Thursday, February 26, 2009

A tad late, but hey, I can still write about it

What's "it" you ask? Well, the fact that I've passed my halfway point here. I didn't realize it until recently, but I have 5 months left here. It's quite strange how things like these go, because as I was going through it it seemed really long, but as I look back part of me thinks it went by really quickly as well. Then again, this seemed to have happened in many other situations of mine...Tongariro Crossing, Global Game Jam, the 2 vacations, the Rally New Zealand...All of them felt like they were really long-lasting as i went through them, but then right when they stopped, it felt unnaturally abrupt. It's so strange how these things all go through that same cycle. To me the strange part about it is that at usually the only things that take forever are the things you don't like, but I liked (understatement) all of those activities. Yes, even standing at a crosswalk for 18 hours at the rally. How is it that life seems to go by in such a manner? For all I know I could have an experience that no one else in the entire world could or would ever experience sometime, yet once it ended it would still seem like anyone else's moments. Everything would eventually get swallowed by the relentless advance of time, no matter the uniqueness, no matter how fun, no matter how long it lasted.

I can't think of a whole lot else to say on the subject right now, but I might as well write a small thing relating to my post, "The Night Before..." As I look back on my first half or so of my trip, was my not being knowledgeable about New Zealand as I came a good idea? I personally believe my choice was a good one. Why? Everything I saw I got to experience completely anew. In my first days, I saw a country that had an unmatched fondness and care for nature throughout the population. I saw a country that truly had 2 different sets of people that were treated as different sets, yet no one on either side had problems of racism, nor was there any negative separation. The Maori and Pakeha (used in the neutral sense) were treated as equals, and there were no apparent stereotypes directed toward either group, something that still plagues American people, consciously or not. I saw a country that had many different likings than my country's own, whether they were in work or play, in the house or out. These differences let me see my own country in a different light. Many things I thought were truly "American" were fully apparent over here, while many things I thought were common all around were nonexistent.

With these experiences at my back, and more experiences to come, I will see more new things, and as I first came prepared with an unprepared mind, I will head onward into these new things in the same manner. No premature expectations and no premature fears always leave an unblemished slate. That's a rule I intend to follow as I have in the past.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Neuron-style plan for the next month or so

Another quick update...

I've successfully switched into my newest family's house. This family is the Jackman family. They have a small 2 floor house as well as another AFS student! Ja, this is my first time having the same family as another student, although the student here has only been in NZ for a few weeks, and she is still practicing a bit of the more complicated aspects of English. Though it isn't uncommon to hear her conversing fervently with some of her Spanish-speaking friends here. Anyway, I'm settled in for as long as I'm going to be, which may be as little as 2 weeks. Yeah, I might be hopping around families quickly for a while, hence the title referencing the way neurons send messages. A.K.A. a lot of jumping around. But yeah, everything's going fine now, though I can't wait for March 5 since Athletics day with Fairfield was cancelled today, and March 5th is the postponement date. I really hope I don't hurt myself attempting the high jump...ugh

Speaking of school, FFC isn't really receiving any good media right now. There's a bunch of problems involving the principal and students randomly protesting for a reason they don't even know. Yes, they only were a part of it so they could 1:skip class, 2:yell at the front office for no reason, 3:get on TV. The "protest" started with about 16 students, moved up to around 200, as, and I quote the Waikato Times on this, "As students tried to get on TV". They don't care if their school is getting bad attention from all this, all they care about is getting on TV because apparently they'll be able to act famous or something. That's my opinion on their behavior anyway. Kinda reminds me of the song "King of New York" from some musical I can't remember... I'm doing fine though, I among other students just found the "protest" funny because of the complete lack of any idea about what the topic was. Ja, that's all there is from me, but as I'm watching the rugby right now, might as well just say this for the heck of it: Go Chiefs! (That's the Waikato Chiefs, the Waikato area's Super 14 rugby team, not the Kansas City Chiefs the American football team. No offense to those, but I still support the Steelers)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Families Fanning Fortune's Flames

This one'll be quick, don't worry.

Basically, in the past week, I had a hard time figuring out what was going to happen to me. However, last Sunday, when the AFS meeting happened, everything changed. The first thing on the agenda for the normal meeting was letting everyone know that I desperately needed a family, and voila! 2 families apparently have offered to host me, and a third has offered as well apparently! So my situation is going to be fine now. W00t! I'm currently at my support coordinator's house again after leaving the Cooks. I'm going to get those photos at some point, so you don't need to worry, I'll have 'em up sometime.

In other news, I'm now fully back into Fairfield. Not much in terms of interesting stuff to say, but PHD is fun. PHD is a phys-ed/health class. 2 out of the 4 days we have the class we spend time in the school's pool (which doesn't have a greasy film on the surface unlike some schools I know *cough* ALLDERDICE *cough*) practicing kayaking! We're practicing rolling the kayak for in 7 or 8 weeks we'll be kayaking down the Waikato River, and rolling will be an important skill. It's a nice diversion to the normal school day.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Big post? I don't know, possibly. Anyway, let's get this started.

This post really only involves the first 3 acronyms, as the 4th is just there to show the WOW factor of them as well as to add a little rhyme when you say all of the acronyms together in that order, letter by letter.

Let's start out with the first acronym, GGJ. GGJ is Global Game Jam! GGJ is a really really fun program where people of high school to uni age are given various restraints as well as a theme, and have to design, program, test, and upload a game of their own creation. The students split themselves into groups, allowing many games to be made. This GGJ was the first to ever happen over the world, and it happened in 13 different time zones. Ours in Hamilton was the first one to start, and surprisingly there was also one in Pittsburgh! So if I was at home right now I could have attended it anyway. Fun, eh? Anyway, to a moderately sized narrative...

GGJ in Hamilton took place at the Waikato University. It started at 5 PM Friday, January 30, and ended Sunday February 1st at 5 PM. Yes, I spent 48 hours straight at Waikato University. At the beginning I just formed up a group with 4 others just by talking about various game ideas, and we got to work. My main job was graphic design, but as our game involved mainly stick figures and such, it wasn't too complicated. We were using Game Maker 7, and at first I was thinking "why are we using such a terrible program? I don't see how we could really make something good with something like this. I mean, this thing seems like something complete programming n00bs would use.". Of course in retrospect, there were 2 problems with that statement. 1, we WERE complete programming n00bs. 2, GM7 is actually not half bad at all for this kind of thing. To keep you from getting bored about the various programming things we did, I'll just tell you what the game we made was like. Well, I should actually start out with the constraints for the game we had to make.

1. The game had to use ONE of these words as a part of a way to describe it: Blank, Cold, or Modern.
2. An average play session should last no longer than 5 minutes.
3. It had to follow the theme, "As long as we have each other, we'll never run out of problems."

Our game was called "Blank Slate". It is a quick game where you have to try to kill your opponent while hopping around rapidly changing terrain. It looked like it was drawn on a piece of notebook paper, hence the name. The 2 characters were a red stick figure, and a blue stick figure, all designed by me. I designed every animation for the stick figures; standing, running, jumping, and the uber-awesome OBLITERATION sequence all done pixel by pixel using GM's Microsoft Paint-esque image editor. The terrain as well as the sun (which had a random "lion" face in it that for some reason always sent me into hysterics) was done by one of my partners. The game has you using various weapons, from anvil traps that fall from the ceiling to homing missles reminiscent of the Descent series for those of you that know it. My graphics partner and I made all of those too. The programming of character movement, gravity, etc. was done by the other 3 guys. I liked a bit of how the game turned out, but there were a few things I didn't like: 1, they insisted on using network multiplayer as the only way to play, and that bothered me as while online multiplayer is good, it can get a bit annoying after a while, especially if you can't manage to connect. 2, there were still bugs in it after we uploaded it that wouldn't go away. 3, some parts of the game kept requiring stopping and starting because of various the middle of online play. How did I deal with these gripes of mine? Simple...

I got a copy of the game a bit before they started on the online thing, and made a version of my own. Some parts of it aren't as graphically nice, but there are more weapons/traps/tools, it uses 2 people on one keyboard, and I've managed to remove a ton of the bugs, but I'm still working on it. I think if I had uploaded that version we probably wouldn't have gotten the 1 out of 5 rating we got on the site. Yeah, we got a 1. Even one of the games that didn't even work whatsoever and didn't have much of the programming done had a higher score than that. Sad, eh? No. I found it hilarious, and I'm quite glad that I made my own version. But the best part of GGJ was the fact that we spent a ton of time playing Left 4 Dead with other groups. Left 4 Dead is an awesome Valve game where you play in a group of 4 people fighting off endless hordes of zombies. While it may sound cliche, it's actually really well made, has awesome co-op, and the vs. mode has co-op on both sides, of the humans and zombies. The zombies get to have various "super" zombies that can attack from a distance and more easily incapacitate the humans. The game was REALLY REALLY fun to play with the other people, though some people had a bad habit of swearing loudly. We mainly did this from 1 AM to...say, 7 AM. Yes, we didn't sleep. Some people slept a bit, but others didn't. I was one of the ones that didn't, and I'm glad for that. GGJ was probably one of the best experiences I've ever had.

On to the next acronym! FFC, as some of you may remember, stands for Fairfield College, the school that I go to while I'm here. The day after GGJ ended I had my first day of school...or so I thought. I biked to school normally (from our awesome new house with 2 floors and a pool) humming that little ditty from Billy Madison that Adam Sandler's character sings while waiting for the bus on his first day. I got there, and I found out...the year 13s were going to do NOTHING! Well, basically we were given a crash course in Haka Powhiri, which we had to perform in front of the Year 9s as they entered the Marae, and then, we sat down for some time between an hour and a half to 2 hours, on the grass, in the hot sun, listening to 3 or 4 teachers converse in complete Maori. Apparently this was about them agreeing to take care of us or something...and I was quite frustrated, as well as sweaty. Maybe 10% of the students at most could understand what they were saying, while the other 90+% was just sitting angrily. To add insult to injury, the teachers all had their own little parasols to keep themselves safe from the great UV ball in the sky. The kids however, did NOT know this was going to happen until after they got there, and therefore had no time to prepare, or even to get sunscreen or anything. I smell an idea for a lawsuit...Luckily we got to leave after that.

Anyway, my first ACTUAL day was 2 days afterward, where I got to check out all of my classes. I'm taking the same classes as last year, except I'm taking year 13 spanish since they merged the 12 and 13 spanish classes as they were so tiny. I'm a bit worried about whether I'll have to buy anything new, because I don't know whether I'm going to be there for very long or not. Why, you ask? The reason is...

...The third acronym. AFS. American Field Service, my exchange program. Only thing is, my exchange program can't find another family for me in the Waikato South branch area. As of today I have to leave the Cook family in 7 days, and no family has been found. NONE! There was some talk of doing national advertising, however I don't know if they have started that yet. Yeah, I might be switching cities, perhaps even islands. I don't know, and for once I actually do care. I'm not sure what will happen if I leave the Cooks with no destination family, and I don't know what'll happen with school if I don't know if I'm staying there or not. Yeah, I'm starting to get a bit bothered about this. So many things are stuck in limbo right now, and I don't know what's going to happen about them. I don't know if my exam results will transfer to the Pittsburgh Public Schools or not, and if they do, I don't know if my GPA will die on me or not. I don't know if I will have a family in 7 days, and I don't know if I'll have to get on a flight to somewhere else in NZ soon. I don't even know when our internet company will even bother to fix our broadband after screwing up so badly because they got the wrong phone number because of THEIR OWN PEOPLE. Yeah, I'm running into problems...again. I don't even know if a family will EVER be found, since AFS is kinda unpopular during our economic situation because of the fact that they don't financially compensate families. Meh, whatever happens happens, but I just hope something happens at all.