Life — Learning From the Fire

This sort of thing doesn’t seem to happen often. A lot of people I know are talking about how tragic the fire is and how life shouldn’t be this way, but I think it’s worth looking at things in its opposite.

It’s much easier to remember history by its tragedies rather than the miracles (you can point to my own blog as an example of this: I never once mentioned Katie Bouman’s team that created the black hole picture!), but by the look of things, the world used to be much worse. Sure, the world could stand to be a lot better, but let’s look at things in a positive light today. 100 years ago we were just getting out of one of the worst wars humanity had ever known, and was just a few steps away from entering one that would rival it.

Not too long ago, monuments and landmarks were being destroyed left and right, not to mention the millions of lives that were suddenly lost.

When a single building being on fire is international news, as important as that building may be, we have reason to be thankful for the relative peacefulness our modern day has provided us.

Beyond this, death (as the case may be), is a natural part of life. All things must end, and if the Notre Dame Cathedral is left in a state where it can’t be restored (which would honestly surprise me), then that doesn’t diminish the fact that there is still an endless supply of art, history, and culture in Paris alone.

People have short memories, and I think it’s in events like this that remind us of the pieces of culture that we still have, right next door. You never know if it’s going to be there tomorrow, because something as crazy could happen there, too.

Is it tragic? Yes, of course. But as far as I know nobody was injured, and with today’s technology the building could probably be rebuilt better than it was yesterday in less than a decade.

It astounds me a bit that some people seem to view events like this exactly the same way as terrorist attacks. You see the same things being spouted off: “Our hearts are breaking today in light of recent events that took place this morning/afternoon/evening. Tragedies like this…” and so on. I think treating the destruction of a monument the same way as the deaths of hundreds of people in the same way is incredibly insulting, frankly. And yet, which will history remember more clearly? Hard to say, though it does seem that this sort of freak accident is far more rare than terrorist attacks, unfortunately.

I think days like today are best used reflecting on the past, looking forward to the future, and pressing onward to right wrongs (intentional or not) without taking more time than we need to mourn over what was lost.

One thing I feel modern society has gotten really bad at is learning from mistakes and correcting them. Let the cathedral’s fire (and the subsequent blow against European past and culture) be your excuse to go to your local museums or exhibits. Go explore culture you otherwise would not have! Life goes on.

D&D — Aleor, A Shattered Empire

I’m gearing up for a diary of my current D&D campaign, as we’ve just finished our 12th session and have spent roughly 40 hours in this world. Before telling the story of some lowly commoners, though, I thought: what better place to start than with an overview of the world?


Our story begins in the region of Aleor, named after the once-great empire that tamed much of the southwest portion of the large continent of Irumos. At its peak, the Aloran Empire spanned thousands of miles, and its growth was only hindered by deserts to the south, mountains to the north, and a vast chasm to the east.

At that point, the empire had consumed virtually every sovereignty in the region, but to refer to the Aloran Empire’s golden age as a time of peace would be a gross simplification of the details. When the Empire annexed lands into its controls, the laymen were largely unaffected, as the taxes they paid often remained consistent. Their lords, however, were then required to pay taxes of their own to their new kings, and so on to the Emperor themselves. This often bred conflict between local lords and kings, and the empire rarely intervened so long as it meant that they were getting their taxes.

But even beyond the infighting of men, the other forces of the world are always at work in Aleor, some more mysterious and more malevolent than others. The northern city of Dûnmarch fell prey to these forces in a sudden and violent eruption. In a matter of hours, what was once a bustling city built at the pinnacle of the Drowsy Peaks became an abandoned ruin in the deepest crevice of a fresh cavern at the mountain range’s base. A few short years later, what was once a small rain forest exploded into a voracious jungle, growing and overgrowing everything in its path, consuming the Lockjaw Peninsula despite the best efforts of the tens of thousands of people that lived in that region, including the capital city itself.

Hundreds of years later, the Aloran Empire is still prevalent, though it is a mere shadow of its former self. Its new capital is Ashfall to the the north, and though the city is one of the largest in Aleor, the empire itself has little influence on matters more than a few hundred miles outside of it. And though much the the region’s largest cities have fallen and returned to the wilds, new cities are forged. Aqila, the city of craft and magic, is now one of the leading centers of power in the region, rivaling Ashfall and Port Artellis to the south.

Much remains hidden about Aleor’s past, as the civilized world has only recently been starting to get back on its feet. Dark times threaten to persist, and there are forces that threaten to destroy everything now that there is no mighty empire to protect the people. With a little help, though, perhaps new fires can be forged to shine a light into that darkness. After all, one of the major themes for the campaign in this new setting is simple.


Review — The Count of Monte Cristo

You know, the Review portion of this blog is pretty much meant to get me to watch, read, or play something new every week. Ideally it would be me talking about “the new thing I did this week”, but I’m really bad at that. The most recent movie I watched was a month ago for a film class, but it was a very political movie and I don’t like getting into politics.

So, instead, let’s talk about the best movie ever made: Count of Monte Cristo. (The 2002 film. There may or may not be other feature length films of the same title.)

I’ll start with the qualification that, as a rule, I don’t like re-experiencing things. Very often, it feels like a waste of time. I don’t want to reread the same story, watch the same movie, or play the same game when there’s an unquantifiable amount of things to experience. My life is one of productivity and efficiency, which is contrary to that whole idea.

Count of Monte Cristo is a rare exception in my world because I feel like I’m watching a different movie every time. I’ve probably seen it half a dozen times by now, and with every new viewing I catch things I hadn’t noticed that re-contextualize character motivations. This movie is a masterpiece in a lot of ways, though as always, I do still have a few gripes. Spoilers ahead, though, so if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a classic.

Before I get into my nitpicks, let me provide some context (if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t care about spoilers). It would be an injustice for me to attempt to explain the plot in just a paragraph or two, but I’ll try anyway. Our hero, Edmond Dantes, is a simple and poor young man is given a lucky break and promoted to Captain of the merchant ship he works on. Powerful people around him are consumed with varying levels of jealousy, contempt, and fear, and Edmond, though apparently innocent, gets thrown into a high security prison, and his family is told that he died. Years go by, he breaks out, finds riches and then the last third of the movie is basically an elaborate scheme as he exacts revenge on everyone who wronged him.

As I already touched on, this movie does an amazing job at establishing depth. Everyone who betrayed him had different reasons for doing so, and all were compelling and believable. Jealousy seems simple until you see that it comes from a rich man coveting the happiness his poor friend has. Even lesser characters have very clear and understandable wants, which is no small feat. Nobody in this movie is a plot device, not even Napoleon Bonaparte, who was basically written in to be a plot device, as he is only in the first few scenes of the movie. I will say though, this comes at a cost. With how much subtle context and layering everything has, you won’t catch everything if you only see it the one time. Points off for that, but as long as you’re not confused as to the main plot, it’s more or less fine.

But what astounds me the most about this movie is that it isn’t really structured like most stories. The entire last third of the movie is the main character just getting what he wants. There’s a climax, yes, but it isn’t really filled with conflict. When he is given everything, you are no longer watching to see if Edmond will get his revenge, you’re merely watching to see what the revenge turns out to be. It doesn’t contain nearly as much suspense, and nothing to the degree of the chase scene as he resists arrest and is betrayed by a friend, or when he hatches his plan to escape from the Chateau D’if.

I would compare it to a torture film, actually, where all the people are getting their just desserts. Only, in this movie, the torturer is our main character and is doing it in the name of justice, and it feels great. In all my years of schooling and whatnot, I myself still cannot wrap my head around the exact reason this movie works. Maybe I just need to watch more soap operas. (Not that Count of Monte Cristo is overly dramatic, it’s just… opulent.)

So, nitpicks. As I said, the amount of layers it has does sort of detract from it for me. I honestly did not love it the first time I saw it. A good film, to be sure, but it probably wasn’t my all-time favorite movie until I had seen it three or four times. I mean, Edmond has plotted his revenge meticulously for years. But when he’s going through with his plans, you won’t catch the nuances of how and why the first time, because at no point does he tell the audience “first, I’m going to kidnap his daughter and frame his uncle for murder etc etc”. No, you just know he has plans and then watch as they unfold.

Also, I didn’t realize I had this problem until writing this, but Luigi Vampa, the Captain of the pirate ship Edmond becomes a crew member of after he finds himself a free man, isn’t in the movie enough. JB Blanc does an amazing job with his character, and it’s a shame he’s only a minor part. It isn’t often I see a gentleman thief character done to my satisfaction.

Overall, the best movie. Solid period piece, even if it isn’t 100% faithful to history, awesome character development, good subtly, and a really interesting plot progression. Also Henry Cavill is in it.

(P.S. to prove how many layers of character depth this story has, here’s a character sheet, though I think it’s from the book, not the movie. So simplify it by like 15%.)


Learning! — Writing for Yourself (345)

One of my biggest fears with whatever I wrote used to be my “target audience”. I read a lot of young adult fantasy, but I wasn’t sure if the grammar I used was good enough to be considered “YA” at the time (which wasn’t even a real concern). I used to think I had to write middle grade because, as a bad and inexperienced writer, I couldn’t weave a story complex enough to captivate an older audience more well versed in my genre.

But over the years, I learned that the first person you should write for is you. Don’t worry about your audience. Don’t worry about your voice. Don’t worry about how poorly the words are being translated from brain to page. It doesn’t matter. If you don’t find a level of satisfaction from the writing you produce, then you’re doing something wrong. If you’re anything like me, this is because you’re worrying too much about producing a level of quality you can’t yet attain rather than writing something you want to write.

This is a problem that a lot of aspiring writers encounter: They spend so much time trying to make their writing enjoyable to other people that they end up hating it. Let me tell you, it is really hard to write something if you don’t like it. That’s the primary reason I’m not working on any novels right now: I get bored and stop liking it, so rather than leave something half-finished, I’m writing shorter pieces I know I can enjoy writing.

You see, this doesn’t just apply to genre. Yes, being a fantasy geek makes me want to write fantasy stuff. You should always “write what you love”. But it goes further than that. I don’t write anything until I find a way to get excited about the prospect of writing. This was a foreign concept to me a year ago, and admittedly this isn’t always simple, but if you aren’t itching to sit down and get started, maybe it’s not interesting enough.

The first book I had ever planned for the universe of Nacre Then (whose main character was the seed the entire universe sprouted from) has never gotten past the “basic plot” phase. I’ve written his prequels, and tried my hand at writing a few of the first scenes, but I’ve never even tried to begin the first book in his series because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find a way to structure the plot to make it exciting for me as its writer. The book is full of awesome magic, interesting characters, and some amazing plot twists, but to this day I have never figured out how to order them in a way that both makes sense and gets me rearing to go.

So, as simple as that, the most I have to show for this book I’ve been planning for over half a decade is a thrown together, half-finished outline of some major plot points. Am I mad? Not in the slightest. If I’m not excited to write it, maybe it’s just not ready to be written yet.

In the meantime, I’ve managed to stumble across three stories that are each compelling enough for me to want to write them. Will they be interesting reads to anyone else? Who knows? But that doesn’t even matter. If anything, I know they will be better reads than scrambling together that huge book I’ve been planning.

If the author isn’t sold on it, you can bet it’s not going to sell anyone else.

Learning! — The Gregorian Calendar

Today I won’t be teaching you a thing you actually will ever need to know: just a concept I find quite interesting, and that is the issue of tropical years versus calendar years. So buckle up because its time for a little bit of a lesson on both history and math. (And because large numbers are involved I’m going to write things numerically rather than spell out the words as I usually do. For your convenience.)

As I probably don’t have to explain, one year is not 365 days. In this instance, when I say “one year”, I mean the time it takes for the Earth to make one complete orbit around the sun (i.e. First day of spring to first day of spring). This doesn’t take 365 days: it takes about 365.2421891 days.

As a result of this, making a calendar turns out to be pretty tough. With a calendar that only contains 365 days, you’ll start being further and further behind, marking the first of spring days before it actually occurs. (1 day behind every 4 years, to be precise).

In 46 BCE, Julius Caesar normalized the calendar by adding the leap year rule, which I’m sure you’re familiar with. So every 4 years, we add an extra day, and this largely solved the problem. With a calendar year being 365.25 days, the first of spring will remain the first of spring for a long time. With this system, it’ll take 128 years to be 1 day ahead!

Except, hold on, 128 years isn’t actually very long. Longer than pretty much anyone has been alive, sure, but about 1500 years later, the Julius calendar was an entire 10 days ahead!

This introduced the Gregorian calendar, named after Pope Gregory XIII. What’s the difference between the Julius calendar and this one, you ask? Well, it’s largely the same, but it takes out 3 leap days every 4 centuries. Specifically, the rule is this. If the year is divisible by 4, there is a leap year. Unless the year is divisible by 100 (ex. 1800,1900), in which case you do not add a leap year. Double unless that year is also divisible by 400 (ex. 2000), where you do add a leap year. Basically, we have a leap year every 4 years unless its the dawn of a new century. In most cases.

As a result of this calendar being implemented, we had to shave off some days on the calendar. October 5th-14th of 1582 never happened in most countries. Except a few countries don’t like the Pope (England), so they didn’t adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752. This meant that for England and its colonies, September 3-13th of 1752 never happened.

The Gregorian calendar is what we still use to this day. With the new rules, its so accurate, we will only be 1 day off after every 3,216 years. So, while you won’t get the leap day you may or may not expect in the year 2100, you can rest easy knowing that the first of spring by our standard was the first of spring so many years ago.

As it turns out, the rotation of the Earth and its orbit around the Sun (along with some small but measurable factors) make calendars pretty complicated. In the year 2000, we calculated the tropical year to be 365.2421897 days long. Only 10 years later, that same number was calculated to be 365.2421891! Pretty close, but still noticeably different. It’s why mathematicians haven’t solved this problem after so many millennia: the number we’re trying to hit is one that is in constant fluctuation.

In any case, here are the two videos where I got this information. The first video, by StandUpMaths, focuses primarily on the calendar issue, whereas the second, VSauce, talks about how time works in general. VSauce in particular I find extremely interesting, and I’d highly recommend if you enjoy learning things like this!