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It’s been a long while since my last post, so I decided to push myself to write something today. One of my resolutions was to write more per month, but it’s clearly become an ongoing struggle. Will try to do better this summer.

Part of me feels like I’m running away when I don’t write. It’s hard for me to get focused without a clear plan of what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it and writing seems to making things easier. When I’m not writing, I feel like I’m dodging my problems…this rings especially true when considering the copious amounts of Stardew Valley, League of Legends, and Overwatch that I’ve been playing. Gaming is not a solution to all your problems, Nessa. Jeez.

I have a rough two months coming up ahead. While I know it’ll be stressful, I think it’ll be really good to feel productive this summer.

Currently enrolled in two courses (introductory Biochemistry and Physiology) that I’ve been having immense difficulty fitting into my regular schedule and thus have been forced to take them in the summer. May drop Physiology if the first midterm does not go well since learning so much material in the span of six weeks is absolutely ridiculous. It’s not required for my degree/graduation, but I felt like taking it may help me in studying for my MCAT retake. I’ve always found learning from a teacher/professor to be easier than on my own.

I wanted to get a part-time job this summer (at a coffee shop so I can stop spending so much money on coffee…), but due to my other responsibilities, this doesn’t seem to be realistic until at least after my summer courses end. ūüė¶

Currently continuing to help out in the psych lab I was RAing in for the past year – just training some summer students. Also applied and was accepted as a volunteer RA to another lab – really excited about the opportunity as the lab is one of the only at U of T to use psychophysiological instrumentation. I think the experience will be super rewarding even if I don’t get paid for it.

On top of the courses and the RAing, I also have to study for the MCAT and continue volunteering (~3 hours/week). Safe to say I don’t have much free time planned in the coming weeks. But it’ll be good for me. Hard work is supposed to make you a better person.

Other miscellaneous things I have yet to do, but am mentioning as a reminder to myself:

  • CPR & First Aid course next weekend – it’s apparently a medical school requirement for some schools and it’s also something that the lab I’m RAing in wants me to have
  • Renewing my passport (expires in August) – am not looking forward to taking another horrific passport photo…never understood why we can’t smile in those photos
  • visiting a doctor regarding orthotics – flat-footed me has been putting this off for a whole year…that student health coverage isn’t going to spend itself :/
  • decide on a supervisor for CHM499 – have talked to three profs, unsure if I want to talk to more as I’m already struggling in deciding which lab I’d like to work in

Will try to update on how I’m doing every week for the next two months as I navigate through this heavy workload. I think it’ll be a very simple way to keep my spirits high¬†and the stress low (hopefully…)

More than anything, I want to focus on the little things that make life feel good. Like walking through High Park with my friends yesterday. Like winning that game of Coup on Friday (boardgame night) despite being one card down. Like finally getting a Play of the Game on Overwatch despite me being absolutely horrible at FPS games. Like CLG proving NA can be a strong region at MSI.

Things like that.

Things that can put a smile on your face no matter how hard life seems to get.

Let’s focus on these things.

Because happiness is all about perspective.

At the Forefronts of AI (Thoughts on AlphaGo)

Livestream link (English) here if you’re interested in watching the rest of the matches. More information about AlphaGo here. They also have a paper published in Nature for those that are academically driven.

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I foolishly stayed past 3am last night, without studying a word for my midterm this morning,  unable to stop watching Lee Sedol, a 9-dan professional Go player, test his wits against the mighty technological advancement that is AlphaGo Рa Google-owned computer program (powered by hundreds of CPUs) that is able to match even professional level Go players in the difficult, but logical board game.

It was game two and (spoiler alert) he had lost the previous game the night before (or day before, in Korea time). The victory by AlphaGo came as a surprise to all the professional commentators Рnone of them had predicted that the program would be such a powerful opponent judging from its performance last October against Fan Hui. While it would take decades for a professional player to reach this level, AlphaGo was able to play against itself millions of times within the past months and establish a truly powerful playstyle.

Prior to watching the first livestream, I only had a preliminary understanding of Go – I’ve only played it once or twice and only casually in the free time during math class in high school. So it’s obvious that¬†I’m no Go professional, but even though I barely understood half of the moves that AG and Lee Sedol were making (and the moves I did understand were due to the well-thought out explanations and predictions¬†from Michael Redmond during the stream), I could appreciate the heavy implications this battle brings into both¬†the artificial intelligence scientific and Go communities. And those implications, for humanity and for AI, was what had me watching all night long.

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I was cheering for Lee Sedol the whole way through because I didn’t want to believe that humanity could be bested by machine in such¬†a complicated game that often pushes human intelligence to the limits (as seen in high pressure professional matches). It comes as no surprise that my heart sank when¬†the commentators began estimating or counting the score in the mid-game¬†and he was once again behind and losing to AlphaGo. There was so much pressure on Lee to perform¬†that I couldn’t help but feel for him. On one hand, AlphaGo winning is a step forward in AI, a step forward in technology, and in that sense, a step forward in humanity. Even so, it felt like the opposite – oppressive in the sense that even the greatest human achievements are nothing in the face of a machine. Almost like the AI was undermining all the years that these players spend perfecting their ¬†game -making¬†even the professionals at the top of the ladder seem flawed – and that’s uncomfortable to think about.

Even more unsettling to me was the way that the AI approaches the game. If the system believes¬†she (note: AI are usually considered¬†female)¬†has already won, she no longer seeks to play the optimal moves and instead plays weaker moves to see how the opponent responds. Even in such a high pressure and difficult match,¬†she’s playing with her opponent. From the view of the engineers behind AG, it’s amazing and it shows how far the AI has come. From the view of Go players, it just feels bad.

The whole situation is filling me¬†with mixed feelings. On one hand, I’m in awe of the power that this system possesses. On the other hand, I can’t let go of that feeling that in¬†the end,¬†humans will be replaceable. It makes me think: what can’t artificial intelligence accomplish?

Furthermore, as a gamer, an AI that can beat the best of the best at a game is frightening. We spend so much time fine-tuning our skills, playing against other players, and working towards being better game after game. It’s depressing to think that¬†the fruits of our efforts after years of gameplay is worth less than months of training a computer. It’s even scarier to think of players that can use these computers to train instead of playing of other people. If something like AlphaGo could become commercialized (though doubtful that Google would release it), what would be the point of Go players playing each other anymore for practice? The whole social aspect of the game would go down the drain…Just thinking about that consequence makes me shiver.

It’s these uncomfortable, but exciting thoughts that¬† draw me to continue watching the livestreams. It’s incredible how far artificial intelligence has come and even if the implications make us uncomfortable, I believe it’s worth the pursuit. And although it’s highly doubtful that Lee Sedol will be able to win the series at this point (the winner after 5 matches gets a million dollars), I’m really hoping that he’ll be able to take one game off AG. I think it’d give us a glimmer of hope that there is something incredible about the human brain that even a machine cannot read.¬†Fingers crossed. Go Lee Sedol! ūüôā

Even if he isn’t able to win, I suppose we’ll just have to accept it as also a good thing for humanity…right?

Not just a game, but a way of life

People play video games for different reasons, reasons that are often inclusive rather than exclusive.

Some people play video games for the excitement and fun: to be in the shoes of their favourite hero, to support the franchise they love (*cough*pokemon*cough*), to experience the thrill of a first person shooter, or the satisfaction of advancing to the next level.

Some people play games for the people they’re playing with: for the cooperative and competitive spirit, to accomplish major feats or to be the best of the best.

Some people do it to relieve stress because sometimes the real world can be too much and we just need something to make us remember what it feels like to smile.

Some people play games for a living and others just don’t give a damn about games at all.
And that’s okay. Because games don’t have to mean the same thing to everyone and they don’t have to mean anything at all.

But then there are people like me who could never give it up. Because people like me have blurred the lines between video games and reality and as we play, we can no longer say “it’s just a game” as others do to downplay the significance of what we’re doing.

People like me live second lives on the internet: for us, playing a RPG is not just about the role play, but about living an opportunity we’d never be able to experience in our own lives otherwise; for us, the pixels on the screen are just as real as the people around us; and the memories we create with our imagination are just as important in our hearts as our physical experiences – the tangible and intangible lie equal in our minds.

We find solidarity, peace, and a sense of belonging in a community that didn’t even exist a couple of decades ago.
This is real life to us and it offends us when people question the way we live.

Yes, it may not seem productive and yes, we may not be great contributors to the problems of the world. But understand that our definition of world has already shifted.

And while some people would define success as something greater, I’d be happy enough with a Lv100 Jibanyan.

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Tl;dr: I think I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t quit gaming. But don’t send help. I’m happy with this.

Will my words reach you?

We are the champions of the internet
Explorers of the digital world
And we traverse from platform to platform
To find our place upon the Web

We are no strangers
To strangers on the internet
We make conversation
With people that we’ve never met
Extracting excitement and emotion
From the words on the screen
Indulging in debates and rebuttals
We are both kind as we are mean

But sometimes it’s hard to find trust and value
In the relationships that we make online
For we could lose them at any time
Delete, ignore, and leave behind
It’s just so easy to press delete
To find yet another friend to greet
And this superficiality
Makes me question the significance of what I say,
For how much do my words really matter
When they’re being heard half the world away?

There’s so much distance between us
So many walls to break through
I can’t help but wonder
Will my words reach you?

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2015 New Year’s Resolutions

I often make New Year’s Resolutions, but I find that I very rarely act upon them. In order to make 2015 a year of change and self-improvement, I am going make solid goals, develop plans to actually reach these goals, and continue tracking my progress over the year. Hopefully, that will give me incentive to post more (and develop myself mentally through reflection).

Academic Goals

1. Get A’s in at least 4 of my 6 courses¬†in the Winter Term.

  • 4 of them are Psychology courses so there are no excuses.
  • NOTE: not A-‘s. Those don’t look as nice.

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2. Improve in my 3rd year.

  • Any improvement from 1st/2nd¬†year is acceptable.

3. Do well on the MCAT.

  • May – get study guides, educate self on the new 2015 format.
  • May/June – make cheatsheets/studysheets
  • July – do practice MCAT questions
  • August – ensure you’ve properly studied by trying “mock exams”

UPDATE: new schedule

4. Meet up with a Professor/faculty member that is doing research that interests me.

  • email after doing proper research¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† ***

5. Make at least one new friend in each of your classes.

  • in other words,¬†don’t sit alone.

UPDATE – I have friends in 3/5 classes. ūüôā

UPDATE 2 – ***

6. Run for Treasurer for the CSU ***

  • go to at least 1 ASSU meeting this year (learn what it’s all about)
  • get involved as much as possible this year

Health and Fitness Goals

1. Start going to the gym.

  • You’re paying those damn athletic fees anyway
  • Once a week/once every other week.

2. Attend as many intramural ultimate games as possible.

  • Studying/sleeping in are not excuses. Only miss if working/volunteering, etc.

UPDATE: Missed one ):

3. Make a recipe book.

  • Learn/make 50 recipes by the end of the year.
  • Organize into Breakfast, Snacks, Meals, and Desserts

Hobby-related Goals

1. Visit the places you’ve always been meaning¬†to go. [to be expanded as more places come up]

  • the ROM
  • the Art Gallery
  • CNE
  • Canada’s Wonderland
  • the Science Centre
  • Skating at Nathan Philips Square

2. Do NaNoWriMo

  • IF you are not overloaded in November
  • At least aim for 10k words.

3. Get to Masters on LoL.

  • Not a solid resolution since there is heavy lag
  • It’s okay if you don’t make this goal.

4. Make at least 10 posts a month.

  • you’re never going to mature and grow and actively work on your goals if you don’t reflect on what you’re doing
  • journaling is good for you
  • do it

Child of Light (review)

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Not much new in my life as of late, so I figured I might as well express my appreciation for the Ubisoft Montreal game Child of Light.

The game itself is fantastical and reads like a fairy tale. The artwork is simplistic but beautiful and feels like something out of a storybook. The characters all talk in rhyme and the plot is like something akin to Snow White or Sleeping Beauty – except there are no princes in this story, only a princess who fights her way out of a mystical land to save her people.

The dialogue is enticing and the main character Aurora is absolutely captivating. She starts out innocent and naive, but quickly grows to be mature and quite frankly, powerful with a sort of wisdom towards the end that comes as a bit of a surprise. Kudos to the story development, the game was enchanting and classic. The story itself took many elements from classic fairy tales and wasn’t very creative, but the integration into a game was very unique. The other characters have simple, funny, and lighthearted personalities and it really contributes to the overall feel and enjoyment of the game.

I loved the gameplay. At the start of the game, the jumping platform system may seem traditional and overdone, but the transition into flying mechanics was wonderful. I’ve never been able to fly in a 2d platform-based game before and I fell in love with idea. There are still traps and monsters around every corner and it was very well planned with hidden¬†passages here and there. I enjoyed the integration of ¬†local multiplayer controls, as the mouse controls Igniculus, a flying firefly that does neat things during battle and during map movement, and the keyboard controls Aurora. The combat system is turn-based, reminiscent of Final Fantasy, but the turn interruptions and the integration of Igniculus which can heal your characters or slow the enemy down, made it more thrilling.

The player collects fairy dust to upgrade their characters’ stats and gems called occuli that can be upgraded/combined and used to power-up the characters. Although at one stage, the game bugged out and I lost a whole bunch of occuli that was equipped on my characters, so¬†I was disheartened from the game for the rest of day (but not for long!).

Overall, the artwork and the background music created an extremely pleasant atmosphere. It was the kind of game I enjoy most so I can’t say it’s for everyone.

The best part of the game would probably be discovering that Beatrice Martin, or Coeur de Pirate as she is known, did the soundtrack. I must say, she did very well. I was enchanted and shocked to hear her voice at the end. As a Coeur de Pirate fan, I seized a copy of the OST immediately. It is now one of my favourite soundtracks to listen to as I fall asleep.

[GAME] Poy Poy

I haven’t done a game “review” in a long time, so I figured I’d reflect on one of the most memorable video games of my childhood: Poy Poy, a game on the Playstation.

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Having only owned the Japanese version of the game, I have never known it by its real name and have always just called it the “Rock-throwing game”, but out of plain curiosity, I recently looked up the name.

For me, Poy Poy was the first game in which I learned to button smash – to mindlessly press buttons on the controller and hope something worked. Adding to this effect, everything was in Japanese from the instructions to the characters to the different gloves you could equip. It was basically guess and test for me, having no knowledge of the Japanese language at the time. Looking back, most of it was in Katakana so if I played it today, I’d be able to decipher the majority of the items.

There was something so gruesomely violent and yet enticing about throwing rocks at each other. It was so pointless that it was fun. Whenever my brother or I got bored playing one of the more quality Playstation games such as Final Fantasy or Digimon, we’d retire and play Poy Poy for the heck of it. The¬†feeling of competition and randomness that arose from battling each other in the arena of object-throwing was exhilarating. It was so ridiculous that we would laugh at times – especially on the park map which was dark and often had a roaming dinosaur on the map. Ah, that was always both my favourite and least favourite.

My best friend would sometimes come over and we’d throw rocks at each other for hours, not really understanding the point of the game as it was completely in Japanese. In reality, the game would be terrifying: throwing a rock three times your size would not only be impossible but superhuman-like. I loved the polygon-shaped people and their wacky hairstyles. I loved how there were jelly bean like things you could collect and have no idea what it would do – mostly due to the fact that again, the game was in Japanese and we had no clue what we were doing.

In the end, I guess Poy Poy served as an experience to show that no matter what language a game is in, you can enjoy it. There are, of course, limits on this as it would be completely unpleasant to play a role-playing game without understanding the story, but for something like this, it worked out for the best. I’m sure if the game was in English and I understood how to play, I would’ve had a completely different experience, but the fact that it was in a language foreign to me ¬†urged me to not only indulge in Japanese culture, but to have fun without worrying too much about strategy or what not.

Poy Poy, for me, will always be that one game that leaves me grinning in the thought of it. It was never popular and it was rare to find anyone who had even heard of it, but it was special – something unique that will forever be a small chip of the video game world.

As I was unable to find a decent video of Poy Poy, I present to you one from Poy Poy 2, which is equally awesome and um…updated.