Monday, June 18, 2012

Where Does Bending Really Come From?

Twitter this morning prompted some really interesting discussions about the world in Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. People were mainly discussing the relationships at first which prompted a thought from myself, "Perhaps Tenzin is with Pemma instead of Lin because maybe Lin didn't want children." Now, there's no firm evidence to suggest that Lin wouldn't have wanted children, necessarily, but what if she didn't?
Incompatibility over the desire for children is an unfortunate reason to not be with someone, but it's very important to many people. I can especially imagine why it would be important for Tenzin, since he would have been (at the time) the only Airbender left. It's possible that Tenzin felt incredible pressure to pass on Airbending. Or perhaps, he was worried that if he were with Lin and if they had children, that none of them might have been Airbenders. It's impossible to know why, but it's something to think about.

This left me wondering about what it takes to becomes a bender. Is it innate or is it something that can be learned? The show certainly portrays bending as an innate skill. Benders must descend from the particular tribe that has their skill and it even seems as if a bender must have a bender for a parent (I've been trying to find proof or counter to this point and haven't been able to).

The show does seem to contradict itself w/ bending being an innate skill. For example, all of the bending origin stories are of people learning the skill from something else. Firebenders learned it from the dragons. Waterbenders learned it from the moon and ocean. Earthbenders learned it from the badgermoles. Airbenders learned it from the sky bisons. If the original benders were able to learn it from something else, then what would keep a non-bender from learning it? Are these stories false/folklore?

The "learned" aspect of bending is reinforced by the Airbenders, though. From their own description, the Air Nomads are so spiritual as a people that all of them can Airbend. If, as the origin stories and the implications of the Air Nomads' spirituality are true, then bending doesn't actually seem to be an innate skill, because then why would it be more prevalent with the Air Nomads that with the other tribes? This would appear to be at odds with many of the themes of the show. The first season contained a big panic because Aang was The Last Airbender. If bending isn't some hereditary trait then that's not as big of a deal as the show portrays it; somebody could relearn it from the extant texts. Furthermore, if bending is something that can be learned, that undermines the Equalist movement.

The spiritual connection aspect of the Airbenders and the spirit bridge aspect of the Avatar seem to imply that bending isn't something that was learned from animals or by watching the tides but has to do with one's connection to the spirits/spirit world. This is affirmed by the Waterbenders' weakness when the moon (moon spirit) is killed. But the existence of the dragons Ran and Shaw confuses this. Do the bending animals have a connection to the spirit world?

The existence of the Avatar is the biggest check mark in the spiritual connection column. Not only is this because of his role as a bridge between the spirit world and the physical world, but the way it passes from tribe to tribe upon death. Such a thing traveling around the world upon death is not something that would happen naturally. If bending comes from the spirits, keep in mind that it could still have a hereditary aspect, it just would have originated with the spirits. Something I wonder is what would have happened if Aang died a natural death with no children. Would the Avatar cycle have continued and a) skipped over air b) stalled and ended or c) created a new airbender?

Whether bending is hereditary/innate or learned is something that the show lands on both sides of. The show runs with the idea that it's hereditary/innate but so many of the clues and event in the show indicate otherwise. It's an important distinction because it definitely colors and changes so much of the tension in the show. I'm wondering/hoping that The Legend of Korra will shine some more light on this issue.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

My Journey: Becoming who I want to be

I really hope you listen to the music in this post.

As anyone who follows me on twitter is well aware, I've been applying to jobs recently. This is due to the fact that, come August 10, my job won't exist anymore as my company did not win our bid for the government contract that we currently work. I've waited until recently to do this because I wanted to get my degree wrapped up and I wanted to wait until we were closer to that last day. I wanted to wait until that last day because I don't want to leave my company high and dry without me, at least not for too long.

You see, the word "Senior" is part of my job title, and it's not because there are a bunch of "Normal' or "Junior" of my position who work below me. It's because I'm the only person with my job title. If I left there would literally be nobody to do the things that I do. There used to be at least three people who did the work that I currently do. My company also used to do Medicare work for more states, so I believe that the job necessitated that many people. However, the number of states that we work went down, and 2 of the people in my position moved on to another company in our umbrella that does private insurance. Then, the last person decided to move on as well.

When I was hired I was to replace the only person still working this job. I also only had three weeks to get up to speed. Fun fact: I had never worked with databases, SQL, or MS Access a day in my life before my first day here. Those three weeks were pretty brutal. A bunch of medical terminology was flying past my head and my predecessor/trainer tried to make sure I was acquainted with all the regular reports and analyses that I would have to perform. We did a pretty good job of it, but I was definitely not fully prepared once I was handed the reins. There was still much that I would have to teach myself, and I did.

Just a couple months into working here I was already a far more capable SQL (specifically SAS/SQL) programmer than any of my predecessors. I know this because I've had to work with all the code that they left behind. Since that's the primary method by which I do my work, that's pretty important. In December a recurring data request came up. I called one of the predecessors to find out where the code that they used to do it was and when I ran it...well, it ran for five hours and then crashed. The error produced seemed to indicate that the database server had run out of memory with which to process the request, a terrible sign indeed (since databases servers are designed to work with massive amounts of data).

So I dug into the code. The code was creating several different (temporary) tables and then writing them each to files at the end. (I would then write those files to a CD and send it off) I changed the code so that it would create one table, write it to a file, and then drop the table to free up the memory for the rest. Instead of getting all the data together and then writing it to files, I'd do it one at a time. Run again, still crash.

This time I decided to really look at the code of each query to see what it was doing. The program begins by importing some tables that will be used in the processing of all the data. Then it loads data from our tables and joins the information together. The tables that were imported at the beginning had claim information, and they were being joined with our data not on the claim number, as is typical, but on the procedure code. The problem is that procedure codes are by no means unique for each record, so this was creating a tremendous amount of duplicate information. Then the code would use the GROUP statement (by grouping on all the variables) to remove duplicates instead of the DISTINCT modifier, as one should.

I had to rewrite all these queries so that they weren't horrible. I started by writing a new query to figure out what all the procedure codes in the loaded tables were and then added a condition to the original queries that states "Only pull claims that have one of these procedure codes". Then I got rid of the imported tables completely; they weren't necessary anymore. Then I touched some things up, removed the check for duplicates since it was no longer needed, fixed syntax problems, and then I ran it. Instead of the 5 hour failure that it was before, it was a 5 minute success.

That's just one story. I'll spare you the story of the code that I literally had to print out and mark up with a pen so that I could figure out what it did and then rewrote to be at 20%-25% of its original length.

I guess this is all really about my resume, which is really weird. I just received my Masters, which took me 4 years to get, but I've been working for a year already, in a "Senior" position? It seems like all of that would raise a ton of red flags for someone looking at my resume, not to mention the two typos that I keep beating myself up over. I hate all of this because I know--I KNOW--that even though I have skill gaps and only have one year of job experience I could pick up the skills that I need very quickly on the job, and that once I had I'd be an incredibly valuable employee. This is something that I would love to be able to communicate in my cover letter but doing so would require acknowledging and pointing out a weakness that I have, which seems like a bad idea.

Over the past week I've applied at tons of places. I currently have 25 outstanding applications (those which I don't know the status of) at many different companies. Some of them I'm definitely qualified for. Some of them are a bit of stretch. I really hope that I hear back from some of these. I'm ready to move on to a more stable position in my life. Earlier, I felt stable but I still didn't have my degree, which was keeping me from feeling at peace with myself. There was still so much guilt wrapped up in that. Then I learn that I'm losing my job but now I have my degree. Fortunately, people don't really tend to lose degrees so once I get a stable job I'll feel secure.

I'm tired of being lazy and making the easy/only remaining choice. I'm done with that. So much of my life has been dictated by that. A couple months ago I was notified of a position at our parent company that my skill set applied to and I probably could have gotten easily. But I'm just not interested in working in medical insurance anymore. I could have taken it, but I decided to go the hard way and that I would try to get a position at a company that I truly wanted to work at.When we play games, we're usually playing a hero. Heroes aren't the people who make the easy decision. Heroes aren't lazy. Heroes don't wait until the last minute. Damn it, I want to be a hero. I don't necessarily want to be a hero to the world or even to a large number of people, but I want to be able to see myself as a hero. I want to be one to the children that I one day hope to have. I want to be able to look at myself and my actions and be proud. It's time for me to become the person that I want to be.

I'm going to keep applying to jobs until I get one. I'm going to keep improving on my resumes and cover letters. I'm going to start looking into filling those skill gaps that I have. I'm going to do every thing that I can to get the best damn job that I can. This way I can't look at myself and beat myself up for not trying hard enough.

I've added a new link to the top of my page. It goes to an anonymized version of my resume. I encourage you to take a look at it. If there's somewhere you think I should apply--even where you work--I am enthusiastically accepting all recommendations. My email is on it if you want to email me. You can also pass it along if you want.

Friends, if there's something that you want to accomplish, I heartily encourage that you go for it. There is not one of you that I don't wholeheartedly believe in. You may not think much of yourself, but I do. Each and every one of you has skills for which I envy you. Go for it. Why not? You deserve only the best.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

An Update on Me

I talked on twitter a while back about a presentation that I had to do that you may have been able to surmise involved World of Warcraft. However, I didn't say what it was for. It was for my Masters program. I needed to do that presentation to graduate. The real truth is that it's taken me forever to do it. For comparison, the last class I took for my degree program ended in December 2010 and for the past year and a half I have been fighting myself to do that presentation.

It all started with my biggest flaw, sloth. I didn't work on the presentation because I was worried about the cumulative exams that I have to take and whether I'd pass those. I figured I would work on it after I got past that hurdle. I got past that hurdle and there wasn't enough time left in the semester to finish the project and present it. So I planned on doing it at the beginning of the next semester.

Well, I didn't work on it because, "Hey, I have plenty of time, at worst I can just present it later in the semester." Laziness compounded on laziness and I didn't get it done by the end of the semester. This turned into me being afraid to contact my professors. What if they would judge me for my tardiness? What if they told me it's too late? Then guilt set in. I was letting down so many people by not having done this already. I couldn't even think about it without feeling bad about it, so I would avoid thinking about it, and therefore would avoid working on it.

Laziness, forgetfulness, and avoidance due to guilt built on top of each other, turning a 2 year degree into a 4 year degree.

I'm glad I don't have this kind of work ethic when I'm at a job. It somehow just seems to apply to my personal life

Finally I kicked myself in the butt and it's done. There was some judgement from my professors about the delay, but not much and everything went fine, and now I feel so much better. It damn-near literally feels like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. The question now is: "What now?"

I still have to look for a job (due to my impending unemployment), that hasn't changed. I don't feel like I'm done learning. I don't have any immediate desire to pursue a doctorate, that's for sure, but there are still things that I would like to learn. To begin, I didn't know that there are SAS (statistical software) certifications. I wasn't surprised that they exists, I just didn't know. So I'm going to be pursuing some of those.

I'd also like to get a deeper understanding of R. Right now I've been taking a "try and find solutions on the internet to your immediate goals" and I'd like to take a more structured approach. Maybe I'll buy a book, because right now I basically just now data manipulation and basic operations. I don't know how to do actual statistics with it.

I think I'll look through MIT's OpenCourseWare for mathematics/statistics courses that I could self-teach. I'm also interested in various computer science courses that relate to internet programming. I'm not interested in server stuff, but I am interested in webpage programming (in case you can't tell from previous blog posts).

Now that I'm free from the pursuit of degrees, I think I could actually enjoy taking courses. Perhaps I could take some computer science courses and fill out knowledge there that I don't have. I could make a serious effort at learning a foreign language. That is, once I find out where I'm going to be living/how employed am I going to be.

I wrote most of this about a month or even more ago. Yesterday (6/6/2012) I actually received confirmation from the office of records that I would be graduating. The request for graduation had been "pending" for so long and I was worried that it would fail to go through because of some clerical error. I'm very relieved to have this confirmation. I've been applying for jobs but I need to apply for more. I only have two months left here. There's one job application that I'm particularly excited for, but I won't say what it is (at least, not in such a public space). 

There is something that I've also been thinking about lately, which is tattoos. I've kinda been wanting one for a while. I even created a Google Docs spreadsheet of ideas. I think I may have settled on what I would get, if I ever get up the nerve to do so. I would get a lowercase tau. I've been using it long enough as part of an identity that I've really grown quite fond of it and attached to it.

I'm officially have my Master's now, and I feel pretty good about that.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Why I'm Not Combining Gems Until the Patch 1.0.3

A change is coming to Diablo III where it will take fewer gems to combine into higher gems. Here is the relevant quote
...reduce the cost of combining gems so that it only requires two gems instead of three (up to Flawless Square)...
 This will occur in patch 1.0.3. I took this to mean that it will only take two to make something of Flawless Square quality or below. For an individual tier, this isn't a big deal, but as you work your way up to Flawless Square it becomes rather significant.

Number of Chipped gems to make...
GemNew CountOld Count
Flawless Square1282187

As you can see this is a pretty significant change.  After a few tiers the difference becomes great. For example: 9 chipped gems would just make you a regular gem in the current system, but would make a flawless gem in the post patch system and leave you 1 chipped gem. That's an extra upgrade with a chipped left over.

The potential gains that you can achieve by waiting until the patch to combine gems. Blizzard is making this change partly because it's most cost effective to just sell chipped gems instead of combining them to make higher gems to sell on the auction house. However, the price has also tanked so they're basically selling at vendor price, defeating the purpose. Making it easier to make higher level gems will hopefully rectify this situation. I'd be willing to bet that if this change isn't significant enough that they'll push this change up to higher tiers as well.

So I'll just wait until the patch to combine my gems thank you very much.

UPDATE: In addition to lowering the number of gems needed to combine, they are also drastically reducing the associated gold cost to combine gems at these levels. Relevant post here.