Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Junior Update: the Helper Toddler

Sometime in the last month, something in Junior's brain hit the accelerator. My little peanut, who at age one could only scream incoherently with excitement, hunger, or thirst, and whose only word for the last two months was "More!", has now mastered numerous words in English and Tagalog, including:

  • eyes/mata
  • nose/ilong
  • belly/tiyan
  • buhok (hair)
  • paa (feet)
  • kamay (hands)
  • ngipin (teeth)
  • bubble
  • waffle
  • apple
  • pasta
  • isda (fish)
  • doggie
  • truck
  • bus
  • bird
  • bisikleta (bicycle)
  • dahon (leaf)
  • puno (tree)
  • airplane
  • unan (pillow)
  • shoes
  • medyas/socks
  • down/baba

...et cetera.

And he goes "Uh-oh!" or "Hala!" whenever he drops something, which is often.

Apart from his impressive linguistic growth, he is now capable of frankly terrifying feats, including clambering up on our bar stools and scaling the living room table so he can dance from an elevated stage. I think we've successfully discouraged tabletop climbing and dancing, but have allowed him to sit at the counter like a big boy:

Tucking into breakfast at the counter

Since he hangs out with me in the kitchen a lot, I've had to impart an important concept: "mainit," to which he responds: "Hot!" The initial teaching of heat was in the form of letting him briefly touch my mug full of piping hot coffee in the mornings. However, one event seared the concept into his memory: I was carrying him to show him the rice cooker, pointing out that it was hot. His little hand shot out, just as a burst of steam erupted from the steam hole in the lid. After I made sure he wasn't burned, when he finished wailing I said, "Mainit!" And that was that.

Impressed by his cognitive development, I decided it was now time to begin his formal training as Mommy's Little Helper. This continues a tradition by my mother, who employed me as her Coke, and later Diet Coke, runner as a child. At meal times, I would stand at attention while she savored every morsel of her multiple courses, and when she barked, "Kunan mo ko ng Coke!" (get me a coke) I would run to the fridge and back with a 2-liter bottle like a diabetes-bearing missile.*

*parts of this story may be exaggerated

Step 1: Self-Service
Anyway, the first step in training Junior to be a Helper was to familiarize him with the concept of self-service. For example, in the past couple of weeks he started bringing me his nursing pillow when I said, "Dede?" (Nurse?) as part of his bedtime routine. Then he realized that the pink kidney-looking abomination had to be there for him to nurse, followed by the idea that if he brought it over, he could control the time of nursing. Sweet deal, if you ask me.

BYONP (bring your own nursing pillow)

Self-dressing is part of step #1, but this one we have to delay because he doesn't quite have the coordination yet. I shudder to think of the blood and the howling when he inevitably zippers his own chin.

Step 2: Tidying Up
After self-service, the next step is to have him help me put things away. At home, his training consists of helping me make the bed in his room by handing me the pillows on the floor:

He actually can't even lift this pillow above his waist

He also knows to grab a towel from the kitchen rack to wipe up spills -- which, you guessed it, he himself caused -- so he can wipe them up. This is some Inception stuff right here, folks. Hilariously, his reaction to spilled popcorn is the same: "Punas, punas!" (wipe, wipe) Still teaching him to pick up the kernels instead of spreading them across the floor via wiping.

Yesterday he unlocked another achievement: when we got home, I stopped him mid-scamper to the bar stool to ask him to put his shoes on the shoe rack -- which he did!!! Hurrah!!!

Meanwhile, Daddy sets an example every night by putting toys away during wind down time, which has the added bonus of reducing both our chances of getting impaled by a tiny car when one of us rushes in to soothe him at 4AM.

Step 3: Opening Doors
At daycare, when requested, he opens the door to the stroller closet (the only door he can reach). He's been doing an admirable job, except for blocking the doorway when I go to lug in his chariot. We're working on it.

Step 4: That Thing I Don't Like Doing
The final step, obviously, is to have him do his own laundry, because it's low on my list of fun household activities. (Since you asked, my favorite home task is making coffee.) While the picture below is meant to fool you into thinking he can actually do this, in fact he just loves twisting the knob for the different wash settings, and also he learned to say "cheese" for the camera, so...yeah. Although he did load the towels into the washing machine when I asked! Baby steps, baby steps. When he can start reading I'll have him actually set the wash cycle and press start.

Final step: do my own laundry!
In summary, Junior has attained a new level of cuteness (I must capture his adorable dinosaur roaring, chubby fists clenched, on video) and smarts. I am very proud. You can call me Braggy McMomface. And yes, I know the Terrible Twos and/or Threes is/are coming. Just let me have this moment!

TL;DR: At 18 months, Junior can understand enough to follow some orders.

This post brought to you by pork sinigang!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Game Review: Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (PS3)

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is an absorbing romp through the gorgeous seas and islands of the 18th-century Caribbean. Players take on the role of Edward Kenway, a slightly less buff Chris Hemsworth, a privateer-turned-pirate with a mighty thirst for riches and reputation. The McGuffin this time around is the Observatory, a hidden place housing a global surveillance technology. As Kenway swashbuckles his way toward his prize, the action, music, dialogue, and gameplay seamlessly combine into a truly immersive action/adventure experience.

While the usual elements are there -- climbing, sword fighting, guns, blow darts, smoke bombs, etc. -- there are three new additions that spike up gaming enjoyment levels, namely: sailing and sea combat, deep sea diving, and the clever meta.

Here's a scored summary of the game's many excellent features:

Combat: 9/10
Kenway can fight with two swords, shoot enemies in quick succession with up to four pistols, put targets to sleep or make them go berserk using darts, and use smoke bombs to escape (or to wantonly murder the coughing, helpless guards, as one does). As a pseudo-Assassin, he can perform covert kills from up high or hanging from a ledge. He also gets a rope dart in the game's final act, which can be used to string victims from trees as a gruesome finishing move.

The AC series has been getting better at making sneak kills easier, so I was actually less openly aggressive in AC IV, preferring surprise attacks from dense foliage to my previous run-in-and-stab-'em-in-the-gut approach. This seems more in line with the Assassin way.

My only beef with the combat system is my inability to control who Kenway goes after during melee combat. The AI auto-targets the biggest threat, so whenever I knock away a bad guy, I often can't go after him for the kill because the AI will then have Kenway attack the jerk who's hovering right beside him. This gives the other guy time to recover, so then Kenway remains surrounded. Argh!!!

Other than that, fighting was a joy, especially on the high seas. Players can steer Kenway's ship and use broadside cannons, mortar, or chain shots to sink or incapacitate unfriendly ships. Players can board hapless ships for their booty -- which means engaging in combat on the deck -- or just send them to Davey Jones' locker if the take isn't worth it. Later on, boarded and plundered ships can be added to Kenway's fleet, one of many diverting sidequests, leading us to... 

Gameplay: 9.5/10
Oh gosh, where to begin. The sidequests really pad out the game's running time, because there's so much to do! Let's start with your pirate ship. Apart from playing a key role in traveling throughout the world of AC IV, later on you can pimp out your ride with some sweet sails, mastheads, and steering wheels, but it would be wise to get its armor and weapons upgraded first. This is critical if you want to sail the seas unmolested.

In AC IV, Kenway goes island-hopping as part of the main quest, but adventurous players are also allowed to, say, go after an out-of-the-way fort to raise the black flag there and discourage scouting enemy ships. There are treasure chests and Abstergo fragments to collect, wildlife to kill and skin to make new equipment/outfits, and naval contracts to complete. There are also Assassin's quests and Mayan stelae artifacts that unlock really cool armor for Kenway.

Kenway can go deep sea diving to retrieve plans that help upgrade his ship, or dig up chests using found treasure maps. He can open new bars on islands by getting into fistfights, attack royal convoys for cash, infiltrate gangs' lairs and take their bounty, and go out on a rowboat to spear sharks and whales. It's all loads of fun.

My teensy complaint is the main mission bits where Kenway just has to walk with a person to a specific destination. Gawd, add it to the cut scene already!!! I can get acquainted with the new location just fine on my own, thank ye very kindly!

Soundtrack: 9/10
Plenty of pirate-y themes for action and tension! The voice acting is also pitch-perfect.

Story: 8/10
The plot is pretty basic -- man wants thing, gets thing, loses friends along the way -- but it's saved by the fact that Kenway is practically an accidental Assassin, and by the meta added to the AC series' usual story-within-a-story premise. You, the player, are a research analyst diving into the genetic memories of "Sample 17" to gather footage (i.e. Kenway's adventures) for a pirate-themed video game being developed by the entertainment arm of the Abstergo company. As the analyst -- and the player -- take time out of the Animus and wander around the Google/Facebook-like company headquarters, the modern-day Templar's connections become obvious, while the Assassin's fingerprints are equally clear. What's funny is the inclusion of the Abstergo logo in the actual AC IV opening, and the incredibly cheesy opening scenes created for the game that you're supposedly helping to develop.

Villains: 7.5/10
It's hard to top the pope as the Templar big bad for an Assassin a la AC II, but Kenway gets to fight a decent procession of straight-up evil mofos as well as morally ambiguous men and women. The final boss is laughably easy to defeat -- it's the getting to him that's tricky. I score this game element lower because all the bad guys are predictable, but add a bonus half point for the wild card villain -- you'll know who it is when you play.

Visuals: 10/10
The ocean, with its sunrises, sunsets, storms, and rogue waves, is always a delight. The numerous islands are varied in appearance (except for the ones with chests or fragments, those all look alike), and underwater diving is terrifying because my two greatest fears are sharks and drowning.

But what really stands out in AC IV are the facial expressions of the main characters, especially Kenway. There's one particularly emotional scene where his anguish is captured perfectly. Animation sure has come a long way from Sid Meier's Pirates!

TL;DR: PIRATES!!! No other reason needed.

This post brought to you by 25-mph winds! Ahhh, springtime!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Trapeze!

If you're looking for a challenging indoor activity, Trapeze School New York offers classes in launching oneself into the air whilst holding on to a bar for dear life. The staff members are most excellent and the safety equipment perfectly fine, so you can release your fears and SOAR!

Activity: Trapeze class
Length: 2 hours
Instructors: 3

The class accommodates various levels of experience. First-time fliers get:
  1. A safety harness strapped so tight you can barely breathe 
  2. A safety lecture ("Obey the instructor" and "Land on your back or butt, not your feet")
  3. Instructions on how to swing your legs up over the bar, how to let go, and the proper form for "catch hands" -- four fingers together, thumbs apart
And you're up the ladder and off the ledge! Because doing is learning!

On the ledge, you get clicked into lines that are connected to a bar that the "lines" staff will move back and forth over the net, helping you swing. That person will yell commands at you, like:

"LEGS UP!" = swing your legs up and hook your knees over the bar 
"LET GO!" = swing from your knees, arch your back, and do "catch hands"
"HANDS ON!" = grab the bar again while looking at your knees
"LEGS DOWN!" = prep for falling
"HUP!!!" = release the bar and try to fall on your butt!

We got to practice these moves three times before we got to the good part: being caught by our very lean instructor, a bearded pocket acrobat. Behold, my final swings:



Some observations:
  • Climbing up the ladder is a workout on its own. One instructor told me that the minimum age you can do trapeze is whenever you can climb that 30-foot ladder.  
  • The bar is heavy!!!!
  • The "zero area" is when you're at the apex of your swing and have a moment of weightlessness. To conserve energy, this is the moment to move, e.g. to swing your legs. 
  • Flying on a trapeze takes no time at all but seems endless when you're up there. 
My buddy Special K provided much entertainment during her first run by grunting loudly with every effort. After we pointed it out to her, she vowed to be more elegant and went up the ladder muttering, "Don't grunt, don't grunt, don't grunt..."

Another member of our group was an equestrian so she was pretty athletic and nailed every move. Our final adventurer was on her fourth trapeze class and was hanging off her ankles instead of her knees, which requires perfect timing for letting go and being caught by the instructor.
At the end of class, we all compared our callouses, which weren't too bad since we powdered up for the final two runs. 
The next day, all our armpits hurt.
It took three days for my lats and abs to recover from the sore muscles wrought by this very exciting and taxing activity. I am very interested in doing this again, but alas, they close up shop in April. So if you're in Boston and feel acrobatic, try it out now!

TL;DR: I slayed at trapeze, see video above.

This post brought to you by spring showers!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Movie Review: Deadpool (2016)

Deadpool is a riot. It’s a raunchy, ultraviolent ride that sticks a middle finger to earnest heroes, remorseless villains, and the studio that made it. It gleefully tops the self-awareness of Guardians of the Galaxy, including the old-school soundtrack, and it’s the bloodiest Marvel movie so far. The best part is the casting: Ryan Reynolds finally plays the role he was born for, and Morena Baccarin is the Marvel Helen of Troy: the face that launched a thousand bullets.

Deadpool is the origin story of Wade Wilson, aka the Merc-with-a-Mouth. Basically, he gets terminal cancer and the “cure” mutates him into Wolverine, sans the metal skeleton and claws. (There’s a bunch of explicit Wolverine/Hugh Jackman references played for laughs, of course.) The movie follows his quest to undo his concurrent uglification so “[he] can get back together with his superhot girlfriend.” He’s not out to save the world; he’ just trying to regain his good looks. Also, revenge.

Just like in the comics, Movie Deadpool never. Shuts. Up. And it’s awesome, because he is hilarious. I can’t say enough good things about Reynolds’ delivery of his lines and his expressiveness behind the red mask. As a character, Deadpool is endearing because he’s such a fighter that he never loses his sense of humor. He keeps every situation lighthearted, even when he’s thwarted/frustrated.

And that, my darlings, is the fresh air we all need before we face the frown-y Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and the doom-y X-Men: Apocalypse (although Sophie Turner as Jean Grey + Olivia Munn as Psylocke = EVERYTHING). Deadpool’s opening credits, and later, the main character’s lines, show just how not seriously the cast and crew take themselves.

Other notable things in the movie: Gina Carano as a megabuff supervillainess who gives the X-Man Colossus a run for his money; Brianna Hildebrand as Negasonic Teenage Warhead – “the most awesome name ever!” as Deadpool himself exclaims – a heroine who is more surly than sexy or waify; and Deadpool’s Hello Kitty backpack.

TL;DR: Fun and funny! Will be added to our Blu-ray collection. 

This post brought to you by Super Tuesday! Vote!

Movie Review: Hereditary (2018)