In Goss We Trust

Polar Musings ~ Dreams of the Ice Fronteir

(Picture from http://antarcticmicrobes.edublogs.org/ )

I have an unusual fascination with the Antarctic and Arctic. To me they represent the grandeur of our planet, the extreme of our natural wilderness, rivalled only by our oceans. The vast nothingness and awesome scale of the landscape appeal to a part of me that craves solitude and calm. I don’t mean being alone, simply a place where the outside world means nothing and you and whoever you are with can take in what is surely an incomprehensible natural wonder. 

If I get stressed with work or the general public, I think about how wonderful it would be to be stationed at one of the Antarctic telescopes, spending my day immersed in the sheer beauty of both the planet and the stars. I imagine the peace and happiness that comes with that immersion. Obviously, I would miss the luxuries of everyday life (I’m sure my wallet would be happier) but staring out into the most gorgeous sunsets on the planet, some of which last weeks, I think I would be a richer man in a far more meaningful way.

(Picture from http://www.antarctica.gov.au/ )

There is actually quite a lot happening at both poles. Research scientists, astronomers, biologists and sometimes tourists all go about their business, mingling with penguins, sea leopards, whales and polar bears. Micro research is conducted in the shadow of massive glaciers. Studies currently going on in Alaska may even help to answer questions such as “Is there life beyond our planet?”. By the logic of the Drake equation, an understanding of Arctic and Antarctic life, particularly their sea life, may help us to explore Jupiter’s moon, Europa to search for life in its gigantic ice-covered oceans.

These are fundamental studies into our very existence. This kind of work, in this kind of environment, casts the very notion of working on “Buy One, Get One Half Price” offers into irrelevance. (I’m being dramatic of course, but you get the idea.)

The polar ice caps are majestic in their being; silent and ageless, monolithic in their glory. I hope one day I will see their beauty with my own eyes.

Back in the Saddle ~ Truth & Ink

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It feels good to be back writing again. I have the old energy in my veins again, that wanderlust for the sentiments of youth that must out themselves in truth and ink.

I sat down today and I wrote, honestly, for hours. It felt good and pure and inspiring. I have a story in my head that I’m trying to tell. Not of cursed books or epic myths, just simply about my generation. Our age is important. We have an uphill battle worth chronicling. I feel like I’ve bled today to bring something worthwhile to the party. I have a good start. I have to keep going. Can’t let work or the internet distract me from this endeavour. It feels too important to my own well-being. 

This is a work born of the love, respect and admiration I have for my friends and family. I hope someday it will see fruition and you can read it. Until then, it’s good to see the flames lit once again. The engines are roaring. The work goes on.

-Billy

The Long Bright Dark ~ “It’s gonna rain down like black hell…”

There are moments of clarity when you reach down and pick up the fragments of what another human being has torn down and you see through the density of human darkness. It is a moment of pure humanity amongst the animals.

In the past week several of my friends got robbed, their homes broken into and their possessions stolen. Both friends live in different parts of the world and the incidents were unrelated but sometimes this run of darkness can seem pervading, all conquering and destabilising. A lot of people I know had bad weeks recently and it is usually because of someone else’s lack of respect for another. I have seen friends crushed by the actions of others and I hate it.

Maybe at certain times the dark edges over the light. It creeps in through the shadows that stark sunlight can cast. To paraphrase Cormac McCarthy, these shadows are black tentacles binding us to the darkness. 

I can’t rest. My mind is racing constantly and it won’t slow down. It is a hundred miles per hour thought, worry and uncertainty. Sometimes we fall into the darkness. I wonder sometimes why we bother being good people when the bad always wins and even worse, goes unchallenged.

I can be very confrontational when I encounter someone who is inconsiderate of others. I don’t know what makes my eyes roll into my head and ignite the spark. I don’t take it any more. Not from random assholes. I get verbal. I call people on their actions. Yet I regret it each time I light on someone because invariably it is triggering a dark emotion. We are all learning how to live in this black hell.

So why bother? We are pollutants in our world. To quote Rust Cohle in the TV series True Detective,

We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self; an accretion of sensory, experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody. Maybe the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight - brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.”

It is tempting to agree. I thought about what my answer would be. I am anti-social at the best of times. Why would I bother being good when the world allows the bad to flourish? 

I guess my answer is not to the world at large but to those who feel the stress of existing in this world in the small moments, in the painful seconds when you reach down and pick up the fragments of what was lost. In that dark moment of blinding clarity and sadness, I want you to know that good people will always be near, hiding in the shadows, light in the dark. I don’t want anyone to feel that loss of hope. It’s reason enough.

myedol:

The Story by Mobstr

This put a smile on my face. Continuing on from Mobstr’s "Playing With The Buff Man" series, The Story tells the tale of the on going dance between the artist and the so called “Buff Man” as they both fight for control over the wall.

Artists: | Website | [via: Vandalog]

(via thebrockway)

Capturing the beauty and tragedy entrenched in our Irish heritage, in particular the history of Croke Park, I present to you this beautiful song written and performed by my friends, Tourist Walk.

After Dark ~ What I Think About When I Read Haruki Murakami

To paraphrase the author himself, Haruki Murakami is like a fine whiskey, first you gaze, then you drink. I first learned of Murakami’s work through my sister. She owns his entire bibliography and enthusiastically recommended them for being utterly unique. This week, after borrowing my sister’s books for so long, I took the plunge and bought my own complete set. It is money well spent. His writing is consistently brilliant, thoughtful and insightful. 

Murakami’s books are post-modern, surreal and yet imbued with a melancholy and subdued nostalgia for people, places and emotions that ground the protagonist in a recognisable reality.  I have long tried to put into writing the moods I feel, often wishing I could convey emotion and colour the way certain songs can. Murakami is possibly the closest an author has come to doing so in my mind. Like F. Scott Fitzgerald (whom Murakami has translated into Japanese), Murakami captures fleeting moments with a delicate longing and resolute nobility.

He also has a lifelong obsession with music, inserting plentiful music references into his books. In his younger days, Haruki Murakami owned a jazz bar and his love for the genre is apparent in everything he does, from off-kilter rhythms, to lilting melodies. His love for music is something I identify with. In fact it is perhaps his passion for his hobbies (which also include marathon running) that translate into passion in his writing. He is an author who is resolute in his passion for life and it carries into his work. It is inspiring. 

If I can follow his trajectory, I know I will have achieved something worthwhile. Not in terms of acclaim or success, but in his passion for living. 

Haruki Murakami’s latest novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is released in English in the UK on August 12th.

I sit down at my desk and nothing comes — no ideas, no words, no scenes. Not too long ago I had a million things to write about. What in the world’s happening to me?

—Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart

(Source: rimudo)

To Saturn & Beyond! ~ My Favourite Video Games of All Time

Despite the haughty dismissal often afforded to video games by the cultural elite, the medium has emerged from the underground of the eighties and nineties and exploded into the forefront of the entertainment scene. Perhaps the most unexpected development from their increase in popularity is their progression as a story-telling medium. Some of the greatest stories I have ever encountered have been in the form of video games. Over on IGN.com the editorial staff have been compiling their favourite games of all time and it has inspired me to take a look back over my own history with video games from Sega to Sony and present to you, my ten favourite games of all time.

In reverese order:

10) Unreal Tournament

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Unreal Tournament on PC had me hooked. It was a game based solely around multiplayer and it was sublime. The endlessly customisable options and frenetic, run and gun gameplay was complimented by intelligent A.I., a great soundtrack and a buttery smooth framerate. It did every classic shooter game (deathmatch, capture the flag, etc…) with style and awe and it was never bettered. 

9) Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness & Beyond The Dark Portal

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I played Warcraft II on the Sega Saturn and it was my first foray into the RTS genre. Before the juggernaut online World of Warcraft (which I never bothered with), developers Blizzard were kings of the Real Time Strategy game and Warcraft II was a glorious Lord of the Rings/Game of Thrones mash-up with depth and character. I lost hours to Tides of Darkness and its expansion pack Beyond The Dark Portal, gathering resources like wood and oil and forging catapults and battle ships to stop the Orcish Horde. 

8) The Sims

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Who knew the mundane tasks of everyday life could make for a compelling video game? Maxis did, and when they unleashed The Sims on PC in 2000 they enslaved millions to its intensive micromanagement and quirky humour. In all honesty I still got a twinge of excitement when researching screenshots for this post and recalling the feeling of achievement when I bought my struggling Sim his first sofa. 

7) Pokémon Red

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In 1999 Pokémon ruled all. I have probably sunk more hours into this game than any other. It was always on my person, every spare moment was spent battling and completing the Pokédex. There was no escape from the phenomenon that was Pokémon and with my treasured Bulbasaur, I caught them all. I even took my team on the road. Pokémon Championship 2000 toured the UK and my best friend and I went to Belfast to compete. Perhaps that was Pokémon’s biggest achievement: it brought a social element into the game through the trade mechanic and multiplayer battles. 

6) Shadow of the Colossus

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Shadow of the Colossus on PS2 was one of those games that made you stop and stare. It was a gorgeous, challenging and thought-provoking game that centred on a young man’s attempt to save the life of a girl. To do so, he is tasked by the celestial voices of a temple to find and slay 16 gigantic colossi, beasts that roam the expanse of this forbidden land, and release the power that resides within them.

It was a lonely game that made the player think about the consequences of his or her actions. Each colossus was a challenge, a level and a boss in one and taking each one down was an achievement, except one which filled you with regret. Here you were in a sacred land and each majestic creature you felled took with it a piece of your soul. Who was really the villain of this story?

To this day, a masterful experience.

5) Final Fantasy VII

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I spent an entire summer playing only Final Fantasy VII. Its story and characters are among the most iconic in gaming and the love and care in its telling make it one of the most memorable games in existence. From the dilapidated ruin of Sector 7, to the scarred town of Nibelheim and the rustic charm of Cosmo Canyon, the world of Midgar was vibrant and alive. It is the cream of the RPG crop and one which has inspired countless imitators. 

4) Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles

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My earliest gaming experience was playing the original Sonic the Hedgehog on my uncle Cormac’s Sega Mega Drive. I was the obligatory bored child at an adults dinner party and my aunt Alison sat me on a tall chair in front of a portable television in the kitchen and showed me Sonic the Hedgehog, quite possibly the greatest thing my three-year old eyes had ever seen.

Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were two parts of one epic game. Each was playable on its own but the S&K cartridge had a lock-on feature which allowed you to connect it to the Sonic 3 cartridge to play the full Sonic 3 & Knuckles game. It was the Sonic formula at its absolute zenith and is probably the purest gameplay experience this side of Mario.

3) Final Fantasy X

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I fell in love with Final Fantasy X. The characters, the story, the battle system: each was perfect in Square’s first PS2 entry in the series. It was also the first to feature voice-acting.

FFX felt like a grand adventure. Protecting Yuna on her pilgrimage became my life’s goal. The player’s character, Tidus, was a man out of time, as new to this world as we were, and every new experience or location  resonated because of it. I grew to care about my allies, about the people of Spira and the ideals of different people when confronted with disaster and tragedy and when the final emotional wallop hit near the end, I was devastated. 

It pays to invest in Final Fantasy X. It had a rich levelling up system and side-quests as well an engaging art design heavily inspired by Japan’s Okinawa region. The way it channelled the player’s emotions with savage, often emotionally charged boss battles, and quiet delicate character moments was expertly handled by the geniuses at Square. They still haven’t yet returned to those heights.

2) Resident Evil 2

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I can’t remember how many times I have played through Resident Evil 2. It is a focused, tense, gory masterpiece. Depending on which disc you started playing, you took on the role of Leon S. Kennedy or Claire Redfield (sister of Resident Evil 1’s Chris Redfield) and played alternate stories as you tried to escape the city and uncover the truth of the Umbrella Corporation’s bio-weapons programme.

The game was pitch perfect in it’s script, music and art direction. The gameplay featured the original’s “tank” controls but instead of a hindrance they became a way of making you claustrophobic, enhancing the idea that you really were trapped here, that the dead are slowly closing in around you and there’s not enough ammo. 

I can still hear the ominous chimes of the R.C.P.D. Main Hall in my dreams.

1) Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

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Metal Gear Solid 3 is the greatest game I have ever played. It is an emotionally gruelling, often astonishing game. Taking place in the mid sixties, you play Snake, a special ops soldier sent into the Russian jungle to kill your old mentor who has defected.

The trek behind enemy lines will test you every step of the way as you try to remain hidden with camouflage, infiltrating camps and bases, taking out guards and tending to your injuries. The boss battles against the Cobra Unit are expertly realised. There is one in particular, a real time sniper battle across miles of jungle with a Cobra member called The End, that is a true highlight. It tests your endurance and your tracking abilities as you lay in wait, listening for bird calls and setting traps, peering through your scope for hours in the hope of catching a glimpse of the old sniper. And it really can last hours.

The battle is followed by a 3 or 4 minute ladder climb that gives you time to take in the awesomeness of what just happened. 

The story is a juggernaut, dealing with betrayal, patriotism, guilt and survival. The cast is iconic: Snake, The Boss, Eva, Ocelot, the Cobra Unit… Each are fully realised with motivations and goals and fears, propelling the story, the finale of which is an absolute powerhouse. I won’t spoil it, so much to say as I was left speechless in front of the TV screen, on the brink of tears as the credits rolled. 

All Metal Gear games are special but Metal Gear Solid 3 was perhaps the series at the point of true art.

Honourable Mentions: 

Sim City 2000, DMC Devil May Cry, Devil May Cry 3, Final Fantasy IX, Doom, Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Sega Worldwide Soccer ‘98, Valora Valley Golf, God of War 3, Batman: Arkham City.