles, keeping you from being sucked into space forever (something that the space-obsessed personality core is VERY excited about!).  Wheatley, of course, is incredulous and panicking, but as he rambles aloud about how he can fix it, GLaDOS' voice announces that she's already fixed it.  And then she manages to grab you while detaching Wheatley, who speeds off into space, shouting repeatedly for you to grab him.

After falling unconscious, you awaken in the presence of GLaDOS, as well as Atlas and P-body, the two co-op robots (they're just there as an intro, they are not important to the ending otherwise).  GLaDOS explains that she's relieved that you're all right, and that she's realized that you're actually her best friend and not her enemy.  However, she's also managed to locate the source of all those warm, fuzzy feelings, the location of Caroline (pronounced Carolyn), her original personality from when she was Cave Johnson's secretary.  And, of course, she deletes Caroline.

At this point, I figured she would go back on her promise to let me go.  I actually thought, "Oh, okay, so now she's going to kill me."  But no.  She tells you that you've basically been ruining her life, and she wants you to get the hell out of there and never come back.  Great.  We go up the elevator, and Reconstructing Science (the best song ever) plays.  But then the elevator opens, and we're not out of the center.  There are turrets waiting for us.  But as they stare at you, their lights go off.  They then begin to SING, as if their moving arms are controlling the amount of sound or (more likely) airflow to create the different notes.

As they sing,*** the elevator moves up, and soon, you're in a massive, expansive room, filled with turrets.  One continues the original song before a short round one begins singing soprano (I couldn't make out the words, but who cares?  There's a turret singing opera), while the rest sing the orchestral parts.  There's even the gigantic, animal print turret in the back, singing bass.  They all sing in the same GLaDOS turret voice.  The song is sweet and romantic sounding, and it continues as the elevator glides up faster and faster, abruptly ending as you reach the top.  The door opens, and you go outside for the first time in the entire series.  There's an endless field of yellow, high grass before you, before you hear the door slam behind you.  The door is actually on a tiny little metal shed, completely unassuming.  But before everything goes black, the door opens one more time, and the weighted companion cube, the same one you had to incinerate from the first game, is thrown out the door for you to keep, and the door slams shut once more.

The game then cuts to the credits, run during the song "Want You Gone," where GLaDOS angrily sings about how much trouble you've caused her, and how glad she is to be rid of you.  Finally, we get a glimpse of a miserable and remorseful Wheatley, floating in space, as the space personality core happily orbits around him.

So, that's a LOT of ending there.  But why is it such a great ending?  Lots of reasons.

The Wheatley battle is extremely clever.  By announcing the ways that he's going to conduct the battle, specifically by telling you he's going to avoid GLaDOS' mistakes, the player panics.  Don't lie; you panicked.  Even just a little.  I panicked so hard, I almost quit for the night.  To be fair, I had just died twice, each time before I could even look around the room and figure out a strategy.

Adding the cores to Wheatley was pretty fun, mostly because it was simple, it used the other two gels, and it felt less like a repetitive boss battle and more like part of the plot.  Like, it took three cores because each one added 25%.  Meanwhile, Wheatley is taunting you and admonishing you, even admitting that you weren't the first person he had tried to help escape.  And working with GLaDOS was extremely unnerving, but it didn't feel forced.  The deal between the two of us felt completely real.  She WAS my only chance to escape, and I was absolutely her only chance to be put back in charge of the facility.  The only risk was that she might betray me, but without trying, I was going to be stuck there forever, or die soon anyway.

And working with her in the boss battle didn't feel risky.  It was as if neither of us really had time to either betray the other, or think about the other one possibly betraying us.  We just wanted to stop Wheatley.

And more than that, weirdly enough, I felt like Wheatley had messed up the natural order.  I felt weird in the beginning of the game, going through the test chambers and hearing the peppy male voice give instructions and advice.  It wasn't that I liked GLaDOS; it was that there was something WRONG with the Enrichment Center without her there.  Having Wheatley in charge was, for the same reason, wrong.  It almost felt as if GLaDOS and I needed to get rid of him so we could continue our own fued.

I've already discussed how the fire/sprinklers bit served two purposes: it directed the player's attention to the stalemate button,**** and it prevented the player from putting their entry portal anywhere except below Wheatley.  Booby-trapping the stalemate button was, actually, pretty brilliant, both in terms of Wheatley's foresight, but also in terms of Valve's planning and writing.  I couldn't believe the button had been booby-trapped, not because I thought it was a stupid idea, or even because I thought I should have seen it coming, but because booby-trapping the button really made me feel as if we (GLaDOS and I) were going to lose.  I did think I had died at first, but then, when I saw myself moving, I was just as surprised as Wheatley that I was still alive.  It still felt as if there was nothing more to be done, and I felt just as desperate as Wheatley sounded, and as GLaDOS had sounded.

In fact, in that moment, it really felt like the three of us stopped fighting against each other because we all realized that shit, we were about to die.

I did think that shooting a portal on the moon was ridiculous.  But then, after watching the ending several times, and playing through single player again, I realized that it wasn't.  The game carefully establishes in the third section of the old Aperture Science facilities, that moon rocks, crushed up into powder and made into a gel, were great portal conductors.  That's what the white gel is supposed to be.  And, in the very first part of the game, in the motel room, there's a picture on the wall depicting a mountain lake.  After waking up for the second time, if you look at the same picture before it falls off the wall, the moon is suddenly present in the painting, and it's GIGANTIC.  Clue?  One that you probably didn't pick up the first time around.

Valve did do the moon thing pretty thoughtfully; the portal doesn't hit instantaneously.  In fact, I think people have done the calculations, and since portals travel at the speed of light, it took just the right amount of time for the portal to hit the moon as if would have needed.  A friend of mine (Scott!) also suggested that perhaps one of the reasons why Wheatley could still be heard in space, and why you didn't die as you hung on for dear life, is because the vacuum was also pulling out regular air with it, and that you and Wheatley could be in that tube of air.  I'll buy that.  I'm not exactly dissatisfied with the moon thing.  It just seemed absurd at first.  Maybe there's a reason the achievement at that point is called Lunacy?

GLaDOS deleting Caroline was probably one of the greatest moments ever.  She's just had this amazing character development, carrying over from the first game, where she slowly changes from just a scientist trying to test the portals, to a desperate and frustrated researcher (trying to trick you into returning to the incinerator), to a vengeful and vindictive demigod (she controls the entire environment), to a powerless potato, to your ally and companion.  And once she's back in power, she's sure to delete that part of her that gives her the compassion and caring to be your friend (GOODBYE, CAROLINE).  She's back to the beginning, and to ensure you don't cause her to go through the same development again, she gets rid of you.

At first, I thought she'd gone back on her word, and that the turrets would kill me (or that she wasn't going to kill you, but she wouldn't save you if the turrets wanted you dead--I think that still might be true).  Instead, they sang.  Again, I found this absurd.  I had missed an easter egg in the game where you could find singing turrets, but even after finding them, it still didn't explain anything.  But after several runthroughs of the ending, I finally decided that the turrets were thanking me.

Wheatley had tortured them by creating hybrids made of turrets and weighted storage cubes.  The turrets seemed to be in pain and extremely deformed, not just physically, but even a little bit mentally.  It was pretty terrifying to find them that way, and even more disturbing to have to play the game using them as storage blocks to progress through the test chambers.  Wheatley not only almost destroyed them all when he let the Enrichment Center come so close to a self-destruct, he had tortured them in "genetic" experiments.

Putting GLaDOS back in charge and keeping the facility from blowing up has saved the turrets.  I figured maybe they'd be vengeful, since I, you know, disabled and killed some of them in the past.  But I guess they were serious when they sometimes said, "I don't hate you" when they shut down.  Whatever works.

So I concluded that either they were grateful to me, or possibly that GLaDOS was using them to express her gratitude without having to actually express it.  Another clue for that possibility is the ending song, "Want You Gone."  While GLaDOS is essentially telling you that you've ruined her life and she wants you to leave her alone, she does allude to possibly still considering you her friend (well, did you think she meant you?), and very strongly implies she still hasn't deleted Caroline for real.  Either way, giving you the companion cube at the end did seem like a sign of gratitude, or at least an implication that GLaDOS doesn't want you to be alone.  Or maybe that she's sorry, by giving you back something she took from you.

All in all, there are some absurdities to the ending (space, the turrets), but when you get to the surface, you feel as if it's finally all over, that you've earned that freedom, and that anything you did wrong (euthanizing the companion cube, disabling and killing turrets, and even killing GLaDOS) has been forgiven somehow.

The only flaw in this ending?  While I appreciate the minimal cake jokes, I think "space" is going to be the new cake.

* He says that he's starting it immediately, implying that GLaDOS did not, but if you've played the first game, you'll notice that she turns it on as soon as you dispose of the first personality core.  After that, the boss battle starts, and the neurotoxin will reach capacity (i.e. kill you) in 6 minutes.  In Wheatley's battle, the same thing happens: the neurotoxin starts when the battle starts, and it will kill you in about 5 minutes.  So I'm not sure why he's stating his neurotoxin plan is different from GLaDOS', but maybe we can just chalk it up to him being an idiot.

** I find it strange that Wheatley wasn't already corrupt enough.  Granted, I completely understood that GLaDOS would be, but Wheatley should have been at least 75-90% corrupt by the end of the game.  He was single-handedly destroying the facility, out of idiocy.  But then again, otherwise what would the boss battle have consisted of, plot-wise?  Fair enough, Valve.

*** Not the one on the far right!  That one sits there, looking confused while the others sing.

**** When the announcer told me to go to the stalemate button, I didn't know where it was because the "fire detected in the vicinity of the stalemate button" part hadn't happened yet.  Once that happened, it was obvious where the button was, but beforehand, the button was still behind a panel of wall

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

First conference--PWNED

As I mentioned in my last post, I left last week to go to my first conference, the annual meeting for an international vision research association.  I had an amazing time, and I'm glad that my boss decided that I was going.

I woke up nice and early on April 30th after not very much sleep.  That's what happens when you're nervous about a trip!  Or what happens when you finish packing and getting ready at 11:30 and after telling your friend that you need to go to bed now, you end up playing co-op Portal 2 with him for almost an hour.

Worth it.

My coworker and I both got to the airport pretty early, checked our bags, and got breakfast.  The first flight was fine, but the second flight was a pain.  I finished the one book I brought with me on the plane, with almost a full two hours left to go in the flight.  Additionally, I sat next to a crying baby.  Yep.  Crying baby, for real, on a flight.  Not just on the same flight, but in the seat next to me.  Somehow, I managed to nap, but I stayed pretty bored for the rest of the flight.

Upon arriving in Florida, we got our luggage and took a cab to the nearby hotel.  To our dismay, the hotel (where we had booked a room with TWO beds) would only give us a room with ONE bed.  My coworker is not single, and we didn't feel comfortable sharing the one bed, so after the manager insisted he couldn't switch our rooms, we got a cot.  The room was tiny and got no sunlight, and the only room for the cot was in the entryway to the room itself.  That meant that we could only set up the cot when we were using it, since otherwise we couldn't leave the room.

To top it all off, of course, the TV remote didn't work, the WiFi in the room was too weak to use, and I didn't get any cell phone reception.  It was shaping up to be a lousy week.

We headed out to find food for a late lunch, which we had at a dive bar.  We picked up some snacks and booze for the hotel room on the way back.  We also had some nice pool time, which cheered me up.  That evening, we headed out to another restaurant for dinner, which was pretty fun.  I felt much better, and ready to start the conference the next day.

I was super nervous on Sunday, which my coworker found amusing (he especially thought it was hilarious that I was nervous about getting my poster up by 8:30am exactly.  "What, did you think they wouldn't let you put it up if you were even a minute late?"  YES).  We got our badges and he helped me put my poster up.  I didn't have to be at the poster until 10:15, so we went in search of (overpriced) food.  I only ate half of my plain bagel, so I put the other half in my bag and totally forgot about it.  I was pretty surprised that night to find a stale bagel half underneath my notebook.

We went to a couple of talks, and I tried to take notes.  I took bad notes.  I don't know, it's just that there's so much going on, and there's only so much information you can cram into 10 minute talks.  And unless you're very talented, you're probably going to be so focused on cramming in that information that the only people who get your talk are people doing very similar work.  Then, I headed downstairs to the main exhibit hall to stand in front of my poster.

I didn't really know what to expect from the poster sessions.  I've never presented a poster before, so I assumed (based on the number of posters, the presence of a chair in front of each poster, and my own lack of interest in other people's work) that I would probably be sitting most of the hour, waiting for people to come by and read the poster, and then maybe answer questions if they had any.  I was totally wrong.

At 10:15, I arrived at my poster to find a bunch of people already in front of it, reading it.  From then on, I did nothing except walk various folks through my project, answer their questions, explain the intricacies of the project.  I didn't need a chair.  I only had trouble once, when a young woman kept insisting that she be allowed to take pictures of my poster.  Photography and recording is actually prohibited at the meeting, and my boss had additionally forbidden me to allow photography, so I constantly told her no.  She finally relented to just asking for a photo of my email address.  I told her no, but wrote it down for her.  She STILL insisted on taking a photo.  I was a bit miffed.

At the end of the hour-long session, one more person was still at my poster.  I talked her through the project, and she actually gave me some tips on isolating some primary cells we were having trouble with.  Awesome!  So, I finished at 11:45, just when my coworker came to look for me.

We went and got lunch at a steakhouse with another coworker (who accidentally stole my steak--I ended up with his medium-rare one, and was bummed out) before walking back to the convention center for some more talks.  At 3:15, I headed back to my poster for the afternoon poster session.  I again made some assumptions.  I assumed that since this poster session was taking place during the afternoon session, when lots of people would be at other talks or have gone to their hotels for the afternoon, I would have fewer people asking questions (the first session was the all-poster session, during which there are no talks or meetings).  I also assumed that since there was a longer amount of time for this second session, people would be more spread out in terms of how many folks would come along at once.

My coworkers all came by at the beginning, but before we could even chat, I started having visitors.  My boss had told me that she was sending a woman to see my poster, but I was so busy talking with other people, my boss had to explain the project to the woman instead.  I ended up staying another 15 minutes after time was called at 5pm, since there were some other folks who had questions.  I was beginning to lose my voice, too (I lost it completely by that evening, but it slowly came back over the course of the week and was normal by Thursday).

We then hit up the keynote, but just because they had made a video using clips that organization members had filmed.  A ton of clips were of the folks in our labs, so we were psyched.  Then we skipped out because we don't care about genomics, and there was a pool beckoning us.  Pooooool.  Plus, I was exhausted!!

My coworker and I were too tired to go find food that night, so we ordered a pizza.  It was pretty chill.  Thanks to the lack of internet, I was switching back and forth from reading a book about cancer (The Emperor of Maladies, just won the Pulitzer!  READ IT) and frantically waving my cell phone in the air to try to keep my IM client connected to the 3G (mixed results).  Before calling it a night around 10:30, I checked my social networking app and found a slew of tweets regarding Osama bin Laden, so then I turned on the news until Obama had finished his speech over an hour later.  I wish I had gotten more sleep, but glad I watched the speech.  By the way, pundits?  Shut up, you are SO annoying!

The next few days of the conference consisted of a lot of talks and poster sessions.  I didn't have as much fun, since I prefer to present my own work and really don't care that much about everyone else's.  Some posters were pretty interesting, though, although unsurprisingly, the better posters were the ones with first authors who were 1) actually at their posters, and 2) eager to explain their research.  Some folks just sat in chairs, bored, watching others go by, and other folks would just stand by their posters, not even asking viewers if they had any questions.  I'm not going to judge everyone's behavior and claim that they're lazy or rotten or anything.  Some people have bad days, some people are shy, and some people don't speak English and might be nervous about being at a meeting in the US.  But it definitely influenced which posters I liked and made sense to me, and which ones didn't.

I also noticed a lot of people weren't standing at their posters.  I noticed it on the first day only because some of the people who were at my poster asked me to come see theirs, and then pointed over to it because they were on the same day as me (this happened a lot during the all-posters session).  Not that I had a chance to leave my poster, but I had no idea the number of people who just didn't go to their posters when they were supposed to.  Even my boss was frequently not at her poster!

In the afternoons, my coworker and I would relax and tan by the pool and read, which was nice.  I started bringing my computer with me to the convention center on the last few days of the meeting, enabling me to take better notes, and to get my internet fix during the day so I wasn't killing my phone battery or going batty in the evening without a connection.  Our whole lab went out for dinner one evening, which was fun, and then I went out with two of my good friends, who were local, another night (for expensive, DELICIOUS steak, and even better quality time and conversation).

Thursday, my coworker finally got to give his talk, which went very well.  The strange thing, though, was that he was in a weird section.  He was talking about induced pluripotent stem cells and regenerating Bruch's membrane.  But the rest of the session was about anti-angiogenic treatments for AMD, clinically.  Clinical stuff and wet lab stuff are VERY different.  Plus, his was the only talk without reference to VEGF.  Weird.  Then we had beer to celebrate.  And internet.

Heading home was uneventful but stressful.  Continental proved that they could be almost as annoying as United, which is funny because they're merging.  We were unable to check in using our United confirmation number, our Continental confirmation number, our e-ticket numbers, or even our credit cards.  Finally, the representatives helped us, but then informed us that because our first flight was delayed, they were putting us on a later flight to Boston in case we missed our connection.  I expressed surprise, since I thought we were already on the latest flight to Boston.  It turns out, the "later" flight they were referring to was the flight we had actually booked!  The flight he claimed we were on, which United TOLD me we were NOT on, was scheduled to leave before we had even landed in Newark.  That's something that United told me they cleared up for me, and it was reflected in the final confirmation email and the reservation on the website.  Grrr!

But fine, he said he booked us on both flights.  Then he had to run and get my luggage because he had accidentally tagged it to just go to Newark, not Boston.  I noticed that he had only given me one boarding pass and had to point this out to him (this is what happened to me when I tried to go to Iowa--they gave me one boarding pass, and my luggage was only tagged for Chicago, not Cedar Rapids).  Fine.  Then we waited for 40 minutes to get through security, only to find out flight was delayed 45 minutes.

That flight was actually all right because we had free movies, TV, and music.  Plus, I had a window seat and the person in front of me didn't recline their seat.  Yay!  We arrived in Newark similarly delayed, so we just went to the gate for our original flight so we could get boarding passes.  But then we were told that we weren't on the flight.

So, let's get something straight here.  When we booked the trip, we booked this flight.  Then United called me because they changed the flight.  Then I called and they changed it back, and sent me confirmation that they changed it back.  We were on that flight, no other flight.  Then we get to check in and they tell us we're NOT booked on the flight, that we're on an earlier one we couldn't possibly catch.  Don't worry, they tell us, you're booked on BOTH flights.  But then, as it turns out, we were not booked on the later flight.


Fortunately, the flight was only half-booked, and they got us on it easily.  It was a short flight, delayed about 30 minutes, so we got into Boston around 11:15.  There was enough space that we had a row to ourselves and didn't have to sit with strangers.  Finally, we took a cab back to our neck of the woods, I drove my coworker home, and then I went home and passed out.

All in all, it was a great trip.  I learned a lot, made my boss SUPER proud with how well I handled the poster sessions with the millions of adoring fans, got a tan, and had a lot of fun.  I hope that my next conference is at least half as great.

But I also hope that the flight situation is at least twice as good.