Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
But I find myself drawn time and again to kendo. I think it lies in its austerity. In kendo, the efficacy of every technique is tried and tested in combat. Garbed in armour, behind the mask, secure in the knowledge that it's nigh impossible to cause any significant harm to one's opponent, one encounters in every training session a kind of tightly focused ferocity that is rarely seen in other martial arts, save in the most intense and dedicated dojos. It is a profoundly liberating experience. And there is a sense of sincerity in seeing your opponent release himself against you. And it is absolutely exhilarating to fight one's peers with all the strength you can muster.
In the crucible of combat, any useless movements are quickly weeded out, leaving behind a small set of techniques, tactics and strategies. They are deceptively simple, yet take years of dedication and training to master. It's a bit difficult to appreciate how simple with words alone, so here are a few samples of kata or forms from selected martial arts.
From Wudang, the real Wudang, not this lot, 8 Immortal Staff:
Cheng-style (no relation) Baguazhang:
Shinshinkan's Chatanyara no Sai, just too pretty not to include:
And finally, kendo:
Some straddle the interesting line between dance and martial art. Others function as a small library of basic techniques, teaching the way they flow into one another. All have their merits and share the same trait of being a form of moving meditation. Kendo's kata is a relatively slow, stately, tense affair. Ideally, the attacker should execute his cut like he really means it, forcing his partner to be very serious indeed about defending himself. This tension between the two kendokas adds a powerful dimension to the practice of kata, demanding a measure of concentration and alertness from both that is quite hard to appreciate until you're actually performing the kata yourself.
Which brings me back to my point of kendo as a metaphor for life. I have, from the very beginning, taken a very cerebral approach to kendo. Before even picking up my first shinai, I'd read books on the matter. Even now, having trained in armour for well over a year (it ain't much, I know), I still consume a steady stream of kendo books. In Japanese, of course, as the ones in English are prone to drift in the direction of mysticism and romanticise about the age of samurai and basically miss the whole point of kendo altogether. The memory of my first time crossing blades with a sensei in free sparring is still very fresh in my mind. For those of you with the JCKL dojo reading this, it was Toyoda sensei. Yes, I know. I'm grateful to be alive.
That engagement made it very, very clear to me what it meant to be completely, utterly defeated before even raising my sword to strike. Before that moment, I had committed dozens of techniques and tricks to memory, devised strategems to break past any guard, theorized how I could transfer the skills of deceit learnt in capoeira to the art of the sword. It all came to nothing when I stood against the sensei. In the sheer fury of his kiai and the resoluteness of his stance, my spirit broke. All my attacks, far, far too slow. My mind raged against the absurdity of it. This man is at least twice my age! I should be faster! But back then, for the life of me, I could not see his sword, and was hammered at least a dozen times, hard, on my head and hand before the sensei let me limp away. By then I was seeing stars, and my right hand was trembling so badly I could no longer grip my sword.
I took that as a harsh lesson that, just as metaphysics and theology could never compare to science, no amount of theorizing can hold a candle to learning by experience. I have since thrown myself into many more engagements and can say with great certainty that though I'm some way from the dearly coveted shodan, I've lot more steel in me than I did back then. It's very strange to think about it now. When I'm there, panting and sweating in my armour during free training, what pushes me to go a little further each time to take a point is not some high ideal to be a better kendoka or sheer pride making me refuse to acknowledge defeat, but just a very simple, humble, mantra mouthed under my breath when the going gets tough:
I once calculated that from the first time once picks up a shinai, one must do about 15,000** cuts before you have what it takes to wear armour and really start kendo. 15,000, give or take a couple thousand, depending on your motor skills. With every cut, your body learns a tiny bit more. Then when you get in armour, you start learning all over again. Every training session is an exercise in mindfulness. Every cut must be done to the best of one's ability. And in every engagement, regardless of the disparity in rank, there is something to be learnt. Vita sine litteris mors. Life without learning is death.
I believe there's nothing quite as beautifully human as learning. I've held that belief since I was very young and my dad cleverly left cartoon versions of the Confucian classics in my room. But it is kendo that constantly reminds me of the right attitude towards learning. Knowledge is the brightest of jewels to be treasured and sought. This is to be done with both earnest and vigilance, and at the end of the day, evidence, the crossing of swords in combat, decides all. On the path, there will be passions and urges pulling and pushing us in all sorts of directions. They are not to be fought, because they are a part of what you are. They are to be understood and harnessed. If you doubt, if you hesitate you will lose, not because your opponent is better than you, but because you defeated yourself. Is this not shameful? But it happens to the best of us, and so we learn.
In terms of kendo, I am still young, barely a pollywog in a big, big pond. The mystery of my future beyond shodan is well within the realm of fantasy and speculation. But I know that, as long as I throw myself into the next training session with vigour and really, really work myself to earn that beer, the future can be very bright indeed...
* Note to self: Haven't done torches in a long, long time. Must pick up some kerosene in January...
** Revised from a previous estimate of 10,000.
... then send him to battle against, I dunno, something with lotsa spikes. Seriously, how utterly pathetic do you have to be to preach the immorality of Pikachu, based on your own code of morality derived from what is essentially the Bronze Age equivalent of Pokemon?
"Thor! I choose you!"
"Jesus! I choose you!"
"Thor! Hammer attack!"
Hammer attack is super effective!
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Word to the wise: You want romantic animals? Stick with Mandarin ducks.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
On a vaguely related note, I was listening to the radio the other day, and heard that David Guetta & Akon "song", Sexy Chick. And I facepalmed and despaired for the slow death of romance. I mean, really, have you heard the lyrics to that rubbish?
"I'm trying to find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful..."
... and the best he could come up with is "sexy chick". "Sexy chick"?? Is this how far we have fallen? Is this how a man expresses his attraction for a woman in this day and age? Not 3 days ago I watched Gerard Depardieu playing Cyrano de Bergerac. Ah, that balcony scene... Now THAT's romance, not these crude grunts and babblings that pollute the airwaves*! Ah, the hell with it. No time to rant, there's books to omnomnomnomnom...
*For which many Malaysian DJs are also guilty...
Friday, November 20, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
It seems to be a fairly universal thing. Solzhenitsyn once said:
I personally have a very Zen-influenced interpretation of that (which I'll be detailing in my book). Pascal said:
And I know Japanese and Chinese cultures both take the same view of the heart being associated with mental functions in their word for psychology: 心理学 (literally, heart study*). The only exception I can think of is Malay culture, which uses hati (liver) in much the same context where we'd usually use heart. This is known to lead to some hilarity in A-level biology in Malaysia when students sent to the butcher for a cow's heart to dissect translate the term wrongly and end up lugging several kilograms of liver back to an exasperated bio teacher.
I suppose the experience of heartache might shed some light on why this link has been made, but now I have to wonder, why does it feel like it does? Why should getting your heart broken result in that horrible, crushing feeling in your chest? I'm quite curious about the neurobiological reasons for this and so have decided to grab this lecture by Prof Antonio R Damasio and have a listen. Will try to remember to post a summary and my thoughts on the matter later...
* That's just off the top of my head, so I'd be much obliged if someone could tell me if it's a bit off.
Monday, November 9, 2009
I don't know what it does for you, but I haven't had such goosebumps since the first time I contemplated the big bang, deep star nucleosynthesis and evolution. I was sitting in the library of the Physics department at uni at the time, mind wandering while I studied for an exam. All around me were aspiring scientists and tomes and journals by the metric tonne, the distilled sweat, blood and tears of hundreds and thousands of scientists who had come before us. And in a file before me, in the frenzied scribbling of a student trying to keep up with the professor's OHP slides, sat my notes, a miniscule sliver of knowledge of the Universe.
A huge piece of the puzzle clicked into place for me back then, and I got that feeling one gets when you're, say, building a complex model and you put that piece in place which just puts you past the border between "chaotic mess" and "it's taking shape". I'm pleased to say I've had a lot of those moments since then, and such is the complexity of the Universe (and so much of it of our own making!) that I know I can look forward to many more.
The model-making analogy works the other way as well. Consider the acquisition of knowledge without the aegis of the scientific method, i.e. no formulation of hypothesis, no experimentation, no peer review, no constant testing against the realities of the universe... Is this not akin to grabbing a model off the shelf, dragging it out of the box, ignoring the instructions, casting aside files, knives and glue and slapping together whatever you like with duct tape? Well, I suppose this is but one possible scenario, exemplified in the real world by that special breed of person who is so open-minded his brain has dropped out.
The point is, there is a balance to be maintained. It's all well and good, perusing Wikipedia, National Geographic, Youtube and the popular science section of the local bookstore for these clips, articles and books exalting science and its bounty, but one would do well to remember the discipline and effort that went into them.
And right now, if I had a hat, I'd take mine off to the late Carl Sagan and all of those very rare scientists with the ability to communicate the beauty of science to the general public. Hum. It's been too long since I've watched a Royal Institution Christmas Lecture...
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
The URL says it all. Seeing as I'm still on a high from the most ferocious scrap of my kendo career during the weekend, here's another site I found fairly uplifting:
Yes, laugh at their pain. And don't for a moment consider the possibility that, one day, you could be posting there, too...
* A special brand of fail indeed! It even fails to be the slightest bit funny...
Thursday, October 29, 2009
creepy old animation I once saw....
On the side: I note my previous post has attracted attention of the paranoid delusional conspiracy theorist variety. I'd respond, but the more closely I read it, the more I realize the only response such a dire mess of trolling gobbledegook deserves is this:
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Anyway, this Mazoumellos character has been spreading a message written in a style quite reminiscent of the ridiculous sensationalism often found in cheap tabloids, obviously looking to make the age-old sacrifice of integrity for fame. An excerpt:
"If the regular flu kills 40 000 plus per year, and the swine flu only killed 2/3 000 – then why are governments buying it in advance, giving it to us for free, and giving drug manufacturers immunity to legal cases against them? Does that make sense? No!
The swine flu vaccine contains 2 horribly dangerous compounds – one is called thimerosol. It is made 50% of mercury. It binds to receptors in your brain, and basically causes brain damage. Is it smart to be injected with thimerosol, and get brain damage, dropping 10 IQ points and going dumb, in order to avoid getting a flu that kills 95% less people than regular flu? No!
The other horrible ingredient is called squalene. Squalene accidentally tricks your immune system into killing your own cells, which creates auto-immune diseases like asthma, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and a bunch of diseases that we don't have a name for yet (because squalene hasn't been used for that long, and we have little data on its effects) – is it smart to inject yourself with that stuff, in order to avoid a relatively mild flu, like the swine flu? No!"
Alrighty then, that's quite a lot of rubbish to fit in only 3 paragraphs, so let's get to work debunking... Note that the message cited NO sources whatsoever, which pretty much makes the entire message worthless, from the point of view of a scientist. But let's take this at face value and compare it with independent facts and see what happens, shall we?
First up, statistics. He compares 40,000 killed by "normal" flu a year against 3,000 H1N1 mortalities to date. WHO says 250,000 to 500,000 are killed a year by flu. Assuming he had a source for the 40,000 figure, when compared with the WHO figure it could only mean the 40,000 figure is for a single country, which is more than a bit dishonest to compare with the global figure for H1N1, which, by the way is just under 6,000 to date. But anyway, pointing this out reinforces his point that 6,000 H1N1 deaths don't sound like much compared to half a million. What the heck, I'm feeling generous.
Now, 6,000 killed may not sound like much, until you consider that it's a newly discovered strain, first reported in April. And the year isn't even over yet. And if you've studied epidimiology or even played a little Pandemic, you'd know that a relatively low death toll at the early stages doesn't mean it won't get monstrously virulent later. As it is, the swine flu is notably more brutal than the usual strains we're used to. It is only sensible to snuff it out NOW, while we're lucky enough to actually have a vaccine to hand that works. As for that remark about the government giving it out for free, Mr Mazoumellos betrays a woeful ignorance of one of life's inevitabilities, known to the civilized as taxes.
Second, thimerosol, aka thiomersal. Yes, it's true that it's nasty and toxic and what-have-you. So's oxygen, by the way. The fact of the matter is that there are a LOT of things we come into contact with that are hideously toxic (ever eaten an appleseed by mistake?) but we do not die from them. Why? Simply put, we're actually quite tuff and small quantities of toxic agents can often be expelled naturally. A study published online in Paediatrics laid out in great detail just how quickly thimerosol pops in and out again of the bodies of infants, with cumulative doses of up to ~160 micrograms of ethyl mercury. Now, if my maths is right, that translates to about 283 mcg of thiomersal in these babies with no ill effect. And the thiomersal content of the swine flu vaccine? 5 mcg, the last time I checked.
3rd, squalene. This one barely even deserves mention. Do you know where squalene is found? Here's a hint: ALL OVER YOU. What does the WHO have to say?
"The World Health Organization and the US Department of Defense have both published extensive reports that emphasize that squalene is a chemical naturally occurring in the human body, present even in oils of human fingerprints.
WHO goes further to explain that squalene has been present in over 22 million flu vaccines given to patients in Europe since 1997 and there have never been significant vaccine-related adverse events."
Ooh! Squalene, squalene! It's ALL OVER the place! Time to go live in a hamster ball! Pfft...
George Mazoumellos, you fail. Big time. And you should be ashamed of yourself, but somehow, I doubt that's actually the case. Anyway, to the rest of you with access to the vaccine, go get jabbed. Needles aren't that scary, really. Here's a bit more from New Scientist on the matter.
Now, if you'd rather take your chances being on the unhappy end of the swine flu, that's your own lookout. If you're responsible about it and go find yourself a nice secluded corner to die in without infecting anyone, fine, go ahead. But a virus does what a virus does and if you get infected, you are a vector for passing it on to whoever who come into contact with. You are also a possible incubator for the virus to mutate, as viruses are wont to do, to a form that can infect all your vaccinated friends. Now that's just rude. Don't be a prick. Go get vaccinated.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
French toast is not French. Surprise, surprise. According to the International House of Pancakes, French toast predates the 1st World War, and was called German toast in English speaking countries. Then the Kaiser did his thing and no-one liked Germans anymore and it "became" French. You know, because it happens to be next door. Or something like that. Wikipedia mentions that the French actually have their own version:
In France, Belgium, New Orleans, Acadiana, Newfoundland and the Congo a similar but distinctive food is called pain perdu, or "lost bread", since it is a way to reclaim stale, "lost", bread: hard bread is softened by dipping in a mixture of milk and eggs, then deep fried.
I think I like the sound of that. Hell, I like the look of it...
For the benefit of those reading who don't already know this, French fries are not French. Apparently they date back to 17th century Belgium, and were consumed by peasants living the Meuse Valley in place of wee little fishies. They became French following exposure of American troops to the Belgian troops during World War I. French was the official language of the Belgian army at the time, and the rest is history.
French dressing is not French. I was informed of this fact by a rightly indignant French chef. Apparently the term was invented in the late 19th century to keep American tongues from butchering the word vinaigrette.
And since I'm here, Welsh Rabbit is not rabbit. Wikipedia has a charming little story to go with that:
The first recorded use of the term Welsh rabbit was in 1725, but the origin of the term is unknown. It may be an ironic name coined in the days when the Welsh were notoriously poor: only better-off people could afford butcher's meat, and while in England rabbit was the poor man's meat, in Wales the poor man's meat was cheese.
You may be familiar with the term as 'rarebit' as opposed to 'rabbit'. Apparently this is the fault of Francis Grose, who coined the term erroneously in his 1785 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue* and, in the manner of certain memes, has managed to stick.
And now I'm off to do the litter. Oh, teh horror...
*Available for free on gutenberg.org!
Thursday, October 22, 2009
To put that in perspective:
And a couple more famous names:
So I'm in the same boat as Gandhi, Mandela and the Dalai Lama. Nice. And the present Pope is, like Robert Mugabe, well on his way to becoming another Stalin. Ahem.
Monday, October 19, 2009
On the front of politics, frankly, I'm fed up. On the local (still Malaysian) side, I skim through the papers daily to check for any sign at all of real progress. I find none. Nothing more than empty platitudes, cheap propaganda and, with dismayingly increasing frequency, outright backsliding. And the thing is these wonderful specimens were in fact democratically elected, which does not speak well for the intellectual capacity of the Malaysian public at large. As such, I've nothing more to say about Malaysian politics, but will continue to keep a weather eye out for any sign that it might crawl out of the hole it's digging for itself.
As for politics elsewhere, I'm not really paying much attention, to be honest, though I do keep an eye on what the Yanks are up to. I think it's a worthwhile exercise, because I suspect that today's Republican party represents a stance that guarantees the destruction of the human race, or at the very least a profound decline in one's standard of living. They chant the praises of freedom and faith when in fact it is merely a mask to justify ruthless social Darwinism (thanks to their special brand of capitalism) within, and a foreign policy based on fear and loathing without, all against a background of unbridled consumption at great cost to the environment. It is difficult for any thinking man to look upon the antics of such figures as Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Dick Cheney and their ilk with anything other than revulsion. But the fact remains that these people have risen to their positions of influence. Why?
Because deep down we're all really selfish, and we all want as much as we can gain for ourselves and our kin.
Because anything different from us is obviously wrong and must be wiped off the face of the Earth.
Because Democrats have been too busy pussyfooting about while the Republican propaganda machine marches on.
Because we're monsters.
Because we're human and that means that, for all that we've created for ourselves over our history, we are animals inside. We have passions and urges that drive us, many of which most people don't really understand nor do they care to understand. I suspect it is this blind acceptance of certain ugly aspects of our psychological makeup which, to paraphrase Russell, makes the stupid so cocksure. Most of us understand that there is usually more to be gained from patience and discipline, yet we are, at some base level, inexorably drawn to instant gratification. A lack of self control in enjoying material goods leads to rapacious consumption. A lack of intellectual vigilance allows the mind to be tainted with all manner of useless myths concocted to comfort the weak.
I have little doubt that the next great step forward in human endeavour will be the spiritual conquest of the human animal*. It will not be easy, and, if the Republican party is any indication, there is still a great swathe of humanity who knows too little and is sure of too much. While I've great faith in humanity's resourcefulness in surviving, particularly in times of great adversity, I can't escape the feeling that we are blithely bumbling onward to a great adversity of our own making.
On philosophy, what can I say? I was educated a physicist, and as such, find myself sympathetic to logical empiricism. And that's that. I suppose at some point I'll write something about my views on A J Ayer's principle of verification, but for the most part, I'm totally with Ayer and Russell in writing off metaphysics and theology as a lot of pseudointellectual mucking about.
On the popular science side, I've been slacking a bit on that front to focus moar on my Jap skills. I've been more fascinated by language than ever these days, not least because for me, studying the Japanese language involves:
1) consuming large chunks of Japanese culture to make sense of the vocabulary. This in itself is a subject to cover many books...
2) thinking about the contrast between English and Japanese and how it affects one's thinking.
I consider myself to be reasonably well acquainted with the English language, i.e. I have almost no trouble expressing any thought that comes to mind. In the process of learning Japanese, I find myself quite enthralled by the process of new words and sentence structures clicking into place. A lot of the time, I try to think every sentence that pops into my head in English a second time in Japanese. Obviously not with this blog post, else I'd be here til November. As my skills with Japanese improve, it feels like a 2nd brain is growing in my head. Ultimately, I hope to reach the same level of skill with Japanese as with English, or at least be able to read this.
So, that aside, I'd say that I'm more satisfied than I've ever been about my understanding of the human animal. I'm not sure if I'll quite have the fire of some of my previous posts again, but I consider that a good thing. Precisely how much of this understanding I'll divulge on this blog is, as yet, unknown to me. My grasp is still a bit hazy, and the subject matter is immense. As I think more, and more becomes concrete to me, I'll lay it down here, I suppose, 'ere the ravages of old age claim my hard-gotten spoils.
Until then, I'll be puntuating this blog with random natterings on various things that happen to entertain me. I'm in total agreement with Russell on many, many points, not least being:
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Random trivia: The background they were photographed against is in fact the back of the Missions & Background book of the 1st edition Space Hulk. Squad Lorenzo is presently residing in the safety of a tough cardboard box, away from the tender mercies of Haruka and Souseki...
Found this under my chair. No, I don't like Dark Eldar, either. I'm really hoping I don't find the head in the litter box anytime soon.
So I'm rather chuffed. It's a long way from the dizzy heights of 'Eavy Metal standard, but whatever way you look at it, this...
... is way, way prettier to look at than this:
Now, the thing about the Stealers is that there's 22 of them. As it is, I'm doing the work of 5 'Eavy Metal artists taking on all these minis, so I decided from the outset that the Stealers were going to have to be kept simple. As such, I've decided to skip out on shading and just go straight to line highlights for the carapace and drybrushing the fleshy bits. And, as I mentioned earlier, bony claws, not black ones. The results so far:
I love the new Stealers. To be sure, the old ones were pretty decent, especially when contrasted against the epic fail of 1st ed plastic Terminators. Thing was, you got 20 something Stealers all with the same pose. That having been said, I do think they might have gone a bit over the top with some of the new Stealers bringing their own real estate. Observe...I get the impression that somewhere along the line, they simply stopped caring about the size of the squares on the Space Hulk board.
Anyway, that more or less concludes this series on painting Space Hulk. Pics will be put up of other minis, as and when they're completed. I'm hoping to at least match or surpass Squad Lorenzo's standard when I do Squad Gideon and Librarian Calistarius.
Monday, October 12, 2009
I did stumble upon this site a couple weeks ago and memories of my wasted youth did come flooding back. Well, in retrospect, I'm not sure if wasted is the right word. These days it seems any schmuck with a pair of functional thumbs can escape into lavish, photorealistic world of mindless bloody FPS violence. But back in the day, when a 256 colour display was a luxury, there was a touch of class to gaming. There's just a certain charm to a game on four 3.5" floppies, with a 200+ page manual, 16 colours and almost no music. Do check it out. There's treasure to be found there. I for one am itching to try out the Krynn series...
In other news, I poked around a bit more on GW's site, and verily, I despaired somewhat, because the prices are simply prohibitive. A quick guesstimate puts the cost of assembling a respectable 1,500 point Imperial Guard army at about GBP400 to 500! Looks like the only way I'd ever get my hands on that is if I worked for GW again and used the luvly staff discount. But on the upside, Codices are no longer an issue, seeing as the Japanese GW site has all the major codices up as pdfs for free! In Japanese, of course. Nan da? Nihongo o wakaranai no ka?
Slightly more serious note, when I look back to my childhood in Malaysia, I have no doubt that with the exception of mathematics, I was taught more through computer games than I ever learnt through textbooks. Between games like UFO: Enemy Unknown, Civilization, SimCity, Chip's Challenge and TFX, I was introduced to logistics planning, world history, aeronautics engineering, the art of war and some good honest lateral thinking. You know, as opposed to the Malaysian education system standard of Omnomnomnom-BLEARGH!-Repeat. So my interest was piqued when I looked upon the Daedalus Project. If you're interesed in peeking at the computer game's impact on human psychology, have a read.
Here's something a bit random - ever wondered what the insides of a Lego man would be like?
Yep, someone actually did the anatomy of a Lego man. And a gummy bear and balloon dog. Go see.
Lastly, a damn good laugh. Have a peep.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Right, I think I've gone about as far as I'm willing to go with Squad Lorenzo, with the exception of the text on Zael's crests:
Now, the text is going to be fiddly. The area is big enough for me to put some readable text there, so naturally, I'm obliged to, though not quite as swish as the 'Eavy Metal version:
Man, I'd forgotten how bloody demoralizing it is to compare one's own work to 'Eavy Metal... :-( In any case, I'll have to decide at some point whether to go with 'ZAEL' or 'ザエル'. Nice part about katakana is that comprises entirely of mostly straight lines that are quite easy to execute with a very small brush. And since it's a syllabic alphabet, that'll mean I almost always have less delicate painting to do :-)
You know, before Squad Lorenzo, I've never done this before. The theory is simple enough. Take a colour significantly brighter than the base colour, then use it to draw lines along all the edges where you'd expect light to reflect. With Terminators, you won't go too far wrong with going for drawing lines on the edges of every patch of colour you can find. So around all that Blood Red armour, I took some Blazing Orange and got to work. Here's Brother Goriel showing off pre and post highlight:
As usual, simple theory. Take a brush, drown it in the colour you want to use to highlight, wipe off as much paint as you can onto a tissue or something, then run the brush over the surface you want highlighted, allowing the little remaining on the brush to catch on the raised bits. There's a lot of variations of this theme, so I'll start by demonstrating the raw, ugly version on one of the door bases. Observe:
Fail! But 2 minutes with some Boltgun Metal, a Small Drybrush and a tissue later...
Tadah! Of course, most minis won't quite be so simple, in which case drybrushing is a much more delicate operation. The trick is to find the right angle to swish your brush.
Eyes were done sorta following the GW precribed method for doing Marine eyes, over here. Because of my limited palette, I went over the whole eye once with Dark Angels Green, then highlighted the bottom half with Goblin Green, and because I'm getting too old for this and don't have access to a proper magnifying glass, I skipped out on the final highlight and the ickle dot of Skull White. So sue me. I mean, just LOOK at the size of a Fine Detail Brush* compared to Deino's head!
So if you think you can put the gleam in the eye of your Terminators, be my guest. I'm just too chicken to risk sending all that effort down the crapper with a misplaced drop of Skull White.
I was fairly pleased with how these turned out, and how well they contrasted against the armour. Once again, the GW website provided invaluable guidance, this time from the Eldar section. Mostly followed the instructions here. In this case, my colours of choice were Midnight Blue to start, Ultramarine Blue to base, leaving a dark spot in the implied direction of lighting, then a sliver of Ice Blue on the opposite end of the dark spot. Again, I skipped out on risking the blob of Skull White.
One cheeky way around this artificial gleam with Skull White jiggery pokery is to use the LAWS OF PHYSICS! Ahem. That is, put a real gleam in there instead, by making the object shiny. To do this, just coat it with Gloss Varnish. Physics = Win. Unfortunately for me, Lack of Gloss Varnish = Fail. Ah, well...
I suppose I should mention the CAT (Cyber Altered Task unit).
The Imperium of Man loves their skulls. Anyway, the CAT's here to help illustrate a small point on painting brightly coloured details. Most bright colours don't show up very well on black, even undiluted. I've no idea how many coats it would take to get Sunburst Yellow to look like that, so I used a cunning trick I picked up off a White Dwarf yonks ago: Go over the area once with Skull White, then do what thou will with whatever pretty colour you want.
However, I felt a lot of impact was lost in having black claws. No likey. So, I've deviated a bit:
My Genestealers have been based with Regal Blue for the carapace, and Liche Purple for the flesh. Highlighted by mixing in Ice Blue to the Regal Blue and Bleached Bone to the Liche Purple. Left has been highlighted, right is base coat only. Claws were done the same way I did pretty much anything boney. Basecoat of Snakebite Leather, washed in Chestnut Ink, highlighted with Bleached Bone. For claws, especially those nice big ones, I'll deliberately let the brush splay out a bit and let the paint go on slightly streaky.
Anyhoo, that's as far as I've gotten. I don't think I've missed out anything re: how to achieve the paintjob I've lavished on Squad Lorenzo. By the next post, they'll be complete pics will be posted in all their glory, with maybe a Genestealer or two. Beyond that, I'll post pics of the other marines as and when they're completed, and we'll see if there's any improvement by the time I'm done with them. I've already a couple of experiments in mind...
* Smallest brush size available, last time I checked.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
So, the basics are:
1) The mechanism for neural plasticity is more or less summed up by the Bayesian brain. It's quite heavy reading and I'm not quite sure I get all of it, but from what I can understand, the long and short of it is, the way the brain learns is to function as a predicting engine, to minimize the amount of surprises we experience. For instance, we see a physical phenomenon as a baby, like a thrown ball rising and falling back to the ground, then bouncing away. Since everything is new at first, as a baby we'd be surprised by this. As we see more of the world, we build up an intuitive set of physical laws in our head. But the thing to remember here is that the brain will try to do this in the simplest, most economical manner possible. For instance, by the time we're, say, 5, we'd know it to be blindingly obvious a thrown ball will fall back to earth, but we've no idea how to express it as a mathematical law.
So, from the moment our sensory apparatus are activated, the brain is subject to a constant stream of sensory data which builds up our understanding of the world, not all of which we are consciously aware of. The thing to remember is that, in every way, the brain always looks a little bit ahead in time an quietly tells all of our senses what to expect. If anything deviates from this, say, the experience of misjudging how many steps there are on a staircase, we get a sharp "DANGER!" signal, in the form of surprise, a brief switch into fight-or-flight mode.
Funnily enough, with a little effort, we can actively choose what we want to see, which leads me to wonder what effect our desires have on our perception. Yes, I am most certainly looking in the direction of religiously inspired hallucinations.
3) The brain comes pre-packaged with some software. Most notably, the capacity for language, as detailed by Chomsky and his Universal Grammar. More recently, Marc D Hauser, author of Moral Minds, has pushed the notion that we all carry a certain sense of Universal Morality. I've a feeling it runs deeper, but for the life of me I know not how. For instance, take phobias. I have never been bitten by a spider. No spider has ever harmed me in any way whatsoever. I've heard any number of stories from people who keep pet tarantulas that they're absolutely lovely. But when I see this:
... a part of my brain is screaming: "HOLY FUCKING SHIT RUUUUNNNNN!!!" Happily enough, I'm sufficiently in control of myself to continue this blog entry, albeit with the hairs on the back of my neck standing at attention.
Another example would be the revulsion many of us feel on encountering a cockroach. Perhaps you may recoil or grimace when I tell you that once, in a public toilet (in Malaysia, of course) while taking a leak, a whopping 2.5-inch-long roach did fly down from the ceiling, buzz around me for a bit and land next to my feet, drumming a tattoo on my left shoe with its feelers. To this day I marvel at how I managed to muster enough self-control to actually finish what I started, zip up my trousers and quietly leave the cubicle. But when you think about it, the revulsion has no real basis. I'm orders of magnitude bigger than said roach, and it is completely incapable of harming me. Even if I were to grab it and crush it in my fist (I really feel like washing my hands now) it's a mess that's easily sorted out with modern cleaning products. But even now I feel like I'd rather kill one from 2 miles away with an artillery barrage.
4) The brain has some leftover hardware. What I'm referring to here is the human's unique place in evolving on two different fronts at once, i.e. genetically and memetically. As such, urban dwellers, whose lives are more heavily influenced by memes than by genes, are sometimes led astray by hormonal urges better suited to aid in the survival of a savannah dwelling primate. And of course, some of this hardware may have something to do with the software mentioned earlier in 3).
5) Objective reality is not just an input. This is most clearly seen in the form of the placebo effect and its evil twin, the nocebo effect. In believing that an inert lump of sugar is a ground-breaking new treatment, the brain can actually convince the body that its condition is improving, a very strange case of delusion defining reality. Of course, it's a double edged sword. People convinced they're on the nasty end of a witchdoctor's curse can actually find their physical condition deteriorating.
Anyhow, that's briefly what I've got, off the top of my head (aha) re: the way the brain works. I'm-a just leave this here for now. May come back and edit this, when the mood takes me...
Oh, and before I forget, I came across a very interesting statement in Susan Blackmore Conversations on Consciousness which firmed up the way I look at the relationship between science and philosophy. I forgot who said it, and I may have put it on this blog before but I can't be arsed to check right now. What he said was something like:
Don't look to modern philosophy for answers. It has none. BUT, it has very, very good questions.
And somewhere later he mentioned that it's good old empirical science that provides the answers. It looked about right, to me.
Well, sod it. I suppose now that device on his power glove is better justified. Brother Noctis, Squad Gideon's designated pointer. Anyways, since I'm here, here's a preview of the next post on painting Space Hulk, courtesy of Brother Deino:
Almost there! Done line highlights on the armour and cloth, filled in the gems and boney skulls and drybrushed the crux on the shoulder. Will explain all this in good time. All that's left is wee details, like text* on the parchments, touching up the metal bits to give 'em some more shine, perhaps some line highlights on the crux, clean up the base and, horror of horrors, the EYES. It takes some skills to do eyes that really stand out (for the right reasons). Thing about eyes on these minis is since they're human shaped, our own eyes will be instantly drawn towards the face, so the miniscule droplets of paint that adorn the eyes can massively enhance a mini or just make it look like a well-dressed lunatic. Where's some diazepam when you need it...
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
One of the nastiest pitfalls I encountered while learning to shade was the feeling of zomgwtf-have-I-done when applying a wash for the first time. The thing to remember is that you'll be going over the raised bits again with the base coat colour, so after that, the overall effect is of really sharp, dark shadows where you'd expect them. Observe:
Zael has just been washed. Goriel has been touched up again with Blood Red. Here's Sgt Lorenzo showing what the three stages look like:
Patience is key here. At this stage, the quality of shading here far exceeds anything that could possibly be achieved with dip methods. Truth be told, a well shaded mini is already quite worthy of shop display standard, especially if the base colour is already quite bright, like Blood Red, Ultramarine Blue or Sunburst Yellow.
Another method of shading is blacklining. Again, this works better if the base colour is bright. Simply put, blacklining simply means taking Chaos Black and drawing in the shading yourself, putting black lines in all the recesses. This is a technique far, far beyond me, since it needs a steadier hand than I have, but the effect can be quite stunning.
After this, we'll be working with 2 highlighting techniques: line highlighting and drybrushing.
I think it's worthwhile to insert a brief note on order here, i.e. the order in which you lay down the colours on your mini. Ordinarily one should base coat every part of the model, then wash every part and highlight and so on. However, as I mentioned, these marines have an insane amount of bling on them. Hence, as I mentioned earlier, I'll start with the most difficult colour to reach first, then work my way upwards. Take a peek at Brother Deino:
Deino's a little further along than the rest. Alas, I rather stupidly jumped the gun and painted the chains and bling adorning his nadgers, blocking my way to his loincloth. So, tough luck to Deino, he's going to have to make do with a black loincloth. It will be highlighted, of course. You know, to make it look blacker.
Here's how Squad Lorenzo looks like at this point in time:
Note that until every part of the whole squad is base coated and shaded, I won't be moving on to highlighting. What I've done here:
Metal bits: Base coated with Boltgun Metal, then washed with Chaos Black.
Gold bits: Base coated with Burnished Gold, washed with Chestnut Ink.
Seals: Midnight Blue, and still thinking what I'm going to do with them. I've decided to deviate from the GW colour scheme and do the jewels and seals in blue, for sharper and more interesting contrast against the armour and the bling.
Crux (that thing on the left shoulder pad): Codex Grey, washed with Chaos Black.
Parchment: I figured the parchment in the GW scheme didn't look old enough, so I went with a basecoat of Snakebite Leather, washed with Chestnut Ink, touched up with Bleached Bone, then given a super thin coat of seriously watered down Snakebite Leather. Here's a closer look courtesy of Brother Zael, who appears to be the man to go to in case of unscheduled toilet breaks:
There's still a few bits on Zael that I haven't quite decided on yet, like the crests on the left... pauldron? I'm sure that's a pauldron... and right greave. And the lenses on that doohickey above his head, to the left, which for some odd reason is on the right on every other squad member.
Next update, Squad Lorenzo should be completely base coated and shaded and I'll be starting on highlights. Also, I'm going to have to get started on those Genestealers, otherwise Brother Goriel will look a right muppet:
Hum. A thought just occured to me. Many of the Genestealers have dismembered bits of marine as part of the bases. I shall paint those in the colours of another chapter. Ooh, I am cheeky...
Saturday, September 26, 2009
"In Erosion, uplift your mountain by eroding those of other players. At the end of each round, gain points for cards in your mountain and delta.
The basic rules introduce the four player actions: Weathering, Hillslope, Fluvial, and Draw Cards. The advanced rules add details: atmospheric change, ice ages, glaciers, flood volcanism, quakes, etc.
Mountains are far more dynamic than the limitations of human lifetimes would suggest. Their growth and death involve cycles that keep the planet habitable. The machinery of these cycles is called erosion: the weathering of rock and its transport to the sea. Once there, it is subducted into the mantle, where volcanoes return the silicates, sulfates, water, carbon dioxide, and oxygen to the surface.
Almost every step of the erosion process is catalyzed by water. For instance, in your turn you may weather rock using crystallization (busting rock by growing evaporated salt crystals), then transport the remains to the River using creep (movement propelled by wet/dry and freeze/thaw cycles). Once plunked in the River, the eroded material is moved as sediment to the sea. Braided rivers carry the maximum sediment load, but they are the least stable (and the trickiest to play)."
Far be it from me to judge this game before even playing it. Other titles by the same publisher include Origins: How we became Human, American Megafauna and Lords of the Spanish Main. Just looking at the titles gives me the impression I'd actually learn more from these games than I would from a Malaysian secondary school education...
Thursday, September 24, 2009
1) Base coat
2) Shading (includes washing)
3) Highlights (includes drybrushing)
This assumes an undercoat of black, of course. Be warned that the GW way is extremely meticulous. If you dig around on the net, you should be able to find any number of techniques which will give you minis that look pretty ok in a fairly short time, i.e. perhaps an afternoon to do 5 marines. This record won't cover that. I intend to come out of this with minis that you can look at and admire and, in my case, 5 years on wonder how the hell I managed to do that.
DISCLAIMER: I may have mentioned that I worked for Games Workshop once upon a time. I worked in GW RETAIL. As such, there are several different standards of painting. A rough guide, from best to worst:
1) Golden Demon - The pinnacle of the art of miniature painting. Truly, you are a god among men.
2) 'Eavy Metal - The people who do the miniatures that get photographed real nice in the magazines. Serious professional work here.
3) Shop display - Often the personal armies of particularly artistically inclined retail staff. Painted and modelled with some love, but just short of the technical expertise needed to make 'Eavy Metal standard. I'm around here.
4) Trial - Models painted to introduce newbies to GW gaming. Painted nice enough to look good on a tabletop, but not too nice, because we generally expect some arsehole to steal them at some point. The great bulk of GW hobbyist armies I've seen will fall into this category, as do dip method minis.
5) Basecoats only - Just basecoats, no shading, no highlights. Lazy bastards.
6) Fail - Monstrous parodies of the original miniatures, which can result from too much effort as easily as too little effort but nothing is as insulting to the tabletop as...
7) Unpainted - The only use you have for a paintbrush is to put a big red 'L' on your deserving forehead, you Loser.
There's any number of pitfalls for the novice painter, so out of the goodness of my heart, I'm putting up a few little tips that'll make your first attempts to painting GW-style hopefully not end in too much fail. Also, I thought it would be nice to have a photographic record of my progress. I think there's something a little magical about slowly bringing a wee lump of plastic to life with paint.
I'll be more or less following the guidelines laid out on GW's site, because a) the miniatures have all been festooned with Blood Angel iconography, so using a different colour scheme would look a little odd; and b) I lack the imagination to do so. Note, however, that the people who paint those as seen in the gallery are pros with ungodly amazing skills who will not only dot the eyes, but paint a gleam in the eye of miniatures barely the size of the top joint of your thumb. So, I'll deviate in one or two places in a manner commensurate with my own abilities and the limited number of colours I have currently at my disposal.
Tips on brush technique, assuming you are using a Citadel standard brush:
1) Protect that tip! The bristles will most certainly splay out when there's lotsa paint on it, but with small amounts of paint, the brush should be able to come to a point.
2) Don't let paint touch the metal bit. If it dries there it'll fray the brush.
3) On contact with the model, pull, never push, and definitely don't drag it sideways.
4) You may lick the brush. No, really. After giving the brush a good shake in water, I'll wipe it on a tissue, then use my tongue, curled in an 'O' to restore the brush to a sharp point. Just don't drink anything other than water when you're painting.
5) Pay attention to how you grip the brush and the mini. I find the steadiest way to grip is to place both elbows on the table, mini in left hand, brush in right and brace your wrists against each other. Also, I grip the brush the Chinese way, like so:
I find this grip gives me far better control than the usual pen grip, allows a greater range of movement and is especially well-suited to the way I hold the mini, that is, wrist-on-wrist. Also, since elbows are up on the table, you can keep sitting up straight with a decent posture, as opposed to crouching with wrists braced against the table, as some prefer. Make sure you've got a good, bright lamp, preferably one with a movable arm and you're good to go.
If, like me, this is the very first time you're painting Blood Angel Terminators, it helps to have a spare model to experiment with. This is my guinea pig of choice, Trooper Bob:
I forget where on Earth I got him, but as I continue painting the Space Hulk minis, I'll be testing colour mixes and techniques on various bits of him. I'm kinda curious how he'll turn out at the end of all this... .
So, first things first, basecoating. The dominant colour of the Blood Angels is, of course, Blood Red*. I distinctly remember this colour being an absolute bastard to work with as a kid. That's because back then, no one told me that:
a) You have to thin down the paint.
b) You have to use several coats.
Here's what the effect of each coat looks like, modeled by the exceedingly badass Squad Lorenzo**:
You may notice I've been a little sloppy with the brush at some places. This isn't really an issue. Since the paint is heavily thinned down (about 2:3 paint to water), when the paint dries, it won't obscure the detail. Since the Blood Red bits cover the most of each of the minis, I've opted to complete the base coat (i.e. 4 coats of Blood Red) and proceed straight to shading, then come back and base coat the other areas. Also, I went for Blood Red first because there's heaps of little trinkets and bits all over these guys. The Blood Red bits are underneath quite a few of these, so to minimize the impact of possible errors, I went for the colour that is most difficult to reach with the brush first.
Tips on basecoating:
1) These minis are absurdly detailed, so it really won't hurt to study the model for a bit before you start. Turn it over and over in your hand look at the way the light hits it and just get a feel for how you're going to shade and highlight it.
2) Be systematic about it. Start at one place, preferably the largest flat area you can find, then draw the paint as evenly as you can around the mini. It's a little counterintuitive at first, but ignore the fact that, the first time round, your Blood Red isn't quite Blood Red. Just remember, after 4 coats (maybe 5), it will be.
3) Make it as even as you can! Can't stress this enough! Don't let the paint pool in the crevasses, and smoosh away any bubbles you see. When these paints dry, they form a tough layer. If you let too much accumulate in the crevasses, you're making it much harder to shade later.
4) As mentioned before, don't stress too much about getting Blood Red on the wrong bits. Chaos Black is an extremely solid colour and even thinned down it will quite easily wipe away your sins at a stroke without squishing out the detail.
5) You can afford to be sloppy for basecoating the first colour. Beyond that, correcting mistakes is a LOT more troublesome. Be patient. Breathe steady. Have a tissue ready for a quick draw and wipe in the event of emergencies.
Seeing as I didn't have, as recommended by the guide, any Dark Flesh, I decided to improvise. I used Scab Red and a touch of Chaos Black to wash the Blood Red bits. Now, what 'washing' means here is to take a colour significantly darker than the base colour, thin it down to more or less the consistency of milk, then go over the base colour and deliberately let this darker colour pool in the crevasses. Sounds easy, but takes a little practice to get the hang of making surface tension work for you and letting the right amount pool in said crevasses. You may have noticed Trooper Bob's left leg has been shaded. After testing it out on Bob, I moved on to Brother Deinos below:
After washing, your mini will generally look like he's been playing in the mud. Fear not, just come back and touch up the raised areas with the base colour again.
Anyway, this is as far as I've gotten for the moment. I feel I should mention that, at this point, I've actually played the game twice; the first mission as both Marine and Genestealer. It is as they say: Painted minis roll more 6's. And red definitely makes 'em go fasta.
* All the colours I'm using are of course Citadel Colour standards.
** No, I didn't come up with these names. No imagination, remember? I'm using the names from the Space Hulk Mission and Background book. From left to right, those marines are: Brother Goriel, Brother Valencio, Brother Zael, Sergeant Lorenzo and Brother Deinos.