Of all the Pixar movies I have seen over the past decade, the studio’s latest offering–Inside Out–is one of the most unique. It takes a small story and expands it to mind-blowing proportions.
The movie follows a young girl named Riley, taking viewers inside her mind (a la Osmosis Jones, without the crude humor), which acts as a control center that characters Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust operate. Memories filter in and are stored, contributing to the foundational pillars of Riley’s mind–family, friends, her favorite sport, hockey, etc.. Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler of Parks and Recreation fame) is the unofficial leader of the group–strong and upbeat. Sadness (logically) is the mopey, sluggish member of the group, and also the one who doesn’t seem to quite belong. The others–well, you can probably guess what they’re like too.
When Riley and her family move from Minnesota to San Francisco, this means not only a new house but a new school and new friends. Before long, circumstances cast Riley’s mind into turmoil and only a team effort from Riley’s “control group” can prevent disaster.
The movie wisely forgoes any attempt at portraying a “realistic” psychology (which would probably be boring) and instead makes full comedic use of the concept of personified emotions–both in Riley’s mind and occasionally the minds of other characters in the story. The story, while straightforward, is still entertaining and manages to comment on the importance of family and friends in a “more than subtle, less than heavy-handed” sort of way.
Though not as flashy as The Incredibles, scenic as Brave, or humorously bizarre as Monsters, Inc., Inside Out tells a simple story well. It’s a movie most all ages will enjoy (at least judging from the audience at the showing I attended and their reactions).
All in all, Inside Out is another win for Pixar Studios.
On the morning of October 1, 1964, Japanese crowds welcomed the first two Shinkansen, or “new rail lines,” to the cities of Tokyo and Osaka (Von Finn 22). These new trains were the first bullet trains the world had ever seen. They could reach a maximum of 135 miles per hour and on their very first trial cut the train trip between Tokyo and Osaka from seven hours to four (Von Finn 7). The year 1984 saw the first magnetic levitation, or maglev, train built in Great Britain. Since then, maglevs have become the fastest type of train in the world and can exceed speeds of 310 miles per hour (Boslaugh). Both bullet and maglev trains are high-speed vehicles that seek to accelerate travel and offer alternatives to transportation by airplane, car, or boat, and they have many similarities and differences in history, function, environmental impact, and safety.
The inception of bullet trains began in a surprising place and at a surprising time. Japan introduced the first bullet trains only nineteen years after the end of World War II, the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the overthrow of her government. These new trains were predominately the result of the work of Hideo Shima. Shima was a Japanese engineer, and he designed the track layout, electrical facilities, and cars for the Shinkansen (Mara 26). Following the success of the Shinkansen in Japan, other countries began to build bullet trains. In 1981 France became the first European country to build a bullet train system. Its railroad connected Paris and Lyon and was named Train à Grande Vitesse, or “train of great speed,” and is known today as the TGV (Reutter). From 1988 to 1992, Great Britain, Italy, Germany, and Spain followed France’s example. According to an article on bullet trains written in 2013, Australia, China, Finland, South Korea, Sweden, and Taiwan are other countries that have, or are developing, high-speed rail lines (“Railroad”). Acela Express, which runs between Washington, D.C., and Boston, is currently the only high-speed service in the United States, but is not a bullet train. In 2008 voters in California sanctioned the construction of a bullet train line between Los Angeles and San Francisco (Reutter).
During the early 1900s, American professor and inventor Robert Goddard and engineer Emile Bachelet conceptualized maglev trains. Yet it was not until Great Britain created a small maglev train line in Birmingham in 1984 that maglevs became a reality. Two years later, a short section of a maglev train appeared in the Vancouver World’s Fair, and Germany ran a maglev in Berlin for a short time before dismantling it in 1992 (Boslaugh). Today, several commercial maglev systems operate around the world. A maglev train built in 2005 runs in Aichi, Japan. This system is around 5.6 miles long, has nine station stops, and reaches speeds of around 62 miles per hour (Boslaugh). Other maglev trains operate in Korea and Shanghai. The train in Shanghai is the longest commercial maglev system and covers about 18.6 miles. Japan plans to create a maglev train system to connect Osaka to Tokyo. If built, this train would become the longest maglev in the world, covering a distance of 319 miles.
Several factors led to the creation of the first bullet trains in Japan. In the 1950s, the Japanese population was expanding rapidly, and Tokyo and Osaka were becoming Japan’s centers of commerce. This meant that the workforce began moving to these cities. However, buying homes in Tokyo and Osaka was very expensive, so many workers began living in cheaper suburbs and commuting to work. Consequently, Japan’s trains, roads, and cities became crowded (Von Finn 6). To solve these transportation problems, Japan built the Shinkansen, which provided faster commutation and allowed workers to live even farther away from the big cities, where land was scarce and expensive. In addition, Japan needed an efficient way to transport people for the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, and the Shinkansen were the perfect solution.
As with the first bullet trains, a number of reasons motivated the creation of maglev trains. Because they do not touch the train rails, maglevs experience less friction than normal trains, enabling them to reach much higher speeds than regular bullet trains. This lack of friction allows maglev trains to operate very quietly and lowers the cost of maintenance because parts do not wear out quickly (Boslaugh). Thanks to the way they work, the cars for maglev trains can also be much larger than those in bullet trains, allowing for more comfort.
In addition to their history, bullet trains have many similarities and some differences with maglevs in how they function. Bullet trains run on either diesel or electricity, although electricity is most common. If a bullet train operates on electricity, it has an antenna-like device called a pantograph on top of its locomotive. The pantograph connects to overhead electrical wires called catenaries, providing the train with power (Von Finn 10). These trains earned their name because of their sleek, streamlined shape and bullet-like nose, which allow them to travel at high speeds. Due to the speeds at which bullet trains travel, their tracks have gentle curves, long rails, and smooth rail connections. In fact, engineers have designed some high-speed trains, like the Acela Express, to tilt as they travel around curves, decreasing the force passengers experience (Graham 18; Von Finn 13). A problem that bullet trains sometimes encounter is snow. If there is a lot of fallen snow on the track, trains have to travel more slowly. In some places, sprinklers have been installed to help melt snow and keep it from piling up (Mara 22).
Because magnetic levitation trains developed from bullet trains, they have similarities in how they function. Like many bullet trains, maglev trains require electricity to operate. However, maglev trains do not have engines, typically do not have wheels, and are propelled by magnets, not by electricity itself. Commonly, magnets of like polarity are placed along the track, or guideway, on which a maglev train runs and on the bottom of the train. These magnets repel each other, lifting the train up. Then, “by continuously changing the polarity in alternate magnets, a series of magnetic attractions and repulsions is created that moves the vehicle along the track” (“Magnetic Levitation”). One visible difference between bullet trains and maglev trains is the shape of the front of each train. Maglev trains are often much less pointed than bullet trains, though they still maintain an aerodynamic shape. Just as with bullet trains, maglevs run on very smooth guideways and avoid sharp curves. In contrast to bullet trains, however, maglevs are not greatly affected by snow or other bad weather conditions. This is because they are not propelled by friction like bullet trains are. Another interesting difference between the function of bullet trains and maglevs is that maglevs “can potentially provide quicker acceleration and braking than wheeled systems” (“Maglev”).
One of the many reasons for the popularity of bullet trains is that they decrease the environmental impact of modern transportation. An electric bullet train emits only fifteen percent of the carbon dioxide that an automobile releases in an equivalent journey, and even a diesel bullet train uses less energy than cars and airliners per passenger mile (Mara 8; Reutter). Sound pollution was a big problem for bullet trains in Japan. In order to keep people from being disturbed by the train noise, the Japanese government enforced strict regulations on how much noise could be allowed (Mara 11). Passage through tunnels and the pantographs of trains both created very loud sounds at high speeds, so the government required the trains to run more slowly until the noises were fixed. By mimicking the design of owl wings and kingfisher beaks, a team of engineers led by Eiji Kakatsu improved the design of bullet trains and solved the problem (Mara 14-19). Now, bullet trains function very quietly and create little sound pollution.
Like bullet trains, maglev trains have less impact on the environment than other types of transportation. Because they are engineless and powered by magnets, maglev trains emit no carbon dioxide, making them even better for the environment around them than normal bullet trains. This makes maglevs ideal for cities where air pollution is a problem. Maglev trains are also slightly more energy efficient than conventional bullet trains (Boslaugh). The absence of friction as they run makes maglevs very quiet as well, meaning they create even less sound pollution than bullet trains.
Not only do bullet trains have less of an impact on the environment; they also are very safe. In recent years, there have been only two bullet train accidents, one in China in 2011 and one in Spain in 2013 (“China Bullet Train Crash”). The Shinkansen in Japan has an exceptional safety record. These trains have transported over 150 million passengers annually without a single passenger death due to a crash or derailment (Mara 8). Where earthquakes are common, bullet trains have sensor systems which stop them long before they near the center of an earthquake (Mara 22). Bullet trains often run on right-of-way tracks. To keep people, animals, and automobiles off the track and improve safety, these right-of-ways avoid automobile crossings and have fences around them (Von Finn 15).
The passenger safety record of maglevs is excellent, as well. Only one accident has occurred in the history of maglev trains. Maglev trains have several safety advantages over bullet trains because the speed of and distance between each maglev vehicle are “automatically controlled and maintained by the frequency of the electric power fed to the guideway” (Powell). Thanks to their design, the derailment of maglev trains is highly unlikely (Boslaugh). Because maglev guideways are elevated, automobiles do not cross paths with maglevs, eliminating the possibility of collisions like those at grade crossings.
The year 2014 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the first bullet trains and the thirtieth anniversary of the first maglev train. For decades these two trains have been accelerating travel. In the age of the automobile and airplane, bullet trains and maglevs offer advantages neither cars nor planes have, for these trains are faster than cars, and cheaper and more convenient than planes. Filled with similarities and differences, bullet trains and maglevs are innovative technologies that have interesting histories, incredible ways of functioning, and increasing cleanliness for the environment and safety for the passengers who ride them.
Boslaugh, Sarah E. “Maglev Train.” EncyclopædiaBritannica. 28 Jan. 2014.
I must confess that I have wanted to watch the movie American Sniper for a while. Long before I had seen the movie (or read the book), Chris Kyle’s story had interested me. I was recently given a copy of the book of the same name, and then received the movie as well…so here goes a brief monologue.
American Sniper follows Chris Kyle, a Texan, cowboy, and then Navy Seal sniper who served four tours in Iraq. The movie lays out his life up until he joins the Navy, and then spends the majority of time looking at his four tours overseas. Two aspects of the film that I particularly liked (and were present in the book as well), were how the story integrated the family into the story, as well as showing the effects that war has on people emotionally. The film draws out the tension that is created between Chris’s desire to be in the field saving soldiers, and the need for him to be home with his family. This is one aspect I found that added significant depth to the film -the movie showed how the family left at home was affected by war just as the soldier in the field was. The movie also displays how war is destructive -not just in a physical way, but also in a more subtle manner. Throughout the film the wear and tear of war is shown to debilitate the men involved -men who come home and struggle to re-integrate with normal life, men who are changed by the sights and horrors of death. While so many war films focus simply on the physical toll that war takes on men, the fact that American Sniper dealt with something deeper reminds me of a couple paragraphs that C.S. Lewis spoke during the early stages of WWII:
“What does war do to death? It certainly does not make it more
frequent; 100 percent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased. It
puts several deaths earlier, but I hardly suppose that that is what we fear.
Certainly when the moment comes, it will make little difference how many
years we have behind us.
Does it increase our chances of a painful death? I doubt it. As far as I
can ﬁnd out, what we call natural death is usually preceded by suffering, […]
and a battleﬁeld is one of the very few places where one has a reasonable
prospect of dying with no pain at all. Does it decrease our chances of
dying at peace with God? I cannot believe it. If active service does not
persuade a man to prepare for death, what conceivable concatenation of
circumstances would? Yet war does do something to death. It forces us to
Death is not natural, and is it any wonder that those forced to live amid it, and be its instruments, come back scarred?
American Sniper, both the book and the movie, remind us of the great sacrifice that many have made to fight for our country -both those in the field and those left at home. And while it is easy to get bogged down in discussions of ‘just’ and ‘unjust’ wars, the undeniable truth is that God has blessed us, especially the Church, with more freedom here than anywhere else on the planet (and maybe in history), and he is using men to protect this nation -with all of its flaws -to help preserve those liberties. American Sniper is not just a way to remember the deadliest sniper in American history, but also a way to be reminded that the freedoms that we do enjoy come at a tremendous cost.
This past week, Blizzard Entertainment released its new offering into the digital entertainment world in the form of an online, multiplayer battle arena game called Heroes of the Storm. While this is not the first game of this type to be released, it is the first to be released officially by Blizzard Entertainment. This is significant because the multiplayer online battle arena (hereafter called MOBA) genre was created using one of Blizzard’s own games, WarCraft 3. That title included an extensive level editor, and a scenario called “Defense of the Ancients” (DotA) was created by dedicated fans.
The scenario had a punishingly steep learning curve and a large variety of playable characters. It featured a symmetrical map in which up to 10 heroes – 5 for each team – battled along certain pathways to their enemy’s forts in an effort to destroy them. They were supported by randomly spawning computerized ally troops who would attack opposing heroes and structures. Along these paths were guard towers for both teams. One of the key components of this game was teamwork. If you had bad communication and situational awareness, not only would you be hurting your chances of winning, you would also likely be making your enemies stronger – something which happened every time you or an ally bit the dust. This formula – this fan-made map and modification – created an entirely new genre of computer game that is still used as a standard by many today.
Since the development of DotA (circa 2003/2004), many other MOBAs have been made and have folded. Games such as League of Legends (LoL) and DotA2 are currently quite popular, and have a rabid following. Sadly, some similar games which had innovative ideas have fallen by the wayside, such as Gas Powered Games’ Demigod. Heroes of the Storm is Blizzard Entertainment’s foray into this genre, and although the game is not yet a week old, it has a great amount of potential. I’d like to list out my reasons why HotS is at the same time a great release and a worrying release.
I won’t bore anyone who is not familiar with Blizzard Entertainment’s works by going into the backstory of the myriads of characters they have created. They have created cartoonish fantasy worlds in which orcs, elves and men battle together; futuristic sci-fi worlds in which humans battle the insect-like Zerg and inscrutable Protoss; and gothic fantasy worlds in which men and angels fight against the incursions of demonic forces. They have brought their heroes, villains, and in-between together for a battle royale. While this means little for someone who doesn’t know who, say, Jim Raynor is, this gives a great amount of variety to those who like characters with swords, guns, lasers, spikes – you name it, there’s a character in the game that will likely appeal to you based on their style of play or by the fact the character models look so polished.
This is a big one. The map in DotA and DotA2 is exactly the same. You will fight in the same arena every time you play the game. LoL and Demigod have a greater variety of maps, as does HotS. What HotS has over those games, however, is more interactivity with their maps. In one map, if you collect enough doubloons from chests or the corpses of your enemies, you can bribe a ghost pirate to fire his cannons on your foes’ defenses. In another, you can inhabit an Egyptian type temple and use its sun-powered laser crystals to devastate enemy towers. This sort of interactivity means that where you fight is not simply a backdrop with certain choke-points. The map is a vital part of how you fight, and you ignore that at your peril.
Another major point in HotS’ favor is that instead of having singular guard towers along routes, there are actual towns that need to be defended or conquered. Each town has walls, three guard towers, a gate, a healing fountain, and a keep. These features are useful, and makes defending them seem more important than defending a lone guard tower. It also makes destroying your enemy’s towns more gratifying.
3) Ease of Entry
As stated before, the learning curve for many MOBAs can be very high. This is due to having an overwhelming number of hero options, and not understanding combinations and “meta-game” strategies walking in to the experience. In fact, it’s a common occurrence for new players to be cussed out, ignored, or generally abused by veteran players of most MOBAs. And this is a shame, as it drives people away from the hobby. It lessens the pool of allies and opponents, and destroys the very thing that keeps so many coming back to this genre: fun. HotS does not have this issue. The abilities are easy to understand, and the tutorial does a good job at teaching basic situational awareness. Also, as the game is not even a week old, it has a very clever tactic for keeping totally new players from being muscled out by those who have played MOBAs before:
4) Team Leveling
This is one of the single most important features I can think of for a MOBA. In LoL and DotA2, individual heroes “level up” (i.e. become more powerful) based on the number of kills they accrue, towers they help destroy, etc. In other words, if you are a new player, you are going to be overpowered quite easily because you do not know the ins and outs of the heroes or the map yet, and will be the easiest target for people looking to blame someone for a loss. However, in HotS, what you do and what your teammates do all pools together so that teams “level up” together. Everyone benefits, and nobody is left behind. This means that heroes will unlock skills at the same rate on the same team. The importance of this is that it means if there is a weak link on a team, it’s because they are not playing their hero very well, not because they’re too weak to contribute.
5)Blizzard and Activision Support
The fact that Blizzard and its parent company Activision have released this game means that they believe in the quality of their product and expect it to stay for the long haul. While Activision does have a reputation now of producing what gamers call “shovel-ware” with yearly releases of the Call of Duty franchise, they have allowed Blizzard enough lee-way to make their own decisions about when a product is done. If you ask any fan what the worst part of Blizzard games are, they’ll tell you it’s the wait. There was an 8 year gap between WarCraft 2 and WarCraft 3, and a 14 year gap between StarCraft 1 and 2. The most common response by Blizzard representatives when asked when the next game would be released was “When it’s done.” The length of development time, however, historically has been good for Blizzard, because this allows them to run a lot of quality control. In this business, reputation is everything these days. If you are wondering if Blizzard believes in the long-term survivability of this product, I would suggest you look at how long World of Warcraft has been running – and running successfully – for your answer.
6) The game is truly free-to-play, and is not pay-to-win like many free-to-play games. I don’t think that much more needs to be said on this point.
7) Battles rarely take more than 20 minutes.
I’ve come to appreciate as I get more and more settled in my career, marriage, and graduate work, that when I do have the opportunity to play a game I need to make the most of it. With more responsibilities on their way, it’s for the best that I play a game that is easily interruptable, or can easily be played in short spurts and still feel satisfying. This is definitely that game for me. Battles rarely take more than 20 minutes, and the gratification of victory or sting of defeat is actually quite satisfying.
There’s only one thing I have to say in this regard. The game is truly free-to-play, and is not pay-to-win. However, there is one downright dastardly thing I see with HotS. You have to pay for the characters. There two ways to do this: with acquired in-game gold coins, or with real-world money.
The game starts you off with playing a tutorial as heroic commander Jim Raynor, and by the end of the whole thing, you will have 2,000 coins to your name. You have the option of buying 1 of 4 characters for this price, including Raynor. Currently, Blizzard is running a “Free Heroes of the Week” rotation to allow you to test out some of their heroes and see which ones you might like to save coins/pay money for. However, should they cease this practice, if you bought a character because you liked them in previous games and found out they do not fit your play style, you’re up a creek. All those hard-fought gold coins, straight down the tube. This, to me, is grating. I wouldn’t mind this practice if the heroes were not – on average – $9.99 a piece if you choose to buy them with real money. The other option is fight a lot of battles and save as much as you can for a long time to buy another hero for 4, 7, 10, or 15,000 gold coins. The most coins I’ve ever seen from an individual battle was 10. While there are some daily goals you can complete for a few extra coins (on average, 200 to 300) or 2,000 coin boost for reaching certain player levels, I’m afraid it may take an incredibly fun game and turn it into a grind. I would appreciate some kind of starter kit in which you get 2 or 3 heroes for free, rather than rolling the dice later on if they stop the hero rotation.
While I’m on the topic of their marketplace, some things are not purchasable with gold coins, but are only available using real currency. For example, if you want your decked out space warrior to ride a cyber-wolf instead of a horse, that would cost you $9.99, and there is no pay with gold option. BOOOOO!
I certainly hope – and anticipate – that Heroes of the Storm is going to be a hit in the MOBA community, and have had nothing but good experiences playing with other people. The game is truly free to play, and genuinely fun. It also explains its mechanics well, and has enough variety to keep you coming back. Despite my grumblings about their market mechanics, much of the marketplace can be ignored. I know I’ll be hopping on from time to time for a quick battle, and I hope to see some of you there!
There’s a “meme” circulating on Facebook at the moment, which describes the writing process as the border between Absolute Narcissism and Crippling Self-Doubt. Thinking about it—though not for very long or particularly hard, admittedly—I suppose any piece of writing I actually upload for publication is on the Absolute Narcissism side of the coin. After all, I like it enough to give the potential for the world to see it. Today, however, I present the dark side of the moon, the Pit of Despair, the result of a little thing called writer’s block.
Frankly, my dear, I’m not sure what to write. What do I write? TELL ME WHAT TO WRITE, I order my brain, in just that tone of voice. It doesn’t work, unsurprisingly.
I blankly stare at the equally empty Microsoft Word page (handwriting my thoughts never helps). Stuff, I type out. Stuff and things. Well, at least there are now words decorating the barrenness, but what sort of stuff and things shall I now write about?
I shall write an essay. It will be an essay about cooking, and how I’m becoming more and more like my mother and grandmothers. After all, just the other day I told a friend, “add a bit of this, some of that, a little more of that, and a lot of that” and wa-la, a meal is produced, with no precise measurements required.
Nah, that’s dumb. “I’m becoming more like my mother.” How surprising. How original. Not.
I shall write a fiction piece, a story. It will be a story about…something. But I know you, my muse, all too well. You will start a simple story, but it will go on and on. Before long, it’ll be thirty pages, and not even half through, and then you will never finish it.
No, it is best not to submit a story to this blog before you’ve actually completed it. However, you almost never finish one. Thus, the vicious cycle repeats. Ah, well, I’ll worry about that some other time.
Once upon a time, there was a girl who didn’t know what to write…so instead she went and played piano fore an hour or so, did laundry, including her pillow cases, which were long overdue for a wash, and then she reorganized her bookshelf. The End. There you go: a story, with no frills necessary.
Speaking of books, maybe I can go back and revise that essay I wrote for one of my English classes, the one about what it means to grow up using examples from that collection of short stories, Who’s Irish. Eh, but that essay requires a bit more explanation of the plot of the novel…and I don’t think I have the book with me. Scratch that idea.
Just write something, please. Anything. After all, remember what your Children’s Literature professor from last semester said. You weren’t over fond of her, but she had a point: when you can’t think of anything to write, when what you write sound just plain dumb, still, you must write. Whether or not it’s perfect is of no consequence. You just have get your metaphorical heartbeat going, start your muse dancing, and hopefully the momentum will carry you through, and you will reach the required word count. So, in honor of that that professor, I shall now write. I shall write something.