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The Dungeons of Despair

Posted on May 26th, 2020

Dave!Today was not a great day.

The brain rewiring I've had to learn in order to deal with my dyslexia falls apart when I'm tired or stressed or upset, and today I was all three. This makes reading a challenge... but also creeps into my ability to speak properly when things get really bad. Today I had multiple times where I couldn't find my words, something that hasn't happened in years. It's frustrating. It's embarrassing. It's just plain tough to deal with.

It's the pandemic. It's the easily debunked conspiracy theories. It's the politics. It's the uncertainty. It's the inhumanity. It's the lack of empathy and kindness.

It's a woman in Central Park weaponizing her white tears in a staged 9-1-1 call in an attempt to "kill via police" a Black man who had the audacity to ask her to obey the law and please leash her dog.

It's all of it. It's everything.

The world we have right now is not conducive to my living in it, and I honestly don't know what I can do about it. Probably nothing.

But I gave it a try when I bought Minecraft Dungeons from the Nintendo Switch eShop.

After all things LEGO, my favorite genre of video game is dungeon crawlers. I love the exploring and discovery and secrets and, of course, battling monsters for loot. The Diablo trilogy... the Baldur's Gate games... even the cutesy RPG crawlers like Fire Emblem, Trials of Mana, and (of course) the myriad of Final Fantasy games... I enjoy them all (and it's thanks to the first one I played, Dungeon Master on my Atari ST computer).

And while I don't play Minecraft, I was intrigued when I found out we were getting Minecraft Dungeons because I could use a fun dungeon crawler right about now.

The game starts out pretty simplistic. Exploration is curbed as you learn to fight enemies and follow the linear path laid out before you. At the mid-point of the game, things become more challenging and, if I'm being honest, a lot more fun. There's more to see, explore, and do, and the enemies no longer roll over and die at the sight of you. I've likely got another hour or two of gameplay left, but right now I'm digging it because I'm having to put a little more thought into how I'm approaching a level. Would have been nice if they started here, but it's all good.

I'm not anticipating things getting absurdly difficult, but I'm guessing the end won't be a cake-walk either. Apparently once you beat the game you can replay it at a higher difficulty, so that might be fun. And since the maps are (reportedly) procedurally-generated, it might be a slightly different experience, which is nice.

If you've played Diablo, you've pretty much played Minecraft Dungeons. The similarities are striking, even if the visuals are radically different. Mojang Studios used the same 8-bit blocky graphics they used for the original Minecraft, but they're really pretty and polished in this game. Sure, sometimes it can be annoying because it can be tough to get a bead on things quickly, but overall I really enjoy the aesthetic they dreamed up (and would probably appreciate it even more if I was more familiar with Minecraft).

Another departure from this Diablo clone is the class and weapon enhancement system. As in, there isn't classes and weapon enhancements can be recovered and redistributed as you upgrade your weapons. Being able to define and change your play style by not having to commit to a character class is simplistic and unrealistic (in context) but I rather like it. And you're not going to hear me complain about being able to transfer enhancements (or "enchantments" as they call them) to new weapons I like.

Right now I'm playing solo, but Minecraft Dungeons allows for 4-player co-op, which is something I'd really like to try. It seems like the entertainment value from multi-player would probably allow me to more easily gloss over the shortcomings of a simplistic game like this. The problem is that I can't cross-play with my friends who are playing on a platform other than another Nintendo Switch. This blows and, when I searched for it on the internet, I found that Mojang Studios is planning on providing a free update that will allow it. Since the only other people I know playing this are not doing so on a Switch, I guess I just have to be patient and hope that they aren't bored with the game by the time cross-play is released.

Ultimately I like this game. It feels like it's going to be a bit short and lacking the complexity I usually enjoy in a dungeon crawler, but it's also just $19 so at least it's priced accordingly. The fact that it's essentially a LEGO video game with different visuals is the real draw for me, however. In a time when the Real World seems like a void of despair from which I can never escape... being able to escape into Minecraft Dungeons is a welcome distraction.

   

Dazeem

Posted on March 3rd, 2014

Dave!There's some irony that my copy of the Kickstarter-backed book project I wonder what it's like to be dyslexic shows up the day after John Travolta transformed "Idina Menzel" into "Adele Dazeem" while introducing the singer at the Oscars.

I, for one, don't know whether or not John Travolta has dyslexia. It doesn't show up in his Wikipedia profile, and a cursory Google search doesn't reveal an interview where he discusses it. When people talk about John Travolta having dyslexia, I think they are confusing him with fellow Scientologist Tom Cruise, who has stated that Scientology helped him to overcome his dyslexia. Honest mistake, I guess.

However... as somebody who lives with a mild form of dyslexia, I can say that mangling "Idina Menzel" into "Adele Dazeem" certainly feels like something which can be attributed to dyslexia. But not everybody with dyslexia experiences it the same way, so the only person who can say for sure whether it was a factor is... John Travolta.

All I can do is speculate based on my experience, which would go something like this...

For the most part, seeing words as being made up of letters is not how I read. The Roman alphabet upon which English writing is based has letterforms that easily transform or flipped around when viewed individually. Thus my mind can play havoc with "p" and "q" and "d" and "b"... all of which can be mistaken for each other. And that's just the beginning. English has numerous complexities that make understanding words from letters no easy chore.

Nope. How I seem to read is to recognize words by their shape... as most people do, to a certain extent. But since I ignore the letters, which can be confusing, the shape alone is critical to comprehension. Which is why there are many factors that lead to how easily and how quickly I can absorb something. The contrast between letter color and the background color... the size of the text... how far apart the letters are... how wide the letters are... how tired I am... etc. etc. etc. But the biggest factor by far? The typeface (or font) used. If things get too fancy or deviate too far from the standard letterforms I read 96% of the time, my reading speed takes a dive and things get a bit difficult...

Dyslexic Shape

As illustrated above, cursive fonts are the worst. Unlike "standard" serif and sans-serif fonts which maintain a distinct shape... cursive writing just degenerate into a mess of lines to me. There's no "form" for me to pull out of the words, so I have to struggle through the actual letters to try and figure out what I'm reading. As you can imagine, things like wedding invitations, fancy poetry journals, and the like can be a real bitch.

Which brings us to Adele Dazeem.

Reading by shape pretty much requires that most of the words you're reading are words you're familiar with and can recognize.

"Idina" and "Menzel" are not such words. Beautiful as it is, John Smith it ain't. Enter the dyslexic swapity-do, where syllables get shuffled in your head as you strugle to make sense of the letters and what they're spelling to you...

Dyslexic Shuffle

Now, I'm not making excuses here. I don't even know for sure if Travolta is dyslexic. If he is though... the pressure of presenting an unfamiliar and difficult name live in front of a bazillion Oscar viewers is going to be rough-going no matter how much you've prepared. Even if he memorized the intro, it's not a guarantee of success when words are a struggle for you. All I can say for sure is this: If John Travolta is dyslexic, I very much admire the guts it takes to put yourself in a high-pressure situation (like live television) where words are involved.

And while I think it's a bit harsh to make fun of someone who is challenged with something as fundamental as reading... having a sense of humor over stuff like this is kinda essential.

Thus I, Dawid Shunter, give you... The Adele Dazeem Name Generator!

Here's hoping your Monday was better than John Travolta's.

Unless you ARE John Travolta, in which case... I LOVED YOU IN PULP FICTION!

   

Bullet Sunday 354

Posted on November 10th, 2013

Dave!Stop pondering how many licks it takes to get to the middle of a Chicken McNugget... because Bullet Sunday starts now...

   
• Blacklisted. As a James Spader fan, it was a no-brainer to add his latest television effort, The Blacklist to my DVR. But the previews and ads for the show kind of led me to believe that it was a bad Silence of the Lambs rip-off with Spader as a poor man's Hannibal Lecter, so I kept putting it off (there's already a television version of that running). Well, yesterday I finally got around to watching it... and am completely hooked. Yes, there are familiar elements here, but the show itself is so much more...

The Blacklist Poster

But the highlight is Spader, of course. Very few people could pull off this role in a way that's so darkly entertaining yet somehow likable. This... this... is everything the Hannibal television show should have been, but doesn't quite reach. Highest recommendation. If you've been missing it, the iTunes Music Store currently has a Season Pass for the show on sale for $35 so you can start from the beginning (and I recommend you do).

   
• Lion. If you haven't yet read about the lion cub that was rescued by two guys from the Modisa Wildlife Project in Botswana, here you go!

Lion Hug

The TED Talk by the Modisa Wildlife Project's Mikkel Legarth is also worth a look.

   
• Faith. I... do not... have the... words... God exists, and he's working at Taco Bell...

Taco Bell Cinnabon Bites

I'll be trying these bad boys post-haste!

   
• Visits. Most "States I've Visited" maps are a binary "yes or no" type affair. Jeremy Nixon has come up with an alternative that provides a much better picture...

Defocus Visits Map

Red states are those you've barely visited. Orange states you know a little better. Blue states you've spent quite a lot of time in. Green states are those you know extremely well. Cool, huh? You can make your own map over at Jeremy's Defocus Blog.

   
• Dyslexic. I was very lucky that I was diagnosed early and got help when I was young enough to make a difference in my life. I'm also fortunate that my form of dyslexia is mild and I was able to train my brain to cope with it relatively easily. Still, dyslexia is something I have to deal with every day, so I was really happy to see this amazing project on Kickstarter called "I wonder what it's like to be dyslexic" which features a book that attempts to illustrate what it's like to struggle with reading. They've reached their funding goal, but such a beautiful and educational book deserves to be seen by everybody, so here you go!

More information can be found on Kickstarter.

   
• Storm. My thoughts are with everybody in The Philippines after Super Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the region this past week. The devastation looks horrendous, and they are estimating the dead could top 10,000 people across the country. As I type this, the storm has landed in Vietnam, and is expected to cause heavy rains and flooding in the northern part of the country... including Hanoi, where I was visiting just last month...

NOAA Haiyan Map
Haiyan chart image taken from NOAA.

As if these storms aren't frightening enough, scientists are projecting that things are only going to get worse. Severe storms are going to form more frequently and be stronger than ever before. If science is right, life on this planet is going to have to change quite dramatically over the next century. Whether we like it or not.

   
See you in seven days.

   

Amaranthine

Posted on August 9th, 2011

Dave!Today's "Word of the Day" over at Dictionary.com is "amaranthine."

1. Unfading; everlasting. 2. Of or like the amaranth flower. 3. Of purplish-red color.

I'm a big fan of "word of the day" type sites, and bounce between Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster.com to get my fix (M-W's word today is "diluvial"). Not that I ever remember these words again after I read them, but it's fun for the moment.

Anyway...

I bring this all up because "amaranthine" is a word I actually know in the context of "everlasting."

As in, I have dyslexia, which is amaranthine in nature.

When I was very young... 1st or 2nd grade in school... I was tested for dyslexia because I exhibited some of the symptoms. After a couple weeks evaluation it was determined that I did indeed have dyslexia, albeit a fairly mild form of it. This meant that I had to attend special classes with Mrs. Patton to teach me how to compensate for my problem. After a couple months they decided that the classes weren't doing me any good, and I was doing a better job of teaching my brain how to handle it by myself.

And eventually I got a handle on it.

I "read" more by the shapes of words and their context rather than the letters they contain.

I "type" more by memorizing patterns of keystrokes instead of punching the alphabet.

I "write" using visual clues that help me to keep the letters going the right way.

Original Squid Writing

It works automatically after all these years and I don't even have to think about it. Which is not to say that I don't still run into trouble from time to time. Usually I start mixing things up when I am tired or the the words are printed on something really distracting. Single words out of context can be problematic if they're written in a typeface that doesn't maintain common letterforms. Numbers sometimes have to be looked at two and three times before I'm confident enough to act upon them. And so on.

I can go weeks... even months... at a time before I "remember" that I have dyslexia. Something will happen to draw my attention to it, and then I'll spend a couple days not being able to forget it, which is always fun.

And this morning I was "reminded" of my dyslexia again. But in a good way.

A company in the Netherlands has developed a typeface called "Dyslexie" which is specially designed to help dyslexics...

Sweet!

Unfortunately, it's not priced for public consumption (yet), nor does it seem to be available in the USA (yet), but it's still pretty exciting news. Being able to install it on my Mac for web browsing and email reading might make my day a little less mentally tiring.

And every little bit helps.

Because life isn't amaranthine at all.

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