Friday, June 14, 2024

Koraidon from Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. Area Zero is a cool place.


Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Social media stinks.

I'm stepping away from social media until humanity can get its act together, and I'm writing this post to encourage you, dear reader, to critically examine how you use social media, how it is affecting you, and if there is anything you feel you should change about it. I don't enjoy being a Negative Nellie, but with the prevalence of social media in everyone's lives nowadays, I think it's a topic that requires serious consideration, and more people need to speak out about how much harm it can cause.

I don't think I would label myself a social media addict by any means. I could barely handle Facebook once a day. I really only signed up for Twitter/X because I was hoping more people on there would be interested in my work than on Facebook. I even had an Instagram account for a period of time, but deleted it because the spambot comments on my posts were super obnoxious--and I got more of those than comments from real people. Suffice to say I already had a pretty low opinion of social media in general, but lately my opinion has just gone through the floor, and I've finally realized that the handful of ways I benefit from social media are not worth the heinous drawbacks.

I'm posting this not to expect you to sympathize with my problems, but because recently I have been made increasingly aware of just how toxic and detrimental social media can be, and I want to spread awareness in my admittedly small sphere of influence, because one never really knows who one is reaching and how it is affecting them. I'm writing this because I care about you, reader, and your mental well-being. I'm giving you permission to take care of yourself.

Social media is an open forum, and humanity can't handle those right now. In an ideal world, everything people say would have value and meaning. In reality, mental illness makes a lot of absolute rubbish come out of some people's minds. And one of the really unfortunate things about social media is how it gives the illusion that said senseless rubbish is on equal standing with actual intelligent reason. 

Just as bad, it gives mentally ill people the opportunity to connect with other mentally ill people, giving them a community where their insanity is validated, enabled, and normalized, which is probably the worst possible thing one could do for them. Mentally ill people often use social media to say and do things they could never get away with in real life, and even if you're not actively engaging with these people, it's still harmful to constantly be exposed to their insanity on a daily basis. And it's so pervasive and insidious that no matter how much blocking and filtering you apply, junk still gets through appallingly frequently. 

I'm all for freedom of speech to the widest reasonable extent, and I'm not saying we should (nor is it really possible to) turn the Internet into a dictatorship, but I'm really uncomfortable sharing the same website with the likes of conspiracy theorists and political radicals. If sane people usually try to stay as far away as possible from mentally ill people in real life, why are we being forced to come in constant contact with them on social media? 

No matter how many times I try to tell the social media recommendation algorithms that I'm not interested, crazy people's posts keep showing up in my news feed as "recommended", I have to read their comments every time I go to write a sane comment, and whenever I post something, I kind of cringe a little inside not knowing what kind of weird comments it's going to get. Social media platforms have a long way to go in the realm of actually caring enough about their users' safety to crack down on nonsense.

Social media ironically decreases the quality of people's social lives. (More like antisocial media.) Clinical studies have shown that social media usage contributes to increased feelings of depression, social anxiety, and low self-esteem in teens, but those issues definitely don't stop on your 18th birthday. Even though social media promises to connect you with millions of other human beings around the world, it actually enhances feelings of loneliness and isolation as your connections with people are limited to shallow "likes" and "lols". The Internet creates a horrifying virtual (un)reality that psychologically manipulates you into thinking your interactions and relationships with other users are meaningful, when in actuality they see you as nothing more than a name on a screen and some entertaining words.

Social media does not guarantee increased success in your career. I have written many, many, many posts about my failed attempts to find an audience for my work online. I tried for ten years. I'm exhausted and I have yet to regain all the money I poured into promotional and advertising efforts. When I wrote my first novel, I was given the impression that the Internet would make it easy for an indie author to find an audience--all I had to do was post on social media and the readers would flock to my work. Well, that couldn't have been further from the truth. 

What social media actually does is establish a system wherein users are attracted to accounts that post aggressively, competitively, and on-trend--regardless of what those accounts are actually peddling. Fast food corporations with savvy (and well-paid) social marketing teams have gobs of followers liking their entertaining daily memes, while nobody cares when an author posts saying they published a novel. The priorities of the social media collective simply do not align with the priorities of anybody who values quality over quantity, and if you're not willing to attempt to run that insane rat race of social media content creation, you're going to get mowed over.

So yes, there are some serious flaws with social media--flaws which I could no longer ignore because they were causing me massive amounts of unnecessary stress. I may post on Facebook and X now and again, but they are definitely no longer part of my daily routine. Or even my weekly routine. And again, I strongly urge you, whoever you are, to consider stepping away from social media and finding some better uses of your time. Go outside and touch grass, people. Hug your family. Bake a cake. Visit a museum. Rediscover the wonderfully superior offline world around you.

Friday, May 31, 2024

Truth, context, perception, and planets

Rather differently from my usual fantasy doodles and occasional opinionated rants, today I've got a bit of an art history essay to share.

I recently watched a very intriguing and thought-provoking lecture by Randall Rosenfeld, archivist for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, where he discussed the late 19th-century astronomical illustrations of Étienne Léopold Trouvelot. (You can view a gallery of Trouvelot's lovely renderings here: https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/collections/the-trouvelot-astronomical-drawings-atlas)

At the crux of Rosenfeld's presentation was a question he had no satisfactory answer for: why are some of Trouvelot's illustrations almost photographic in their accuracy (such as the Orion Nebula), while others appear highly foreign and almost caricatures of their subjects' true appearance (such as Jupiter)? Trouvelot was a trained and very skilled artist, using the best telescopes of his time. When his lithographs were published, they were widely praised by professional astronomers who saw nothing wrong with the way he had depicted anything. Other artists before him actually rendered these subjects with more accuracy (you can see a good selection of early Jupiter artwork here), so what was going on?

Rosenfeld ended the lecture with the question remaining open. But as I was absorbing the information he presented, a hypothesis sprung into my mind and I wondered if it might not be along the right track. I emailed Rosenfeld but never heard back from him, so I'm posting the contents of that email here (slightly edited to read less like an email and more like a formal essay), in the hopes that maybe it will help someone along in figuring out the answer to this interesting historical conundrum.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

 


Zoltan Arnyek, the darkness-aligned Halloween Kyrii battlemage from my Neopian Times series Shadow Play (the link goes to part 1; you'll have to navigate to subsequent Times issues to read the rest). I've actually also written him into a few other Neopets fics that I never submitted to the Times; I'll put them here on the blog eventually.

Zolt looks like a villain, but he's actually a goodhearted warlock who cultivated his dark powers and let the wild turn him into a Werekyrii in order to gain the upper hand against evil magic users that he spends most of his time hunting down in the Haunted Woods. He's an old associate of Isengrim's, and while at first in Shadow Play he's grouchy and distrustful, Terra's family helps him understand that it's okay to have friends, and while it's noble to put other people first, it's also important to take care of yourself so you can be there for the people who need you.

Zoltan has absorbed so much darkness magic that it quite literally flows through his veins and causes glowy streaks in his skin and mane. Between his mastery of spellcasting and his excellent swordsmanship, he's not somebody you want to be up against in a fight. He's also a great example of how none of the Neopian magic elements are inherently good or evil; it's got everything to do with the intentions of the spellcaster (Skoll, for example, was a rather nasty earth mage). 

Also, he's surprisingly good at embroidery; the designs on his cloak and vest are his handiwork. It's not just for fun, though--the designs are actually protective spells, which he uses in lieu of armor. Zoltan was a fun character to develop and I enjoy writing him when he pops up on occasion.

Friday, May 10, 2024

 


Another old sketch, some humans in Neopets wardrobe items. (I wish the Space Grundo outfit looked that good on Hyren, but his site artwork makes him so stubby.)

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Some old Pokémon illustrations. I maaaaay have submitted something (not one of these) to the Pokémon TCG illustration contest last year. Would be cool if I placed. I guess we'll see when they announce the results later this year.


 




Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Here are some old sketches of anthro Neopets wearing customization items from the website.






I will be completely honest, I feel like the idea of allowing you to dress up your Neopets sounded fun on paper, and the old site artists came up with some really lovely clothing items (as evidenced here), but I think a lot of the clothes just didn't translate well into the fact that on the website, owned Neopets have much more animal-like physiologies than many canon characters. As a result, wardrobe pieces that would look really good on something shaped more like a human just come across as a bit doofy on, say, a stubby-legged quadruped or a cartoony-proportioned dinosaur.

For example, back when I still played the website, it annoyed me that the real(?) Blynn's pose had her sitting on her haunches, so any tops, pants, or skirts I put on her made her look squat and fat, when Zafaras are actually quite svelte. Clothes looked just as bad on Hyren, and it didn't help that the new Grundo artwork gives them even shorter torsos than before, when I consistently imagine Grundos looking like Gorix from the Return of Dr. Sloth plot. There's a huge discrepancy between how Neopets are portrayed in canon material and the graphics used for user-generated Neopets, and you can't just slap clothes on the latter and assume it'll come across the same as the former. 

I just feel like overhauling the pet graphics and introducing a dress-up system was unnecessary, somewhat devalued painted pets who used to have unique (i.e. non-palette-swap) artwork, and in many cases actually made the species designs less appealing (cough Zafaras and Grundos cough). Unfortunately, it was a decision probably made by the fact that offering wardrobe items for real money would likely be a great source of revenue, because plenty of site players aren't as pedantic about design as I am and just want to stick some shiny clothes on their virtual pet.

I mean, it worked, and that's where most of Neopets's revenue has likely been coming from since they introduced pet customization, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

At least it's better than (shudder) NFTs.

/opinionated rant