Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hair Story

Hey guys a new blog that isn't a blog but is a vlog. If all vlogs are blogs, but all blogs are not vlogs, what is Alex?

Anywho...this is something I would have made into a blog but instead chose to do it as a vlog because it's just more of a visual thing. It is about hair! Kind of random, but maybe you will find it interesting. It is a story!

I also failed using my new mic. I didn't have it plugged in all the way so it didn't record jack. Had to use the bad camera audio. Oh well live and learn.

I need to figure out a new custom thumbnail for my videos. Youtube chooses the worst frames...

Friday, April 25, 2014

Fiesta 2014

This guy's hat was awesome.
   Every year in San Antonio people get ready for a city wide event in the Spring. It's a nice way to welcome Spring if it is nothing else. This event is none other than "Fiesta." Today I went downtown to pack onto the sidewalks with thousands of other people to watch one of two parades, hear music, smell expensively priced food, and watch people get drunk.

   Although they are not really part of Fiesta, the whole thing starts with the Strawberry Festival in Poteet, a neighboring city, and the Oyster Bake. After that there is a whole bunch of events during the week prior. It is no surprise to see about 2 cookouts or parties on your block for seemingly no reason.  Finally on the Friday of Fiesta San Antonio schools, businesses, and offices close up shop and everyone heads downtown for the day parade. I really do mean everyone, there are tons of people that pack onto the parade route and even more milling around the stands. If you are a people watcher like I am, this is an awesome day to do so.

   After the first day it's not over. No way, the very next day there is also a night parade. This one is particularly fun because most adults are out of work. (Those who work for companies that don't close for Fiesta.) All of the parade participants usually put on a cool light show as they walk by and the whole thing is pretty spectacular to witness.

I wanted to reach over and steal those bell peppers.
   Fiesta has a lot of history to it and not being from San Antonio originally I sadly do not know most of it. Shame on me for not learning it after 5 years but, well, what can you do? Actually I don't feel too bad about that, ask any local what Fiesta is about and they'd probably say, "I don't know...getting drunk?" They'd be right too because that's about the sum of it all...and food.

   It really is a lot of fun though and it's good to see people of all ages and walks of life just coming together to celebrate basically being from San Antonio. It really makes you feel like part of San Antonio when you go and you feel proud. Whatever it is you go for, you won't be disappointed.

Check out the video I made. In it I show you some of what goes on at Fiesta!

Link to the official site:

Thursday, April 24, 2014

It Doesn't Matter if You're Black or White

I was inspired to write this post after talking to a friend tonight. So thank you friend.

No clue what this was about.
   My friend messaged me out of the blue tonight and after a bit of talking she told me she had seen my blog and some of my photos. I have encouraged her for a long time to pick up a used cheap dslr and learn some photography basics. She is always taking photos any ways, might as well be learning something other than a camera phone along the way.
   Anyways she mentioned that she likes black and white photography and said that I use black and white a lot. I never really noticed but I suppose I do. After thinking a little bit about it, I would like to share why I personally like black and white photography. You are free to disagree with me, and that is good, different strokes for different folks right? Photography is subjective.
   First off, for any beginners, never put your camera into black and white mode. I guess that's what it is called, I have no idea because I never use it. Instead take the photo in normal color and convert it to black and white when you process it. I say this for a few reasons, but one major and simply put reason is that, what if you end up liking it in color more than black and white? It happens and if you didn't capture it in color in the first place....oops.
Kodak B&W film.
   So here I will go through the reasons most people choose black and white over a full color image. Some of these I agree with and some I don't but here they are.

Nostalgia: Many of us photographers started with film. Even many younger photographers, like myself, began with a film camera. If you have never shot a roll of black and white film, I really feel for you. It is something that is very very hard to replicate with digital photography. Many people come close, but there is always something missing. When you see a well shot roll of black and white film it just pulls on your heartstrings in a way that digital just cannot do.

Noise: Something that has always been prevalent in photography is noise. In film it was called grain. At high ISOs (future "Photography Basics" post) there is something called digital noise that shows up in your image. This is when small little dots that look purple, red, pink, and all sorts of colors show up in your image. Digital noise is very complicated to explain and I could write a whole boring post on how electricity, heat, and so on introduces Gaussian noise and the like but I will spare you the dissertation. All you need to know is that some people convert a colored photo with a lot of noise in it to black and white to make the noise instead look like film grain. To some extent this is effective and looks sort of convincing sometimes. However, film grain in certain amounts was very nice and added a sort of gritty feel to a black and white image.

Poor Exposure: This goes along with high noise but doesn't necessarily need to. Sometimes people convert to black and white to "cheat." Basically if the photo needs a lot of editing, converting it to black and white first will hide some of your edits because you won't see crazy color shifts.

Poor Colored Lights: Sometimes, especially in concerts, lights are awfully colored for cameras. Think of a concert, there are often red, blue, purple, and yellow lights flashing on and off. For our eyes this is spectacular, but our eyes are amazing things that we have been trying to reproduce synthetically for a long time. Because we have failed to do so, cameras cannot handle these odd colors as well as we do. Besides, even if cameras could, who wants to see a blue faced red bodied singer? Unless you are at the concert, a still image when viewed in that way for the first time can look very odd. Converting to black and white gets rid of this issue which is why you will see many live band photos in black and white.

Photo taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson NOT by me.
Art: Some of this goes with nostalgia. For some people the look of black and white is simply an artistic choice. It also reminds us of a great era of photography as art and photojournalism. One of my favorite photographers, for instance, is Henri Cartier-Bresson who shot in an era of black and white film. The 50's 60's and 70's also brought us some of the most memorable music photography and much of that was black and white.

Contrast: Contrast is the relationship between highlights and shadows. The further they are from each other, or, the brighter a highlight is and darker a shadow is, the more contrast a photo has. Black and white photography shows contrast in a very pure way since our brain does not have to process complex colors. Simply black and white (and gray if you want to be specific) and the relationship between them. I love photos with heavy contrast and this is one of the main reasons I arrive at black and white more often than not.

Simplicity: Sometimes simplicity is what we need more of in our life. Black and white can draw attention to a subject sometimes when nothing else can. Suppose for a moment that you are taking a photo of someone and right behind them is the brightest blue wall in the history of bright blue walls. In certain situations this would cause our eyes to focus less on the person and more on the bright blue wall. Subtract the color and all of a sudden your eyes no longer have ADD.
There were tons of crazy distracting lights and I wanted the focus to be the little girl looking at her father.
   I suppose there are more reasons for choosing black and white over color, or vice versa, but it all comes down to what you like as the photographer. Just keep in mind that, as with all things, black and white is good in moderation. Not every photo looks best in black and white. Likewise, not every photo looks good in color. Really take a look at the photo and figure out what is important. Sometimes the color is what really makes a photo stand out, sometimes not.

Whip out your camera and make a black and white scene!

Article on Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Photo Basics: Aperture

 If you would also like to see a video I made on this topic, click here to go to my YouTube channel.

   Ever seen those beautiful images with a very strong subject in the foreground, and a nice dreamy out of focus background? I am sure that at some point you have tried to replicate that in some way. With the advent of digital photography it has become a lot easier to fake this look, but it still does not look the same. The reason being is that it is actually something that happens as a natural flaw of photography lenses. The reason it seems most appealing to us is because our human eye does not have this flaw. Actually it sort of does, just not so pronounced. Today I want to talk a little bit about what causes this look, how to create it, how to use it tastefully, and I will help you understand your camera a little better so that you can take this technique and apply it (again TASTEFULLY) to your images.

Example of overlapping blades at the smallest aperture f/16
   So aperture, what is aperture? Inside your lens there are a number of blades that overlap each other. When moved they will make a small hole, or a large one to allow more or less light in.

   On your lens there will be a number that will tell you just how large those blades can open. This is called the "f stop" and usually looks like f/1.8 f/2.8 something like that. On the lens it will likely show something like 1:1.8.

My favorite lens at it's largest aperture f/1.8
   This number can get a little bit confusing because it is kind of backwards. The lower the f number the larger the blades are opened. The higher the number, the smaller the blades are open. Take a look at both of my examples to the right. I show the lens at f/16 and also at f/1.8. Which do you think will allow the most light into your camera? If you chose f1.8 you would be correct.

   So going back to what I was saying earlier, when you want to really isolate your subject from the background, you use a large aperture (low f number) to cause the background, or foreground, to become highly out of focus but keeping the subject sharp. This out of focus area is called "bokeh" and comes from the Japanese word for "out of focus." Using the largest aperture also allows the most light through your lens and into your camera. So what if it is a really bright sunny day? Well, along with shutter speed which I will make the topic of my next post, you can simply use a smaller aperture.

Example of "bokeh" at f1.8
Example of "bokeh" at f16
   Using a smaller aperture has two effects on a photograph. One you allow less light into your camera causing the photo to be darker. This is good if all you are getting is a really bright image with no colors or contrast. Likewise if you are getting too dark of an image, try opening the aperture up a little. Second, using a smaller aperture will cause more of the background to appear in focus. This is good for not only allowing less light into your image but also getting large areas in focus. There are times when you need to document a whole scene like, say, a large crowd or a far stretching landscape. Having more in focus, with a smaller aperture, is the way to achieve this.

   That's really the big secret to those types of photos. Easy right? Remember though, this is a tool and as with any tool, there really is no one size fits all. There are times when you need a large wrench and times when you need a small wrench. It's the same with photography. There are times when you need to have a lot of nice dreamy "bokeh." Likewise there are times when you need to show everything and showing a lot of bokeh can actually hurt an image. Many beginning photographers and, in my opinion, even some professionals over use bokeh and really kill an image. This is where the artistry comes into photography. An artist knows when a certain technique must be applied to a painting and when it must not be applied.
   This is part of the reason why I stress that you can buy all the gear in the world, master that gear, and never truly become a photographer. Myself and no one else can ever teach what it is to be an artist and in fact there are very few photographers I would ever label as a true artist professional or amateur. To develop an artists eye is a real gift that takes time, patience, practice, and a small pinch of magic fairy dust to achieve. Unfortunately my shipment of magic fairy dust has failed to arrive as of writing this blog post, sorry guys.
   With that said, I do not want to discourage anyone from taking this knowledge and running with it. Use it, play with it, over use the hell out of it while you are learning how aperture works. It will indeed improve your images. When you have really got it down packed you will know what it means to make a great image.

   On that note, I will point out one more thing. This is not the end of learning photography. Learning aperture will mean nothing without learning how it works in tandem with other basics like shutter speed, ISO, composition, and so on. Because of that, please be on the look out for my future posts on Photo Basics. There is a lot to learn and I hope I can help you whip out your camera and make a scene!

If you would also like to see a video I made on this topic, click here to go to my YouTube channel.

   Have you read my other blog posts yet? Check them out! I'm sure there will be something for everyone. If this blog post helped you in any way, or you know someone who will find it interesting, please remember to share it with everyone you know. Also leave a comment if you have questions, comments, find any mistakes, or just want to tell me how cool and absolutely beautiful I am.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

"Go on till you come to the end: then stop."

   Finally it is done! My Government project is done and I can now show you all the outcome. It was quite interesting and I learned a lot doing it. Its funny though because I didn't learn anything about the topic that I didn't already know. But it was other things like comfort zones that I learned from the project. I also learned that being in front of the camera instead of behind it leads to so many more complications. Thing like cut off heads in the video to name a few. Also... trying to get people to stop interrupting someone filming is a nightmare.
   Anyways please watch the video. It's not perfect, (I chose the windiest day to record AND I couldn't find my mic's wind screen plus not being able to see framing and so on...) but in the end I thought it came out half way decent. If nothing else, it was a lot of fun...sometimes.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Photo Basics: So Many Buttons

   Hello everyone.

   So you've bought your first DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera, congratulations. But if you're coming from point and shoot or this is your first camera besides your cell phone, you will notice there are a lot of buttons. On top of that there are more menus than your local shopping mall's food court. Not to worry, after reading this you will know how to avoid the suspicious looking
Mexican food and go for the good stuff. Actually I am always tricked by the suspicious "tacos" too, so maybe this is the blind leading the blind here.

   Anyways! Where to start? I suppose it's necessary to point out that this is a Nikon d3100 in my example photos. If you have a Sony, Canon, Pentax, etc. the buttons and menus will differ. But most brands have the same buttons and menus regardless of where they put them or what they call them. Also, I will not go over every single menu and I will not go into a huge amount of depth on any one topic. I have to save something for later posts right? Instead I will merely tell you what some of the most important buttons are and perhaps a little bit about what they do.
      First thing first, the on off switch! If you don't know what this does...well... I'm sorry. However, this also has probably the most important button of all, the shutter button. Pressing this takes a picture. This button has two stops to it. If you half press it down and hold it the camera will auto focus the lens. Once it is focused, you can press it the rest of the way down and it will snap a photo. Simple so far right?
   Next is the info button(blue) and exposure compensation button(red). Pressing the info button will turn on or off the display on the back screen. Half pressing the shutter button will do the same thing. The exposure compensation button will brighten and darken your photo. Holding this button down and spinning the thumb wheel on the back will change the aperture in your lens. (More on aperture in a later post)
   This dial is the shooting mode dial. Turning this will put the camera into different modes. Again, I will cover what these modes do in a later post.
   Onto the back of the camera. This green arrow is a wheel that you can turn with your thumb. Simply turning this alone changes your shutter speed. Holding down the exposure compensation button and turning this wheel changes your aperture.
   If you push the live view switch (red arrow) to the right, you will see everything the camera sees on the screen. In this live view mode pressing the button right in the center will begin recording video.     
   The blue arrow points to the control pad. While you are in menus you can navigate up, down, left, and right. Pressing that OK button in the center selects whatever is highlighted in the menu.
   This Yellow arrow is the delete button and deletes the selected photo or video.
   Ok going from top to bottom this time. First is the playback button. This will show you all the photos and videos you have taken.
   The menu button is right under that and will take you into all the camera's menus. Here you can change different settings.
  Under that is a zoom out and in button respectively. When viewing a photo you can zoom in and out with these buttons. The zoom out button will also allow you to view your photos as a list of thumbnails on the back of the screen as well if you first hit the playback button once. If you do not have a photo selected and you are in liveview mode, hitting these buttons will zoom in and out of the image on the screen so you can check focus.
  Next is the info button. When you are in the regular shooting menu, pressing this button allows you to select different quick options.

   Ok so menus. For this I will only point out a few important ones. For the rest you will need to just play around with them. But the ones I point out are the ones you should be most concerned with in my opinion.
  • Format memory card: This will delete everything currently on your memory card. It also allows the camera to "communicate" with the memory card in the most effective way.(to put it in simple terms) This way there will be less chance of information getting messed up when going from the camera to the card. It is a good idea to format your card before you shoot for the day, and to take all your images off your card and transfer them into your computer at the end of the day. Remember, this deletes everything on the card.
  • Image quality: This changes the way your camera records information and creates your image files. I will go into this a bit more later but for now know that JPEG is a smaller file and RAW is a larger file. Later I will explain why RAW is the best option.
  • White Balance: Again, another topic for a later blog post. I personally leave this in Auto White Balance, though not always. Probably one of the only settings I leave in auto.
  • ISO sensitivity settings: This will change per photo and is a lot like changing to higher or lower speed film in 35mm cameras. Higher ISO means more light is captured on your image sensor. Again, a complicated topic that must have its own post.
   That's about it. I am sorry if this post was boring to some people and I am sorry if it opened up more questions than it answered. That is often the case with photography. Rest assured that I will go into more depth about some of these things. I didn't do that in this post because they are very complicated subjects and if I did so this would be longer than Homer's "The Odyssey." However I do hope that this and my future Photo Basics posts will help at least one person on the road to whipping out their camera and making a scene.

As always if this post helped you, or you know someone who could benefit from this, please be sure to share it! If I missed anything important, or I messed something up please leave a comment. You can also leave a comment telling me how beautiful my MS Paint editing skills are too. Also, please read my other posts. They're not all about photography and you may just find a post that gets you through a little bit of that boring work day.


   I can't speak for everyone, but I think something a lot of photographers including myself struggle with is the idea of perfection. It's kind of a human condition I think, not just one exclusive to photographers, but creatives in general seem to be more sensitive to the idea of perfection.

   I certainly have to struggle with the idea of perfection in my photography. It is kind of a funny thing too because I never expect perfection from anything or anyone except for myself. I also do not ever think I am or ever will be perfect and I don't know if I would even enjoy being perfect. Kind of a conflicting set of views wouldn't you think? I know that people are imperfect, I know our world is imperfect and in my photography I try to show this as truthfully as possible. At the same time however, I strive to be as perfect as I can be.
   In some instances that perfection in art and creativity is a good thing. It means you consistently deliver work of a certain caliber. But in some instances it is debilitating because while you were trying over and over to achieve perfection, you missed or cut out what was important. Sometimes perfection, in photography especially, is what makes a great work of art but in some cases imperfection tells the best story. Imperfection relates to the viewer most I feel because of human imperfection. Less often does a stunningly perfectly composed and edited photo appeal to a person on this same level.
   In a previous post I promised to begin writing on the basics of photography. My original plan was to write a post on the topic the very next day. Turns out I did not post the very next day and it all came down to perfection. I knew how I wanted my post to look, sound, and feel. I knew all of this but instead of just going and writing the thing I wasted time figuring it out in my head first.
   So then what is correct? On the one hand I said perfection in a creative is a good thing, but on the other I said imperfection is more appealing and sometimes just better for actually getting something done. I wouldn't consider myself a perfectionist as a whole. Take one look at my room and you would understand what I mean. But also there is a certain standard you should hold yourself, your work, and everything in your life to. So what is too much and what is too little? Is there a perfect balance? I'm not sure. Again I say that I never expect any one person to be perfect. I love imperfection in people. But for myself I don't know where the line is drawn between good enough and unobtainable. What do you all think?

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog! As always if you like what I have to say please share it with others who may find what I have to say interesting. I write about photography, random thoughts, games, food, lots of stuff. Also be sure to leave a comment, I always read them and enjoy hearing the thoughts of others on topics I write about.

My flickr:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Blood Moon!

   Hey everyone it's 3:32 a.m. on 4-15-14 and I just saw the spectacular "blood moon." It really was something to behold. It's a good time to be an earthling. If you missed it, I feel for you. However you are in luck! Partly because I took photos, and also because there will be 4 this year and next. If you miss all of those though, well you're kind of screwed. The next time this will happen is in 2032.

Blood moon!
   This blood moon happens in a lunar eclipse. At this time the sun, moon, and earth line up with the earth casting a shadow on the moon. When sunlight hits the earth only red light makes it through our atmosphere and blue light is refracted (in simple terms). Some of that red light that comes through our atmosphere spills over the edges of the earth and onto the moon. So when the moon lines up just right in earth's shadow, it also catches some of that red light and reflects it back at us. If you were standing on the moon during this time you would see earth as a dark sphere with a red ring around it for a while. Us earthlings however see a red moon.
Really bright moon I thought I needed a slow shutter speed.

Digital noise or stars I couldn't see?
   Unfortunately, and contrary to what I usually say about photography, astronomical photography really is a test of gear. Though it doesn't necessarily mean you can't get great photos with what you have. It's just much much better with proper gear. Gear which I sadly do not have. But I did what I could with a 200mm lens and the results were surprisingly good. It helps too that the moon was as bright as a night lamp tonight until it went behind the earth. Before the blood moon it was so bright I was at I think 1/1000 at f/11. During the blood moon however I had to come all the way down to a 5 second exposure to keep around the same aperture! It was really tough to get any photos with the moon really large in the frame so I had to crop quite a bit. Some of the photos show it some don't. All in all I think it was a success. I have never done this before but I will definitely be trying astronomical photography again in the future. I'd love to get my hands on a telescope with a camera mount.

   Something weird happened tonight though. While I was going through my photos I noticed that if I brought the exposure up a bit I started to get little specs in the sky. With the light pollution in San Antonio almost all stars were invisible, and even in the photos straight from the camera they are not apparent. Not until I brought up the exposure a lot. Or was this digital noise? I think it may be because if you look at the photo above, the side of the moon in shadow actually had the little specs in it. lowered the detail in that area so you would only see a dark shadow. If it is digital noise, it sure does look cool. If it is stars then I have to admit that is pretty amazing. Whatever it is, it looks cool.
These images really held up despite a lot of cropping.

   Well that's all folks. It is now 4:10 a.m. (my internet did not want me talking about blood moon) and I have a long math class tomorrow. The joys of college I guess.

   Anyways if you like this post, or any of my other blog posts, please share this with friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, the neighbor's cat, anyone! I write about a lot of stuff. Most is photography related but I also blog about games, food, and even just random thoughts that occur to me. Also leave a comment about your experience with blood moon or just so I know I am not writing this for myself. I'd really like to get more people reading and, of course, making a scene!

My flickr page:

Sunday, April 13, 2014

On the Basics

  So I suppose I have been a bit critical in the past of point and shoot or cell phone photographers. I guess that is quite short sighted of me for a few reasons. In the past I have said that just because you can afford a nice expensive camera does not mean you are a photographer. I still hold to that advice and I will continue to say that until the day I can no longer hold a camera. (That will be the day I die if I have any say about it.) But I understand that you buy a camera to learn how to use it. I certainly did. I mean, you can't learn to ride a horse without being on one.
   To all those who have bought a camera with the intentions of learning, I applaud you. I understand though that stepping up from a point and shoot or cell phone camera is quite a huge learning curve. So for those people I want to start creating posts about the basics of photography. Everything from aperture to composition and even right down to editing. As a disclaimer, I am not the end all be all expert on photography. There are many out there that are ten times better than me, and many out there who have different styles than me. But if anything I say helps one person understand the basics just a little bit better then I have done what I set out to do. Be looking for more posts about the basics of photography in the future. If you like them, or know someone who is a beginner to the world of photography, please share these posts!
   Whip out your camera and make a scene!

Hiking Lost Maples

Trying not to get lost.
   I am not much of an outdoors sort of person. If I am outside it is because I have a camera in my hand. One thing I do like to do outdoors though is to hike. It kind of makes sense too since of course it provides some really great photographic opportunities. Hiking is really one of those things I wish I had an opportunity to do more of. I do however live in a big city and to hike in San Antonio either
means a little park trail or driving for some hours to a really nice trail.
   That is exactly what I did yesterday. I was invited by a professor of mine to hike at Lost Maples park. It's about a two hour drive one way and located near Medina in Bandera County. The trail we went on was a fairly intense 4 or 5 mile hike with about 1.5 miles being quite steep. I must say though that it was a pleasant sort of intense and not at all unbearable. I haven't hiked in quite a
This sign doesn't prepare you at all for what is to come.
few years and it really wasn't that bad. I say that, but I'll tell you now that I slept quite well last night after the hike. Speaking of sleep, I also did those 5 miles on 3 hours of sleep. The previous night I just could not sleep for some reason.
   I haven't done this sort of outdoorsy hiking photography before. I am not much of a landscape photographer or wildlife photographer either so please excuse the mistakes I have made. If you'd like to see more photos from that day that are not in this blog you can check out my flickr page.
I was actually pretty scared of this thing.
   This park has a lot to see and I believe an even longer trail than what we went on which doesn't have a climbing part. One thing I had to comment on was the amount of litter I DIDN'T see in this park. I am used to seeing trash everywhere in parks but this one was actually pretty well kept and I am glad for that. Oddly enough I only saw one trash can in the whole park and that was where the picnic tables were at the start of the trail. This park also has some really nice looking camping areas. I would really like to camp here some day. Perhaps a future blog will be my experience camping in Lost Maples. Stay tuned.
   As always I was glad to have the opportunity to take out my camera and make a scene. I don't know what it is about having a camera in my hands and capturing that moment in time. I don't do it for snapshots although they do serve that purpose well. I don't know what I do it for, it's kind of therapeutic. If I had no one to share my photos with I would still be making a scene about everything I see around me. This was a perfect place to do so and I really recommend it to anyone who likes the outdoors, likes hiking, or enjoys photography like I do. To capture something that may not be around tomorrow is quite a magical experience. Grab your camera and make a scene. It's always worth it.

I almost forgot to share a link to their website! What a bad blogger I am. Here it is, check them out.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

On the Comfort Zone

   What is your comfort zone? What pushes you to the edge of that zone? How often do you test that limit? There is something I don't understand about comfort levels. I think that right outside of that comfort bubble is not an all consuming threat to your existence. Instead I think it is a zone where possibilities are presented in ways you could never have previously known. It's much akin to a land not traveled. One which has bountiful prospects at the cost of slight discomfort until the point you can live with it. There is no pain, only perceived pain. It's a small thing, it truly is, to put yourself out there. To stand upon that ledge and look down is perhaps the scariest thing you have ever experienced, but tell me it is not the most beautiful, and I will show you a live person who has not lived.
   How can you know that the moment you push that comfort bubble, leap out of that comfort zone, that you will not have your life altering epiphany? That you will not find your perfect someone, you will not find your saving grace? Push the envelope, forget the norm and stand right at the edge of comfort staring back at it. It feels good.
   Real world examples. This goes for anything, but allow me to indulge in a short story. I am behind a camera. My lens is usually capturing what I see around me, and rarely ever capturing me. That is comfortable. What is uncomfortable is being on the other side of that lens. Recently I had a project for a class and I wanted to make a video to present my group's topic instead of a simple boring power point. (I will talk about it more in a future blog when I am done with it.) Although I had support for my idea from my group members, when it came down to it, no one wanted to be in front of the camera. My first reaction was that of panic. I realized that the only way this was going to be completed is for me to be in front of the camera. So on one hand I had my comfort level, and on the other hand I had not only my grade, but the grade of the rest of my group. When weighed, those counting on me seemed a bit more important than my comfort zone and so I had no choice. I went in front of that camera nervous and unsure. What I found was not unimaginable pain, but instead exhilarating fun. I cannot explain it any other way but "fun." It made me realize that I really enjoy doing this. I actually don't mind being in front of the camera. Sure, I am still nervous in front of it, I don't really like how I look, but all that is superficial. I can deal with it far better than I thought I could.
   But my story doesn't end there. In fact it includes more characters than just my spot light stealing performance. My objective in the video was to interview people on a topic. Many people turned away without even trying when I confronted them. Some of them though actually took a brave step and answered my questions. Most, if not all, started very nervous for reasons I can completely understand as I have mentioned previously. But throughout my 5 minute interview I saw a complete change in them. It was like ice melting, if you watched close enough you could see the slow change in their demeanor from absolute discomfort and raw embarrassment to having fun answering questions about a topic they had an opinion about.
   So what is my point? My point is that all of these people, myself included, pushed themselves to leave that comfort zone, however temporarily, and found it didn't have such a foul taste. To me this is the bravest, and one of the most beautiful things life has to offer. What is it called? Embarrassment, shame, fear, discomfort? I don't know what the word for it is but I say embrace it. It is debilitating to keep these feelings at bay. They are there and they always will be. So make peace with them no matter what you are doing or who you are. Are you camera shy? Become an actor. Do you fear math? Go grab a pencil. (I just remembered I have 2 math assignments) Are you in the closet? Create a song about it, come out with a bang.
  Sometimes it just doesn't work out. I understand that. You get in front of that camera and you really just don't like it. But in doing so you probably found something you're good at. Or perhaps you figured out you like directing instead. Whatever it is, I promise that living just slightly outside your comfort zone is rewarding in some way. I am not encouraging anyone to any extreme here, everything must be done within reason. But is it so unreasonable to turn our enemies into our friends? I think not. So from now on I will face those fears, that painful discomfort, and I will do so gladly. I hope everyone can, it's a really colorful world outside that comfort zone. Are you, "Comfortably Numb?"

Monday, April 7, 2014

Elder Scrolls Online

   I like video games. That's no secret. If you see me on a daily basis I'm more often than not plopped right in front of my computer, back bent at an unhealthy angle, furiously tapping my keyboard like I'm trying to beat it into submission. Damn I need a life...
   Anyways I have started playing Elder Scrolls Online, or ESO for short, and I thought I might talk a little bit about it. Keep in mind this is not an in-depth review or game play walk-through. Just simply my thoughts about the game as of right now. Perhaps this will aid someone's decision about whether or not to get the game. In any case, I just wanted to talk about it.

So first things first... money.

You can buy a mount as soon as you log in.
    The game costs $59.99 or $79.99 for the Imperial edition which I bought for a few added goodies. On top of that there is a monthly recurring fee of $14.99. Purchasing the game also gives you 30days included game time free. (Although they charged me for my first month. Trying to get that figured out.) A lot of people have a big issue with a subscription fee. Most people do not like this model anymore for MMOs. (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game MMORPG) Me personally? I don't mind it, and I actually like it for a number of reasons. For one I have been playing MMOs for a long long time and I have simply become accustomed to a subscription fee. I feel $15/mo. is a fair price to pay for a good game, but that's just me. Anymore though and I don't know how enthused I would be about it. But I like this model for a few reasons beyond being accustomed to it. I think that with a subscription being paid per month you are kind of buying into a contract that says, "Hey, I am giving you my money every month, I expect you (the company) to provide me with new content, customer support when I need it, and some sort of guarantee against hackers messing up the game." I have seen too many times where a game will go free to play and all those things will go straight out the door with the fee. As soon as the fee drops they stop caring about the game and hackers have a field day with it. How Guild Wars 2 keeps on top of this with only micro transactions, I have no clue. But that brings me to my next point. Guild Wars 2 doesn't draw me back every week. See it how you will, but a sub fee actually makes me feel like I need to log back in at least for a few hours out of the month in order to get the most out of my $15. In doing so I fall in love with the game all over again and end up back in my hunchbacked vitamin D deprived state.

   Ok so enough of that. I just figured I would get that much out of the way. My first impressions? I like the game. Why wouldn't I though? I played the other Elder Scrolls console games. This, however, is different. I personally am not a big fan of console games. In my household there are two xbox 360s and a PS3 (I plan to get the xbox one and PS4 still) and they are all mostly used as dvd/blu-ray players. I like computer games best, and more importantly, I like MMOs. Everytime I play an RPG on a console, I always think, "Wow, this quest would be awesome with another player." In MMOs I get that. I also like to play a support role more so than anything else, and in single player RPGs that's basically impossible. So here we have a meeting of both worlds. A great single player franchise, meeting the world of an immersive MMO that can be shared with fans throughout the world. That being said, it is definitely not geared solely towards the Elder Scrolls veteran. There is tons of back story to catch up on and lots of new stuff for even the most seasoned of players to learn. It really is a different game.
Sunsets look really nice
   Surprisingly enough first day launch was very smooth. That's all thanks to the way they have designed their servers and their early access opt-in. They did a really good job on this, far better than any MMO launch I have ever played. There were no ques (that I experienced), no lag, and very few bugs. Yes guys, there are bugs. But what do you expect? It's a new game, and the amount it has is very tame compared to other MMOs in the past. Plus most of the bugs you encounter are just minor nuisances like quests not being able to be completed and so on. I did however find one which was really annoying and made me run at half speed.
Short ques for PVP but not guaranteed to get in!
   As far as PVP goes, I'm probably not the best to ask because I prefer PVE far more in any game I play. However, ESOs PVP feels a lot like Guild Wars 2. The map is VERY expansive and you have a lot to do. I felt no lag what so ever even in the middle of huge sieges. All I really have to say about it is that it is really fun, even for a PVE minded person like me. That's saying something. However, trying to get into a full server for PVP is a nightmare. They really do need to do something about it. You get sent to a que which is fine, but once your turn is up, sometimes you get stuck on the loading screen. No bueno. I did that for like an hour and a half last night. Once you get in though, as I said before, there is no noticable lag and there are daily quests and stuff like that.
Cool fights.
   Right, so questing. Questing is a lot of fun in ESO. There is A TON of story that goes into the quests and you find yourself actually wanting to read every single one. Even if you don't want to read it, they hired really good voice actors to read it for you lazy fools. Some of them are even famous movie stars! This is really nice because it feels just that much more immersive as a whole. Quests are fresh and new. Sure there are the classic, "Kill 10 of this," and "Bring 5 of these," but even those quests feel rewarding to do. They did a good job making you feel like there is a good reason you are collecting 5 herbs and killing 10 lady bugs. Plus you don't have to grind for 20 minutes to find these 5 herbs, and you don't have to travel across the map either. Beyond those classic quests there are a lot of other really fun and interesting ones. There are also occasional options to intimidate and persuade an NPC to get them to let up on having you gather 10 squished lady bugs while killing 5 herbs. Did I mention story? If not, the story is absolutely fantastic.
   Graphics, as to be expected, are really nice. Armors, weapons, character models, creatures, and animations all look great. Even weather changes look really awesome. Rain even SOUNDS nice. I had to turn around one night and ask my brother if it was raining outside while I was playing. One thing I don't like, and I know many many other people will disagree, is the UI. Call me crazy but I like a cluttered UI. Yes, I said it, I miss the old MMOs where you had tons and tons of skills to choose from all laid out right in front of you. But for those of you wanting a very clean sleek UI, ESO did that nicely. Everything goes away when not in combat, even the chat box if no one has said anything in a while and all you are left with is the little compass up top and the current quest objective which I believe you can toggle off as well.
   I guess that's about it for now. I am not getting paid to say any of this and I doubt Bethesda/Zenimax gives a damn whether I write positively or negatively about this game. But my honest opinion is that the game is really good. If you are on the fence about getting it, my vote is for it. I am enjoying every minute I have played it so far. Give it a shot, I don't think you will be disappointed. Here are some more screen shots. Hope you enjoy them and I hope to see you in the game!