Today (actually, drat it, I just realized after creating the node that it was actually yesterday in Custo Standard Time) two things happened to me that are fairly awesome, despite the day itself being only meh.

At 8:30 in the AM, I reported to a hospital, specifically to the Nuclear Cardiology Unit. Unfortunately, this crew does not specialize in replacing boring organic fluid pumps with cool glowing radioactive ones a la Tony Stark. No; they specialize in a much more prosaic sort of activity, mostly involving needles (ugh), treadmills (ugh), and please-remain-completely-still-for-fifteen-minutes-in-this-uncomfortable-position-sir-thank-you PET imagers. (half an ugh).

I was prescribed a nuclear cardio stress test.

This is actually a fairly interesting procedure save for the fact that it does involve needles, treadmills, and strange things being injected into you that they have to bring into the room in a lead box (hang on, what?) in order to reduce the staff's exposure.

The staff. Yes. Not the person they're injecting it into, oh no.

So what happened that was cool? Well, let's see. First thing came when I asked in an offhand manner, staring with trepidation at the plastic syringe nestled in the radiation shielding: "What's in this, then?"

The doctor, who was a most attractive Asian lady (which was why I was desperately trying to keep my attention on the syringe, because she'd already made me put on one of those frontless gowns) said "Oh! Technetium. Isotope Technetium-99m, to be precise."

This was actually interesting enough to divert my attention from the fact that she had a lovely bottom, currently on display where she was bent over at the waist trying to find a longer blood pressure cuff in a cabinet near the floor. Steady on... See, I've always wondered what the hell Technetium was used for. And now? Well, I intimately know at least one beneficial use!

They injected me with saline to flush the IV they'd put in, then took my blood pressure, then had me run on a treadmill until my heart rate was up to 153 bpm. Then she had me sit back down, took my blood pressure again, and then - ta-daa - injected the Tc-99m into my arm. Then she said "Okay, now go out and have breakfast, drink lots of fluids, and then come back in half an hour."

Dispirited that she was evicting me from the presence of her bright smile and lovely bottom, I nevertheless slunk out of the hospital to find orange juice, water, and a bagel. One of the bad things about this test: no caffeine or chocolate for two days prior. TWO DAYS, people. Without coffee. The chocolate, meh, okay, I sometimes go weeks without that. But COFFEE!?

whimper.

I returned and was stuffed onto a sliding stretcher,which fed me into the maw of a slowly and menacingly rotating machine for thirty minutes. This, I was told, was the PET imager (PET stands for Positron Emission Tomography by the way) and it was carefully looking at where my now-Tc-99m laced blood was flowing.

Hang on.

Jesus H. Tapdancing Christopher Christ on a Popsicle stick, people. Do you realize what this means?

Not only am I now a gamma ray emitter, but I'm doing so because of freaking ANTIMATTER!

Wow. That was a pretty good day.

Unfortunately, I have to go back tomorrow to do it again, this time minus the treadmill. Sigh.

Let's discuss video game difficulty.

Anyone who's spent enough time on YouTube must know by now that people like to record themselves playing video games and post them for the enjoyment of others. Sometimes they do this to show off how good they are at the game, sometimes they add amusing commentary either because they love or hate it, and sometimes they want to show how to fully complete all the optional sidequests and find all the hidden items. I usually watch them to vicariously experience a game I never got to play, or to see what I might have missed in some of my favorites. What I've discovered from watching a number of these "Let's Play!" videos is that a lot of these guys aren't actually very good at the game they're playing.

Granted, they can find every single hidden item, beat every optional quest, navigate mazes flawlessly, and tear apart the level bosses with seeming ease, but this isn't really a measure of skill at the game. What I've noticed is that during the standard portions of the game, they tend to get beaten around a lot, take a lot of damage, fight awkwardly, waste ammunition, chug health potions like water, and rely heavily on the game's equivalent of the BFG9000. It's the parts that can be beaten by rote memorization that they breeze through.

I think what's going on here is that they've come to rely on the massive influx of power-ups, extra health, and bonuses hidden throughout the game just to get through it at all. Paradoxically, a player who doesn't know where these things are faces a tougher challenge due to weaker weapons, less health, and additional enemy encounters from wandering around lost in mazes — it's a lot harder to get through.

Does that make any sense? Why does the game get easier when the player gets better at it? That makes the game exponentially easier, because not only is the player more skilled but he's also getting more bonuses to further reduce the challenge as a reward for his skills. This is the most backwards thing about the video game industry, but it's considered to be the normal and accepted practice in game design to the point where nobody even questions it.

What people actually want when they get good at these games is a bigger challenge to keep them coming back. To get this, however, they frequently need to resort to artificial means to increase the challenge, for example the famous "three-heart challenge" in The Legend of Zelda series (in which the player intentionally passes over all the health upgrades). The way I see it, games should be increasing the challenge as the player gets closer to 100% completion, not reducing it. This could serve as a built-in method of setting the game's difficulty, rather than selecting easy, medium, or hard at the menu screen when beginning a new game, the player could choose his skill level based on how many hidden items he's found. Playing such a game to 100% completion would be a much more impressive feat if doing so also meant you were playing the hardest version of the game, rather than the easiest due to collecting all the bonuses. This would massively increase the replay value of the game as well, since finding the hidden areas and increasing the challenge would be combined into a single goal.

Suggestions:

  • Congratulations! You have broken the Dark Seal and increased the power of your sword! Unfortunately the seal was also imprisoning a bunch of monsters, so there are now twice as many in the next dungeon.
  • By helping the gunsmith, you have doubled the ammo capacity of your shotgun. However all shotgun-wielding enemies now enjoy the same bonus.
  • By defeating the optional sidequest boss, you have earned a health bonus. But spies have watched you fight him, and the rest of the bosses in the game now have an extra technique to attack you with.
Today my net worth has exceeded $100,000. I am quite pleased about this, as on July 1, 2007 I was worth...probably a few hundred bucks and a slice of pizza or two.

People in my family have a tendency to succeed. My oldest sister, who started out her adult life with less than I did, has also racked up a good bit in savings. My other sister is currently struggling through medical school. When she gets out in 3 years she will also probably make a great deal of money. My parents are the original success story; they came to America in the late 80's with nothing but a dream. Some thirty years later, they are worth almost a million. There seems to be a pattern here.

Strangely enough, none of us kids have ever really cared about money; after all we were raised by immigrant parents who always seemed to be strapped for cash. I won't bore you with nostalgic tales of exaggerated poverty, but we really were genuinely poor for the majority of our lives.

Anyways, I was sitting in the living room today when I received a text message from my bank notifying me that a direct deposit had been made into my checking account. Interested in how much I had been paid for the month of June, I checked my balance online. It was at this point that I realized my net worth was over $100,000. Slightly excited by this landmark figure, I decided to share my joy with my parents. They were pleased.

As you would expect, a long and deeply personal conversation pursued, in which many fond memories and some not-so fond memories were discussed. Eventually, the time came for my father's mandatory "moral lesson" speech. He is well known among my friends for these speeches. Today's edition was quite good.

First, he told me a story of how he had once been coaxed out of $10,000 by a pyramid scheme. He then told me several other smaller instances of fraud that he had either narrowly avoided, or had fallen victim to. The lesson from this part of the speech was "be careful with your money". The second part of his speech involved a story about a distant relative of mine who, although once commanded the respect of many, is now very broke, and very alone. My father told me this was because of said relative's arrogance. Obviously, the lesson to be learned from this part was humility.

The last part of his speech had the largest effect on me. He told me to be generous. He told me a few stories of how, although he had been very poor growing up, he had always been generous when giving to people worse off than himself. He told me that the only reason he had any money now was because he had been so kind to the poor earlier in his life. He said, "As much as I have given away to family members or friends in need, that much times 4 is what I have ultimately earned, through some means or another. Call it God, call it Karma, call it whatever, just remember that giving money to people with less than yourself is NEVER a bad investment."

At this point I looked back upon my own life and saw the truth in his words. I am usually quite a nice person to be around. I pay for people's meals, give people rides if they need them, never ask for money when I throw a party, etc. I've been like this for as long as I can remember. Sure, in my adult life I have never been truly broke; I have never bounced a check, overdrawn an account, or missed a payment. But I have been close, several times in fact. I remembered one particular weekend about a year ago when I was starting to save up. I was having a bit of a cash flow problem, as I was temporarily out of a job and my savings were running dry quite quickly. Nonetheless, I had enough to get me by for another few weeks. Or so I thought. A good friend of mine was evicted from his apartment unexpectantly and needed money for the security deposit on the new place he had found. He never asked me for the money, but I gave it to him nonetheless. I worried for a bit, but the thought of my friend living out of his Camry for even a few days bothered me. I didn't think twice about that decision, it was almost impulsive.

A few days later, I received two checks in the mail. One was from my school; apparently some scholarships had come through and I had overpaid my tuition. The second check was from my old employer, who had forgotten to send me my last paycheck. Interestingly enough, these two checks alone had been worth almost exactly 4 times the original amount I had lent to my friend. Not a bad investment at all.



True story.

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