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Bullets '14

Mon Dec 29, 2014, 3:16 PM

:bulletwhite: It’s been three months since my last journal and I’ve been feeling rather pensive lately, so I thought I’d do another reflection blog! Two years ago I wrote one with precisely 2012 characters, which seemed rather short, but instead of writing 2014 words I’ll be dividing them into 14 neat little bullets today; the sad stuff goes in the middle, with the happy stuff on either side. Let’s go!

:bulletgreen: We’ll start on a positive note, shall we? 2014 has been arguably my best year in terms of MOC designing, if I do say so myself; my Bunny, Stego, and Rooster are all vying for the top spot on my list of personal favourites. Notice how they’re all medium-large Creatures, just the way I like it! Understandably I don’t get as much time to build these days, but I’m quite pleased with what I’ve done on that front this year.

:bulletred: One of the reasons why I have no time for MOCing during term time (besides the fact that I’m doing an Engineering degree, which is a fact I sometimes forget) is because I’ve taken up rather a lot of extracurricular activities this year. Having finished a course in Advanced German, I’m now taking Beginner Japanese classes every week, which is incredibly fun – I’m in a class full of other Asians who think that everything is kawaii! Japanese only takes up a couple of hours a week, so that’s fine, and Advanced Mandarin took up a couple more hours a week before I dropped it, so that was just a slightly less enjoyable fine. Oh, and maybe I should mention badminton and tennis, which take up a few hours each week as well, so that’s fine too, I suppose.

:bulletorange: And then there’s music, which has been about as good as it ever was, really. The brass trio I’m in is going pretty well, and this year I’ve done two solo recitals to varying degrees of success, so I’m pretty chuffed about that. Besides that I’ve cut down from five musical ensembles to just two, in addition to a spot on the Music Society committee, all of which are loads of fun and I get to see my music friends more often. It just takes up several hours per week, which is, you know... fine!

:bulletpurple: Probably the most significant new activity is coxing. You may be aware of how enthusiastic Cambridge University is about rowing, and somehow I have become a boatie! Basically I’m the small guy at the back who doesn’t really know how to row, and my job is to coach the eight burly men on how to row. (I also have to steer. If the boat capsizes, it’s my fault.) Despite having had only three months’ experience I am apparently quite competent at not crashing the boat into hazards such as grass or swans, so next term I’m going to be in charge of the first senior men’s boat of Jesus College, which is a pretty scary prospect! I’ve met a bunch of really cool people with the same boatie drive, and while I do have to get up painfully early on a regular basis, I think it’s all worth it. It just takes up so many hours a week, which is... which is...

:bulletblack: Okay, it’s been getting a bit much. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy every one of the activities that I do, but I just have no time for things anymore! I have less time to get my actual work done, and every moment spent ‘chilling’ is done under a looming cloud of guilt. I’d say that this past term has been the most stressful of my life, partly due to the constant obligations and commitments, and there have been several times where I feel like I’m on the brink of cracking. Even my body agrees with me: I have eczema on my neck that fires up when I get stressed for long periods of time, and it’s by far the worst that it’s ever been. It spread a lot around my body, making my skin excruciatingly itchy all the time and causing me to have uncontrollable spasms, and if I succumbed to it (which, after losing the will to fight back, I did frequently), I’d end up with a bleeding neck and several spots that leaked some kind of fluid thing. It’s lucky that the collar stains weren’t permanent. The wounds are slowly healing up now, thanks to my doctor mother, steroid cream, and decent sleep for a change, though it comes back alarmingly easily. I dread to think that it might rear up again next term.

:bulletyellow: The main trigger happened this summer, on Results Day, and since then my confidence (in several fields, not just academia) has taken a pretty big hit. I spent a lot of time gazing out of car windows thinking about the definition of depression. The time commitment thing doesn’t help; I’m used to being slightly ahead, doing work based on when it can be done rather than its deadline, but that’s simply not possible anymore and it’s really disconcerting. I’d prepared a mini-essay about work ethics and the like, but I think I’ll spare you from it this time round – this journal is probably already too long as it is. In any case, I’m slowly coming to terms with the disappointment, and I know it’s not quite as life-changing as I make it out to be... I just hope I can remedy things next year.

:bulletpink: The other topic that’s constantly been on my mind this term is relationships. There’s very little to report in that sector this year: a crush that I knew was impossible from the start, and as expected nothing happened, though we’re still good friends now, thankfully. It’s just that the topic relentlessly persists in everyday conversations – dates, girlfriends, sex, exes – as if I weren’t thinking about it enough already! It’s all just an unhelpful reminder of the untouched slate that is my lovelife; I’ve already had the ‘Why don’t you have a girlfriend yet’ conversation with my mother, to which my main response was “Well, it’s not for lack of trying...”. I’m trying to be patient, following the “Your time will come!” advice of my supportive friends, but I can’t help but feel lonely and pathetic.

:bulletblue: So yeah, it’s been a pretty tough term. I think there’s a lot to be said about general negativity in this day and age: it’s easy to complain, and it’s almost expected for people to respond with their own woes as a schadenfreude offering of sorts, as if it’s a competition to see who has the most miserable life. And hey, I’m well aware that I’m in a more fortunate position than many, but we all have the right to complain a little, don’t we? Meanwhile, telling people about how happy you are or how well things are going gets incredibly tedious (see the first couple of bullet points of this blog entry) and becomes solely self-gratifying after a while. For much of this term, I really wanted to be asked “How are you?” in the genuine sense, not the usual conversational pleasantries for which “Fine thanks, you?” is the only acceptable answer, just so that I knew that someone was concerned for me... and in fairness, a small handful did once I’d made my instability sufficiently obvious, and then we sat in our kitchen and sipped tea, making things at least a little bit better. I received a cute little card that says ‘Don’t worry, be happy!’, and I subsequently pinned it to my board.

:bulletpurple: I dunno, I’m coping, somehow. I’ve found myself buying new clothes and games on impulse, for example: I’m currently making my way through Pokémon Alpha Sapphire with a team nicknamed after Smash Bros characters, such as Rosalina the Gardevoir and Falco the Swellow. I also have a new laptop and refurbished bedroom this year, which is all well and good... see, this is what happens when I talk about happy things! I’m bored already.

:bulletorange: Let’s switch from things I have to things I’d like, shall we? This is my response to Gale-OneOfMany’s tag in which we are asked to name ten holiday wishes, which I am interpreting as both late Christmas wishes and New Year’s resolutions. Here goes:

1. Time! Time for work, time for play, time for sleep, time for memories.
2. I’d like to reiterate the above wish. With enough of it I could handle the next 8 myself.
3. See :bulletblack:.
4. I’d like it if my real-life friends were better off financially. I can see them struggling, and I really want to help, but I’m not sure how.
5. See :bulletyellow:.
6. The new Bionicle sets look intriguing. I think I’ll get Kopaka for old times’ sake.
7. See :bulletpink:.
8. I’ve always been fond of xkcd merchandise. I have my eyes on the Self Reference Shirt in particular.
9. See :bulletblue:.
10. I’m glad that I haven’t become inactive on deviantArt despite all the above. I wish it continues this way.

:bulletred: Picking up on that last part, I think I’m fairly happy with my maintained deviantArt activity. I haven’t done much writing this past term for obvious reasons, though I’m glad I finished the Cantablogger series earlier this year, even if it did fizzle out somewhat towards the end. While I can’t promise any submissions in particular (both MOCs and journals, that is), I’ll make sure I’ll stick around.

:bulletgreen: In some ways you could say that my activities have shifted from the virtual to the real world, as 2014 has been groundbreaking in the field of ‘Lego in the public eye’ for me personally. I first talked about this in Cantablogger Part 7: MOCer Diaries, but it’s worth mentioning again: my MOCs appeared in a college arts festival in February, and then later I was the featured artist in our student paper. However, the best is yet to come: in January 2015, Jesus College is hosting an Arts Festival of its own, and my Jesus College Rooster has been chosen to be the festival’s icon! Before long there’ll be posters put up all around Cambridge, each depicting the proud little bird on dazzling A3; I’ll have to make sure I nab one of them for safekeeping. At least that’s something to look forward to!

:bulletwhite: All in all, 2014 was... yeah, not my best year by a long shot. In fairness, the first half was pretty good, but life has an annoying habit of making us brush the positives aside, doesn’t it? I realise that most of the problems I’ve had this year are entirely self-induced: one is simply the case of biting off more than I can chew, and the others are me moping about things that probably aren't as serious as I make them out to be. Perhaps that’s the key to achieving the ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ attitude... ah well. Sorry for the rather downbeat journal, but it’s an accurate reflection of my mood as of late. Happy holidays to all who’ve read this far, and here’s to a brighter 2015!

Skin by SimplySilent

A spot of English

Journal Entry: Sun Sep 21, 2014, 10:28 AM

[A and B sit down by the windowsill.]
A: I’ve been thinking about the topic of my next deviantArt journal. I mean, the last proper one I wrote was back in June, I think, so it’s been a while... How’s your tea?
[B takes a tentative sip.]
B: Mm. Still a bit hot. What were you thinking of writing about?
A: I’ve kinda wanted to talk about English grammar in a journal entry for a while now. Well, slightly more general than that – the evolution of the language as a whole as well as specific punctuation and spelling things.
B: I’m surprised you haven’t written about it before! You do go on about it all the time.
A: Yeah, I guess I do... I just don’t want it to turn into one of those “Five Grammar Mistakes You Make Every Day” type things, you know? There are already loads of those articles online.
B: Have you read the one about the Alot?
A: Oh yeah! On, on, what’s it called... Hyperbole and a Half! That one’s hilarious.
[Both smile and stir their tea.]
A: You know, I think there are three stages of people.
[A puts down his spoon and raises his index finger.]
A: The first kind are the people who don’t care about spelling or punctuation at all. I get comments like that on deviantArt all the time – you know, usually pretty brief comments, without a single capital letter or anything like that. And weirdly enough, they don’t actually annoy me that much... though I do find that I put less effort into my replies, if I even reply at all.
B: ...isn’t that a bit unfair? What if English isn’t their first language?
A: That’s sometimes the case, yeah, but you’d be surprised. It’s just that if they can’t be bothered to proofread their comment before sending it, it feels like I’m less obliged to take them seriously, you know? Okay, that didn’t quite come out right, but you know I mean.
B: Hm, I guess. How about the other two types of people?
[A takes a quick sip from his mug before answering.]
A: The middle group is the ‘normal’ people, and that encompasses most people our age, I think. They know about the difference between your and you’re, but they won’t be bothered by the occasional typo or punctuation error or something.
B: Am I in that group?
A: Mm, yeah, I’d say so. You’re at the better, more correct end of that group.
[B smiles.]
A: And then there’s me, in the third group. We’ll actually go out of our way to correct other people’s grammar; you’ve often heard me rant about less and fewer, who and whom, he and I and him and me...
B: Don’t call yourself a Grammar Nazi, though. I don’t like that term.
A: Yeah, I’m not a big fan either – Godwin’s Law and the like, right?
[A chuckles.]
A: It just seems that this wrongness is so unnecessary, that’s all! I mean, it’s not even hard – like that time in lectures when we weren’t sure if occurred had one R or two, and it just took me, like, twenty seconds to look it up. Spelling mistakes probably don't come up as often as I think they do, but if I see dissapointed written on a sign then it'll annoy me to no end.
[A takes another mouthful before continuing.]
A: You know what I think is the main problem? People aren't worried about the fact that they're wrong. If somebody corrects them, they'll just shrug it off and say "Oh, but you knew what I meant, didn't you?". That's a terrible excuse in my opinion, and they get all defensive when someone was simply trying to help. Won't do them any good when it comes to writing formal stuff.
B: Do you think it’s just a case of people not realising that they’re wrong, though? You said that you only realised that colour blind was two words once you looked it up for that blog entry.
A: Yeah, that’s true.
B: Hopefully things like autocorrect will make people more aware of this stuff.
A: Or maybe the opposite will happen and people will just let autocorrect fix everything for them. Actually, I’m glad you mentioned autocorrect – there’s something that keeps bugging me...
B: Hm?
[B watches expectantly as A pulls out his iPhone.]
A: Look: Apple doesn’t like it when I try to type its. I’ve even added its to that word list in Settings, and still every time it tries to correct it to it’s, and it’s infuriating.
B: Oh come on, that’s not that bad! You say it’s far more often than you’d say its anyway.
A: Yes, but it’s already the most unknowingly misused word... don’t quote me on that. I mean, I have some sympathy because of the usual ’s possession rule, but people need to learn that its is an exception! They should put it on the school curriculum or something! And this autocorrect thing isn’t helping.
[After putting his phone back in his pocket, A calms down again by drinking some more tea. The two of them look out onto the street.]
A: If there's any specific grammar point that I'm going to drive home in that journal, it's going to be the its thing. Hopefully people'll look up the fewer stuff without me having to explicitly state it.
B: Mm. What time’s your train, again?
[A checks his watch.]
A: Twenty-five past. No need to rush.
[A few seconds pass in silence as they are lost in their own thoughts.]
B: I think you’re being too black-and-white about this whole grammar thing.
A: How so?
B: Well, language is an art! It grows, it evolves, it changes. Language isn’t like maths, where there’s just one correct way of doing things – it adapts to whatever its speakers find most convenient at the time.
A: I guess. Nobody talks like Shakespeare anymore.
B: Exactly! Maybe in a few generations’ time, it’ll be correct to say, I don’t know, less cars or the guy who I talked to.
[A winces visibly.]
A: That sounds... well, it’s wrong! I’m trying to preserve the language as it is!
B: But if enough people carry on talking like that, it won’t be seen as wrong anymore because everyone’s doing it. We’re not supposed to start sentences with conjunctions either, but we’ve been doing that all day.
A: Yeah, but this is speech. It doesn’t count.
B: Really? So if something sounds more natural, it doesn’t matter whether it’s grammatically correct? That sounds like the reasoning of the less cars people.
[A hesitates, and B chuckles.]
A: Fine, you win this round. It’s probably not going to stop me from trying to correct people every now and then – I think it’s become a reflex for me now – but I guess it’s another thing I’ll just have to learn to accept.
[A raises his eyebrows at B, who returns the gesture. Both warm their hands on their mugs for a little while.]
B: So when do you think you’ll write it?
A: The journal? Sometime after I get home, I suspect. I just have to figure out how I’m going to conclude it – I mean, usually my posts are monologues with some kind of strong message to round it off, but I’m not sure I have one here.
B: I’m sure you’ll think of something!
A: I’ll try. Oh, and thanks for having this chat! It always helps a lot to talk about journal topics before I write anything down.
[B smiles, then glances at the clock on the wall.]
B: We should probably go – it’s almost ten past.
A: Yeah, you’re right.
[A and B gulp down the last of the tea, then leave the café.]


This conversation was made up, but B and the café were taken from recent events. Thanks for reading!

Note: Since posting this I have (unsurprisingly) been picked up on my incorrect use of the word anymore. Goes to show that A's grammar isn't as perfect as he thinks it is, eh? For reference purposes I'll keep the text as it is, but I'll try to switch to any more from now onwards.

Rahiden's deviantArt Story

Sat Aug 9, 2014, 9:33 AM
Happy 14th birthday, deviantArt! This is the journal skin you wanted us to use, right? Right?

On 12th February 2008, a twelve year old Aiden decided to create a deviantArt account under the totally awesome unrivalled name of Maplemaster. Those were the days, eh? Man, I hate that name. At the time, of course, I had no idea that this account would become what it has; I was rather hooked on the MMORPG Maplestory, meaning that my first few deviations were edited screenshots and drawings of in-game stuff. They have been shifted over to my Scraps folder now, but I look back on them fondly...
The Statue of Goddess by Rahiden

Sadly most of my early deviantArt buddies are now inactive, like Fuzzianna (who convinced me to create the account in the first place) and Uikri (previously known as Minoru-Kokubunji, who was one of my first Bionicle friends on here), and it's a shame seeing so many "Sorry for the inactivity" and "I think I'm just going to leave deviantArt" journals in my inbox. Alas, people coming and going is just a fact of life, isn't it? Nothing we can do but watch them go and continue as we are. I'm featuring a painting done by Fuzzianna, appropriately named 'Forget me not'.
Forglem Mig Ej by Fuzzianna

Over the years, my MOCing gradually developed. I became more careful with colours, more fanatic about photography, more insistent on imagination. There are still some oldies that I'm fond of, though it's now become the case that everything I build will probably stick around for the foreseeable future. One thing I love about the Bionicle community here on deviantArt is that there's such a wide range of skill here, from people asking for tips through to virtuosos that leave you speechless (and don't say much themselves either!). Rhymes-Shelter is one of the latter.
Rafiki by Rhymes-Shelter

I know I've mentioned it several times before, but I can't go through a 'My deviantArt Story' without mentioning Hero Faffory, can I? Man, what a journey that was. It made sure that I remained active, it caused laughs and arguments, it was inspired by the readers as well as the writer, and I now view my MOCs as characters as well as simple sculptures. Above all, though, it was by far the most enjoyable project that I've done (noting that my definition of 'project' is incredibly ambiguous), and I have to thank the loyal people who came with me on that trek. I skimmed through the gallery just now, and it was hard to pick just one to feature!
Hero Faffory Page 51: Minimise by Rahiden

And then of course, on the other side of things, I have become a writing hobbyist. (Hah, 'hobbyist' doesn't look like it should be a word.) Through journals, videos, and simple comments alike, deviantArt has made me far more thoughtful on how I come across in writing, and I doubt there are many people my age who can claim that they write a 1,000-word essay every month as a simple pastime. One such person is Lewanut, whose curious writing style never fails to amuse.
On the Proper Preparation of SandwichesIt's become ubiquitous for uncreative writing teachers to assign their pupils the common, pedestrian task of inscribing instructions on the proper preparation of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Perhaps they hope that some will take it to heart, and grow up to be writers of technical manuals and/or cookbooks. Or perhaps they're just biding time until summer vacation, and the resulting opportunity to kick it (as the expression goes) in Vegas. Regardless, I now bring you tidings that will put such petty scribblings to shame: the most in-depth, detail-oriented, hyphen-abusing description of sandwich creation in existence. We have left no minuscule detael unexamined, producing a thoroughly polished and well-researched entry for your perusal. Don't thank us, it's just what we do.
To begin with, drive to Wal-Mart. I presume you're well acquainted with automobiles; otherwise, you must first read a guide that deals with such matters. Once you have reached Wal-Mart, proceed to stock your car

Ah, deviantArt has changed me in all sorts of good ways. I clicked the 'Write a Journal Entry' button with the sole purpose of getting a shiny new badge, but reflecting over the past six years has brought back so many brilliant memories. May the art keep flowing for all of us!


Sat Jul 26, 2014, 9:03 AM





:bulletorange: What's that? A journal entry that's not part of Cantablogger? Haven't seen one of those in a while!

But yes, these wonderful little bullet points make a welcome return, in all their disjointed colourfulness. Prepare to be riddled with them.


:bulletblue: Item one: New YouTube video! This one is a MOC review of the Bunny, and the video itself is basically me fanboying about lights, snowflakes and whiskers for six minutes.

You know, in the past I used to dislike recordings of my own voice because I sounded so low (both in pitch and emotion), but now I realise how many little tone changes crop up in my speech. It reminds me of Chinese actors attempting to sound cool by speaking English but failing at it.


:bulletblack: Item two: Life updates! Dear dear. Well, I got pretty disappointing exam results, so that’s been dwelling on my mind rather a lot lately. And then things have been rather hectic in the Rahiden household: we’re doing a lot of reworking of our upstairs rooms, meaning that I spent a week sleeping in the lounge and then another in my sister’s then-barren room, and there’s a lot of shelf-moving and generic change that gets me a bit stressed.

Thankfully it’s mostly done now, and I’m currently in my renovated room with plain-coloured walls and daylight-level ceiling lights which I love, so that old reliance on natural light for photography is no longer an issue! I also bought myself a load of new stuff to lift my spirits, including (finally) Pokémon Y on a special edition 3DS XL, a Lego Mixels set (spoiler alert: googly eyes are coming), and a new laptop which doesn’t have Microsoft Office yet so I’m typing this on Notepad++. So yes, many things to distract one’s mind while it tries to resolve its opinions.


:bulletred: Item three: Work, of the paid variety! I am currently in my fourth week of my placement at a rail company called Progress Rail. My partner and I have been assigned the job of installing a 3D printer for the office, involving the purchase, building, testing, and guide-writing processes. I've spent a lot of time drawing 3D models in CAD software, and naturally I've roped Lego into the whole thing. I found the exact dimensions of a 2x4 brick online, and right now we have three grey bricks (of varying quality) that fit snugly onto each other and an actual Lego brick!

I'm tempted to find the CAD files for Bionicle pieces and see if I can print a couple of them without the company noticing that I'm exploiting their printer for personal gain. I mean, there's only so much you can pass under the "We're testing the printer's capabilities" excuse - I'm already planning to print some Reuleaux tetrahedrons, an Apollonius Cone, and a shape fitted inside a cubic skeleton that is impossible to remove (and thus impossible to manufacture by any other means).


:bulletgreen: Item four: Bionicley things! I have one already built and almost ready to photograph, and besides that, I have a small handful of projects that I’d like to do. I’ve received rather a lot of requests recently, ranging from Ninjask to my biggest fear to a selfMOC to a Mixels revamp, and I’m sad to say that none of them have really appealed to me an awful lot.

I’d rather spend time making MOCs using colours that aren’t currently at use that much, the most notable being Mata Green and the rest being obscure colours like sand green and dark trans-blue. There are other colours in which I still have buckets of pieces that are dying to be used, like Metru red and lime, so they'll probably make an appearance too. Thus, the current line-up consists of two Rahi, a vehicle (and I’m serious this time!), a Robot Unicorn revamp, and possibly some dual-coloured Kromo Goblins depending on how many obscure colours I have left.


:bulletpink: Item five: Oh hey look it’s a pink bullet point. This must be a sign that Rahiden has nothing more to say and that he should probably wrap things up for now. Toodles!

❤ Oooooh bubbles

❤ Skin CSS © Nesmaty

Bionicle MOC: Fissure by Rahiden

Bionicle MOC: Nameplate by Rahiden

Bionicle MOC: Bunny by Rahiden

You just lost The Game

Part 1: Introductions | Part 2: Trust me, I'm an engineer | Part 3: The city of cycles | Part 4: "Aiden's still working!" | Part 5: A soberman's night out | Part 6: Time for another entry | Part 7: MOCer Diaries | Part 8: Read all about it

I think this is going to be my last Cantablogger entry. For now, at least.
I recently finished my first year of university, so it’s a good time to bring things to a close. And anyway, I’ve covered all the topics that I wanted to write about - aside from this one, of course. Writing about writing, eh? How meta.


For the past four years I’ve been documenting my life in writing. I keep a planner for each year, writing down thoughts, quotes, and events that occur in my day-to-day life. Then there are these blog entries, which alternate between general discussion of particular topics and materialistic accounts of stuff I’ve been doing. I read back through both of them on occasion, reliving the memories and getting confused at the obscure references that I no longer understand; it’s also interesting seeing how my general outlook on life has developed over the years, and how phases of elation or depression come across in what I write. Together they’re like a diary, really, except that it’s open for anybody to read and annotate. These days there are very few things that I actually keep to myself…

You know what the best part about writing is? It’s like having a conversation with both everybody and nobody. I can say whatever I like without needing a particular person at whom to direct it, and yet people are free to read if they so wish, making their responses all the more valuable. It’s the perfect place to offload general observations about everyday life (the first few sentences of this paragraph being a good example) without pressurising anybody for immediate response or criticism, and you have the liberty of taking your time with what you want to say. This has done wonders for my public speaking skills – I make a habit of dictating my blogs to myself to make sure they sound natural before posting anything online, as if I were speaking to a large crowd.

My writing style has been described as candid before: open, sincere, unrehearsed, perhaps to the point of vulnerability. But hey, I like this style. Why write at all if you aren’t exposing your thoughts at their purest? It’s not that I think my opinions are any more correct or valid than anybody else’s (though apparently it comes across that way); what you are reading now is how I think.

Writing is an incredibly valuable use of one’s time, though… it’s an insight into somebody else’s head, and the process itself is brilliant for identifying what you truly think about a particular topic. It’s a shame that it’s such a rare pastime – writing is like a sport of the mind, encouraging individuality, as opposed to the plethora of popular games which, while no doubt enjoyable, won’t contribute an awful lot to personal development. I am always bemused whenever I hear that my offline friends keep blogs too because of the vast range of the word’s meaning: my sister keeps one for her art studies, while a handful of my friends from college manage pages filled with cat gifs and Game of Thrones pictures. Admittedly I’m not a particularly loyal follower of any of them (though the cats do make for wonderful lazy mornings), and I find myself skim-reading far more of my friends’ deviantArt journals than I should, which makes me all the more appreciative of those who take the time to read mine.

I do realise that people have no obligation at all to read whatever I submit. I have to constantly remind myself that, frankly, people don’t care about some British teenager like me, and everything I do is entirely self-centred. Just look at how often I use the first-person! And similarly, I’m under no obligation to do this either - I could just stop writing, stop building, stop coming online at all, and there’d be no repercussions whatsoever. In some ways it makes me wonder why I set myself such strict deadlines (like the length and frequency of each entry) if it’s such a commitment-free hobby, but hey, I’m quantitative like that.

One area where I always try to tread carefully is the bridge between these blogs and ‘the real world’. You’ll have noticed that I strive to remain anonymous whenever I refer to the multitude of faceless ‘friends’ (special mentions to Wifey, the Rower, and the Pirate, who’ve now made brief appearances in at least half of these Cantablogger entries). That’s to say nothing of my own privacy: I recently discovered how easy it is to find my personal details simply by googling some fairly obvious keywords, and frankly if you’ve read this far then you deserve to know. I’m still getting accustomed to my friends at university proudly informing me that they’ve read my blog, which pleases me greatly;  sometimes I forget that these blogs aren’t purely for my own viewing.

Then of course, there are the rare occasions when people I know offline create a deviantArt account with the sole purpose of posting a comment on one of these journals. Unfortunately (and perhaps unsurprisingly) there’ve been more attempts to cause a stir than ones to offer words of wisdom, but thankfully deviantArt’s public birthday system allows me to identify said trolls and promptly unfriend them from Facebook. The proper comments, however, never fail to warm my heart: I used to say that the feedback on these journals provided half the enjoyment, and I think it’s partly my fault that the comments section has declined somewhat in recent times. In some ways I wish that the handful of my offline friends who do regularly read my blogs would leave a more permanent mark than just “Oh, I thought it was quite well-written!” upon my inquiry, but them taking the time to read it in the first place is already more than I could ask for.

And so, dear reader, for the last time in this series, Rahiden is signing off. As always, thanks for reading.

Skin by Celvas

Cantablogger Part 7: MOCer Diaries

Fri May 30, 2014, 1:41 PM

Part 1: Introductions | Part 2: Trust me, I'm an engineer | Part 3: The city of cycles | Part 4: "Aiden's still working!" | Part 5: A soberman's night out | Part 6: Time for another entry | Part 7: MOCer Diaries | Part 8: Read all about it

May 24th 2014
I am starting to write Cantablogger Part 7. I have less than two weeks of revision before exams start in early June, so I think writing will be a pleasant distraction… and what better topic than my Lego activities over the past year? Presented in diary form, just to provide some variation. There are a number of photos that go with this entry, so I’ve constructed a little Stash gallery which you can follow:


October 18th 2013
We’ve just finished the Lego Mindstorms project! I’ve been pretty active in terms of Bionicle so far – I spent the first week building the Puzzlebox, which I’ve been using as a challenge for any friends who happen to visit my room. I’ve actually brought the bulk of my pieces with me, having carefully organised the colours before leaving home. Here’s to a MOC-filled term!

November 3rd 2013
Last week we were talking about funky College Marriage proposals. The College Family system was introduced in order to make links between students of different years; my parents are two second-year engineers, and come September I’ll be receiving kids of my own! Anyway, the general consensus is that you should get married early, before the good girls are all gone. As a result I’ve spent countless hours designing a little ring in a box – it’s been infuriating trying to get a lid that covers the ring without being too bulky, and I’m not totally satisfied with it, but it’ll have to do. We’d been joking about me making a ring out of Lego, but I’m actually taking it seriously…

November 7th 2013
It actually worked!

December 3rd 2013
I’m working on a new MOC. I’m not entirely sure what it’s going to be, but I’ve made two chunky green legs and a weird alien-y head, so I’m going from there. Oh, let me tell you about my Guest Shelf! Every time I have a visitor and the Bionicle pieces are out, I encourage them to build something – anything – which I will then display for all to see. It’s certainly interesting seeing how people build and name their creations. If I ever get MOCblock, I have decided that I will revamp one of these Guest Shelf MOCs. Should be fun.

December 24th 2013
Oh man, I’ve missed free MOCing time so much. I’ve recently finished the Bloodfang and Fellest, and it feels so good to be back in the swing of things! I want to do something gunmetal next – a quadruped, maybe, even though every gunmetal MOC I’ve made so far has been a quadruped. I’ve never been truly satisfied with any of them, so hopefully we can fix that.

January 19th 2014
One of my friends is performing in a theatre production of Pirates of Penzance, and it’s his birthday today. I built him a hook!

February 7th 2014
A few weeks ago I received an email asking if I’d take part in an art exhibition called the Queens’ Arts Festival. I spent quite a while deliberating about which five to suggest, and it even influenced which ones I took down with me this term. Let’s hope it goes well!

February 9th 2014
Well that was disappointing. My exhibition space consisted of two large prints and a stool which could barely hold anything; the exhibition itself was an unusual layout that took a path through people’s bedrooms, and my display was tucked away at the very end. I guess one consolation was that a small handful of my friends turned up to have a look around, and I did manage to nab the little red printed label that says “Yanmega” on it. Oh, and Stego lost one of his solar panel things. That sucked.

February 20th 2014
Well, it looks like February is the season for Lego in the Public Eye. I was asked to be the selected artist in The Cambridge Student (the university’s student-run paper) for which I had to write an article about myself and what my hobby consists of. Unlike the horrendous Queens’ Arts, this went very well – I could actually present myself in a way that I wanted to be presented, and now the snippet of Page 23 is tacked proudly onto my notice board, complete with a printed image of Stego.

April 12th 2014
Once again I appreciate the true value of having free time at home. Not only did I recently finish making the Jellyfish (on which I can test my new blacklight! More pictures to come soon), but the adorable silver Bunny made its way into my personal favourite MOCs list. My wife even sent me a birthday card with a drawing of the Bunny on the front! One of many things that totally made my day.

May 10th 2014
I went to Sainsbury’s this morning and bought The Daily Mail. After cutting out the voucher and promptly disposing of the rest of the newspaper, I went and redeemed my little Spiderman minifig from WHSmith. He has accompanied me while I’ve been singing Spiderfig, Spiderfig, does whatever a Spiderfig does the whole day. I might make a Spiderman exo-suit featuring it at some point.

May 25th 2014
It is currently 3am. I am in my room with two guys in my staircase, and we have been sitting here chatting since about 11. I, of course, have been multitasking – Tarix’s blue and gold polearm piece has been alluring me ever since I nabbed a dusty one from eBay, and finally I’m getting a chance to use it!

May 30th 2014
As usual I am leaving these blogs later and later in the month. But oh well, it’s exam term, and that’s become my excuse for basically everything right now. Man, it’s a good thing I got the Swanship out of the way before exams start next Wednesday… and in just eleven days’ time, I shall be free to MOC even more. Wish me luck!

Skin by Celvas

Part 1: Introductions | Part 2: Trust me, I'm an engineer | Part 3: The city of cycles | Part 4: "Aiden's still working!" | Part 5: A soberman's night out | Part 6: Time for another entry | Part 7: MOCer Diaries | Part 8: Read all about it

The theme of this blog entry is Time. I apologise for its disjointedness, as it appears to be more like a series of somewhat-relevant ramblings rather than a coherent progression. There has, however, been a trend in these Cantablogger entries: the odd-numbered ones tend to be more light-hearted while the even ones are somewhat less so. And on that note, let us begin.


Ah, time. The bane of virtually everything these days, isn’t it? There’s never enough of it, and everything takes longer than it should! On the rare occasions that we have spare time on our hands, it’s far too easy to spend it doing something completely pointless. For instance, I have had this very Word document open for over three hours, and barely anything to show for it; as opposed to writing anything of note, I have instead found myself once again on Pokémon Showdown, being ever tempted by that Look for a Battle button. And for what? To try and drag my rating back into the top 30 that it once tasted? While it is mostly fun, I kick myself for the wasted opportunity. And there we go, an entire morning gone, consumed by the soft clutches of procrastination.

I like to think that time is the one thing that truly unites us all. We all live in different countries with different families and emotions and languages, but the flow of time is the one thing that’s constant for us low-velocity earthlings. It’s a currency that has infinite value, and everyone has the same budget. Time can’t be bought or saved or recycled – it’s a train that just keeps going, and trying to slow it down is a lost cause. You can skip bits out through sleep and drink of course, but there’s no way to change its advance; the best thing you can do is enjoy the trip.

I sometimes wonder if I’m doing enough extracurricular activities. I mean, the stuff that my peers do outside of their courses is pretty admirable: theatre productions, perhaps, or ballroom dancing, or representing the College through rowing. And what about me? Music is the by far the most significant contribution to my leisure activities – horn players are in demand as ever, resulting in me playing in up to four different orchestras simultaneously, not to mention choir at the weekends - but that doesn’t take up too much time, does it? I still find myself with hours to kill, don’t I?

It’s a tough balance, really… obviously academia is the main priority, but we have to make sure we’re still well-rounded people, right? Keep active in the world of music, sport, and art in addition to your degree! And yes, I’d say that I do keep myself busy in those fields: while tennis and running have been somewhat lacklustre so far, I do have photography and writing to be getting on with, and perhaps MOCing if I’m blessed with a free afternoon. Oh, and I suppose I did take a German course which took up a few hours of each week, but that’s finished now. I’ve decided that next year I’ll take up either Intermediate Mandarin or Beginner’s Japanese, and I’ll be part of the Jesus College Music Society committee as well. I’m hoping that the extra commitment will just motivate productivity, so staying on top of the workload shouldn’t be an issue as long as I don’t bite off more than I can chew.

In any case, I do still think that my time could be better spent. There is a phrase I often use in both online and offline conversations: “Yeah, that’s on my list of Stuff That I’d Probably Like, But I Just Haven’t Gotten Around To It Yet.” This is my response to people suggesting Minecraft or Game of Thrones or Death Note or goodness knows how many other popular things. Several of my close friends are into these pastimes, resulting in me feeling left out quite often. While I’m sure I would enjoy the supposedly ‘popular’ franchises, I just don’t feel like I have the time or enthusiasm to devote to new pursuits, you know? It works both ways, of course - I have a different set of friends with whom to discuss Pokémon-related things, so they’re equivalent systems, surely? I have my own future projects to keep me occupied anyway: there are a lot of things which I really should do, like keeping up with world news and learning about advanced photography techniques, though sadly these activities remain perpetually in the lifeless No Real Deadline section of my to-do list.

I’m not sure if I have a routine anymore. Everything used to be so straightforward: get up at this time, go to these classes and rehearsals, and then go home to work and play. Activities had a designated time and place. Now, though, lectures and meals are the only things that really provide a schedule – nothing else has constraints anymore. Shall I practise French horn at 11:30pm? Nah, let’s go play pool instead. When do you go to bed? 11 at night or 6 in the morning? Do you even go to bed at all? I admit that I have been somewhat sleep deprived during my time here, simply because its necessity has dropped to my defiant justification of three hours’ slumber with “Sleep is for the weak!”. I once heard a knock on my window at 1:30am: I opened the shutters to find my pyjama-clad college brother-in-law, still clutching his cereal bowl, excitedly saying “Hey Aiden, look at the fog! It’s so cool!”. And the brilliance is that nobody bats an eyelid about these kinds of oddities anymore.

Perhaps the most open topic that I’ve written about so far, isn’t it? Open to the point of having little direction and no distinct message with which to conclude… much like time itself, come to think of it. How delightfully, pathetically philosophical. Ah well – time to wrap things up.

Skin by Celvas

Part 1: Introductions | Part 2: Trust me, I'm an engineer | Part 3: The city of cycles | Part 4: "Aiden's still working!" | Part 5: A soberman's night out | Part 6: Time for another entry | Part 7: MOCer Diaries | Part 8: Read all about it

When I began this Cantablogger series way back in November, Nightlife was one of the first handful of topics to be pencilled in. Of course, back then I’d had no experience of it whatsoever – I’d only seen some of the aftermath – but now that I have two data points for reference, I think it’s about time.


Clubbing used to be one of those things that I simply didn’t ‘do’. If you’d asked me three months ago whether or not I’d been clubbing, I would have literally laughed in your face and said something along the lines of “Hah! Me, clubbing? Absurd.” (Incidentally I would respond similarly when asked about being in a relationship, though that’s not for lack of interest.) I mean, in my head, clubbing was filed with alcohol and general partygoing in a proverbial cardboard box with the words Just not my thing scrawled on the side, shoved into a shadowy corner and happily left untouched.

Without wanting to revisit the topic in too much detail, the whole ‘alcohol’ scene still succeeds in repelling me. I’ve heard many a tale about inebriated dips in the river Cam or overconfident teenagers being beaten to a pulp by bouncers. I once watched a friend of mine be dragged back to his room shortly before vomiting all over his own bathroom floor and pissing himself. Something that alarms me even more is the frequency of people claiming that they can’t remember the previous night’s activities. Occasionally it’s all in good humour (“I made out with a blonde girl from John’s, though I have no idea who she was!”), but when a female friend says that she has some vague memories of being in a stranger’s room and nothing beyond that, I can’t help but feel concerned. I’d rather keep my memory running, thank you very much, without needing to piece together numerous different accounts of whatever embarrassing thing I apparently got up to. Thankfully my status as a non-drinker has been well accepted – over the past two terms I have had exactly three sips of alcohol (all offered to me by my College Wife, and I can’t say no to that, right?) and I didn’t like any of them. Teetotal I am, and teetotal I shall remain.

Allow me to walk you through a ‘typical’ night out from my perspective. We begin with the mandatory Formal Hall, where our suits and gowns contrast nicely with the goal of getting the birthday boy as drunk as humanly possible. This may involve the infamous tradition of Pennying, in which a penny dropped into somebody’s wine glass makes them socially obliged to down the drink in order to save the drowning Queen. Of course, I sit eternally in a protective bubble – I cannot be pennied, nor would you ever find me encouraging the consumption of alcohol! I much prefer the solid counterpart known as Five Pennying: a five pence coin placed in someone’s dessert means that they have to finish the course without using their hands, resulting in a dirtied chin and a Facebook photo to commemorate the event. How delightfully innocent!

This is followed by a spat of drinking games in the host’s staircase. The alcohol starts to take effect about now: a friend reading out his emails in slurred Spanish, perhaps, or another throwing up in a bin after having downed a concoction of Coke, vodka, and milk. It’s also at this point that people find out that I am going out, thus cancelling any plans for their early night: “What, Aiden’s going out?! I’ve got to see this!”. Look at me, being such a good influence! At least my clubbing nights are only reserved for birthdays. After having gotten changed into clothes that will let us appreciate the winter cold at its finest, we advance into the night.

It’s dark. The music is perfectly audible from the entrance, and it’s only going to get louder. The room is made humid by the sweat of the writhing multicoloured bodies under the fire of harsh strobe lighting. We dive in, blasted with deafening, repetitive music in 4-4 with lyrics that aren’t directly about sex but are definitely, definitely about sex. On my first night out I distinctly remember wanting to leave immediately, but I’m glad I stuck around.

The first rule of clubbing: Nobody, and therefore everybody, can dance. Any movement of the upper body will suffice, and hands in the air are always a plus. This rule also applies to singing, in the sense that it doesn’t matter how well you can sing because no-one can hear you anyway. It provides an alternative to dancing if you get bored of waving your arms around: just turn to your nearest female friend, press your face within inches of hers and shout I bet that you look good on the dance floor! at each other. It helps if the Arctic Monkeys song is playing at the time.

Admittedly it took me a while to get into the swing of things. It was only when Linkin Park’s Numb came on that I finally understood what people meant by ‘letting loose’ – it was a song that I actually knew, and so it felt indescribably liberating as I bounced there, all cares cast aside. Green Day’s Holiday and Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now followed soon after, which was brilliant. Why do you drinkers need alcohol to enjoy yourselves, hm?

Thus, as we return to our rooms with ears still ringing, our night of craziness comes to a close. I judge its quality by seeing how low I can sing The Hobbit’s Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold the following morning. As my friends’ hangovers slowly recede and my voice climbs back into audibility, we re-enter the daily grind of university life; the previous night is but a blur for many, but remains as sharp as ever for me. After all, if I’ve enjoyed myself, I should want to remember it as well as possible, no?

Skin by Celvas

Part 1: Introductions | Part 2: Trust me, I'm an engineer | Part 3: The city of cycles | Part 4: "Aiden's still working!" | Part 5: A soberman's night out | Part 6: Time for another entry | Part 7: MOCer Diaries | Part 8: Read all about it

As usual, I am writing this Cantablogger entry from the comforts of my room on the ground floor. My window looks out onto the path outside; while there are wooden panels that I could use to cover it, I prefer to keep it open most of the time. Of course, this means that anybody walking past can and will peer in to see what I’m doing, and I’m almost always sitting at my computer. The phrase “Aiden’s still working!” has become commonplace, and is now a running joke among my friends. Work also happens to be the delightful topic of this blog entry! Let us begin.


I’ve talked about my work ethic before, in a previous journal. While I do think that I didn’t quite get my point across in that entry, I am happy with how I closed it:

“I shall be off to university next year, where everybody around me will likely share the same attitude towards diligence. Everyone will be intelligent, so in our minds, no-one will be; as daunting as it sounds, I look forward to it.”

And in many ways, that has turned out to be true. There’s no doubt that everybody here is smart; that’s a prerequisite for getting in. And hey, I love that aspect. I love being able to have casual but in-depth discussions with people who think the same way that I do. In terms of people’s attitudes towards work in general, I’ve found that there’s quite a wide range – as expected, some people remain constantly ahead of work, though alarmingly many make a habit of leaving questions until the hour before the relevant supervision. I try to associate myself with the former.

As for intelligence, it’s only natural to compare oneself to one’s peers, though I try not to. This first came to light after our mock exam in January: while the people here are humble for the most part, I was disappointed that the ‘Oh my God, I got a higher mark than Aiden!’ notion lingers on from high school. I maintain that comparing yourself in that sense is detrimental, as it induces an element of competition that (in this context) is irrelevant to your academic capabilities; I prefer looking instead at the predictions of the outcome of my degree. That way, I know where I stand in terms of my own performance, and the results of my peers do not concern me. Obviously I could talk about where I stand in the supposed hierarchy of the Jesus engineers, but what would that achieve? I’m working at a level that suits me, and that’s what matters.

At the risk of sounding elitist (which is incredibly easy, I’ve found), I’m fairly certain that most people here were at the top of their class at high school, breezing through the system on a carpet of A* grades without too much trouble. Thankfully there are no absolute prodigies among the 14 first-year engineers at Jesus College, nor are there any obvious stragglers of the group, but nevertheless I’m pretty sure everybody has silently reassessed their own intelligence. I’m not the only one who’s thought, “I’m really not as smart as I thought I was.”

I mean, I’ve always been a perfectionist. I like things being complete, exact, flawless. It took me a while to accept that being a perfectionist simply isn’t possible anymore; there are unavoidably going to be questions that I can’t answer, and it’s maddening. There are times when I struggle, and I’m just not used to struggling. The pressure’s on in the sense that everything is far more challenging, yet conversely the pressure’s off because it’s no longer a big deal if we get things wrong. I feel a little torn sometimes: if a question is proving to be particularly difficult, do I keep picking at it even when I know that I probably can’t do it? Should I just give up early before wasting time, and then learn from my mistakes later? They ask us difficult questions not just to knock us off our pedestals of self-confidence, but to demonstrate that there’s so much more that we could be capable of.

The Engineering course at Cambridge uses a system called Standard Credit, which basically means that, once your work is above a particular level of quality, you automatically receive full marks for that laboratory session. Their reasoning is that it encourages you to do the work, but not to try too hard. I have mixed feelings about this; on one hand, I understand that it’d be impractical to mark 330 reports on their own merits. Our demonstrators probably spend less than a minute skimming through each write-up that we produce.
On the other hand, though, I find that the Standard Credit system actually encourages students to do the minimum work that’s required, which isn’t the right ethic at all. Some of my contemporaries frequently leave lab reports until the night before it’s due, knowing that everybody will get the same mark anyway, while I usually aim to have it finished days in advance. I’ll admit that I occasionally hand in laboratory work that I know has flaws that I could fix, but it’s been a long afternoon and I’m tired and I have stuff to do – I dislike the laziness in that, but any extra effort wouldn’t make any difference to my overall mark anyway. Obviously I want to be as good an engineer as I can be, and I do feel like I’m getting valuable experience from the care I put into my reports, but it often seems like any additional efforts are for nought.

So, all in all, the work life is tough. It was definitely a shock to the system when I found that things aren’t as straightforward as they used to be, and it’s only going to continue like this for the next couple of years. But hey, things will work out, I’m sure; I enjoy the challenge. Thanks for reading.

Skin by Celvas

Part 1: Introductions | Part 2: Trust me, I'm an engineer | Part 3: The city of cycles | Part 4: "Aiden's still working!" | Part 5: A soberman's night out | Part 6: Time for another entry | Part 7: MOCer Diaries | Part 8: Read all about it

Commence the third instalment of my Cantablogger series! While the first and second spoke of introductions and my course respectively, the theme today is cycles, which is basically my attempted justification of writing about a lot of miscellaneous Cambridge-y things (plus a couple of C’s thrown in there for good measure). Let’s go!


Cities might have a university built within them, but to me it feels like Cambridge is a university with a city built to house it. Virtually every aspect of daily life revolves around the university and its workings, so the two really seem like one and the same. But first, why don’t we zoom out a little?

Cambridge is located towards the south of the UK, about 60 miles north of London. Despite identifying myself as a Midlander, my accent has been described as Posh Northern – that is, all the class of a quintessentially British voice, except that I say grass instead of grarse. One of my friends is from Edinburgh, and the way he says “Alright, Aiden?” sounds exactly like Rahiden, which is fun. With students from across the globe, the diversity of accents is one of the many sources of light conversation in college.

College – or rather, the difference between it and the University – is something I probably should’ve explained at the start. Confusingly some other institutions use ‘college’ to refer to the entire university (like Imperial College) while sometimes it can refer to a secondary school instead. Cambridge University, meanwhile, is split up into 31 colleges spread throughout the whole city, which basically serve as your home for the duration of your course. Jesus is one of the larger colleges, I believe, housing 800 students in total. You hang out with the people at your college regardless of subject, and you represent your college in sports teams and such; I like to think that it’s similar to the House system in Harry Potter.

Come to think of it, there are quite a lot of fun Harry Potter parallels to make. Jesus College hosts formal dinners five days a week, where you dress up in a black Jesus gown and listen to someone saying the grace in Latin before being served a three-course meal for a reasonable price. They make an effort to give the food weird and wonderful names, so half of the time we have no idea what we’re eating. It might not be quite as grand as Hogwarts’ Great Hall, but we try! An implication of the dress code at Formals is that people will regularly visit both ends of the spectrum of formal attire: I’ve been meaning to spend a day in a suit for no reason other than the fact that I probably wouldn’t be questioned. It’s fun seeing how people on a typical Cambridge street will range from haggard Big Issue sellers to late Formal-goers in dinner jackets, their gowns billowing behind them like a parachute as they furiously pedal along.

Cycling! Now there’s another Cambridge staple. One thing you quickly learn is that your bike is an extension of your own soul. Why use your feet when you can get virtually anywhere in Cambridge in five minutes or less? You rarely go anywhere without your bike, and your bike rarely goes anywhere without you (unless it’s been stolen, in which case you should be very concerned). A puncture is a wound, rendering you lost and helpless. Bikes have been the central topic of many a woeful tale, such as a cycle that remained chained to a barrier at Sainsbury’s for over a month. Its owner had to find the correct documentation so that the police could cut off the lock for him, but in the meantime he had no choice but to walk to the department every morning. The horror! I actually had a cycling mishap of my own back in October, involving the side of a van and a distinct lack of indicator usage on his part. I had a pretty bad wound on my left hand for a while, and I was almost late to lectures because my watch had broken in the fall too. I only have a ghostly penny-sized scar on my palm to show for it now, but after £50 of repairs I was back on the roads again the following morning, cautious but undeterred.

‘Chaotic’ would be a good way to describe the roads in Cambridge, I think. I am just one of the countless cyclists that pervade the city, weaving perilously between buses and cars in a continuous stream of helmets and headlights, trying to navigate a route that complies with the labyrinth of one-way streets. The things I’ve seen on my mad dashes through the city have been varied and fun: people on unicycles (either street performers or students who just want to be different) and guitar players busking from within bins make up just part of the cast. Cambridge is also a hot spot for visiting celebrities; I have yet to spot any outside of scheduled events, but I’m keeping an eye out for Prince William, who has recently started studying agricultural management here.

Celebrities aren’t the only thing that I have to watch out for, of course. There are always hordes of tourists milling around the iconic King’s College, blissfully unaware of the bikes that career past them; imagine a proud Japanese father trying to get the perfect photograph of his family, obliviously backing out onto the road with only a camera strap for protection. In fact, tourists are a recurring theme in Cambridge jokes – I’ve heard many accounts of confused travellers asking “Where is the University of Cambridge?” as if they were expecting a giant neon sign, unaware that the university is basically the entire city in all its wonder. And hey, look at that! We’ve come full circle. A fitting end to a cycle-themed journal, wouldn’t you agree? Thanks for reading.


Skin by Celvas

Representing Team Rahiden

Sat Jan 11, 2014, 11:33 AM
The first updatey journal of the new year! Hurrah.

A few weeks ago I got an email from a representative at one of the other Cambridge colleges. She said that there was to be an Arts Festival hosted at Queens' College this February, and that they would like to feature some of my MOCs as part of their art exhibition! The theme of the festival is 'Do It Yourself', so really it couldn't be more fitting. I will probably post a more in-depth journal about it closer to the time (perhaps in a before-and-after style), but I'm terribly excited.

Anyway, I had to choose five photographs to submit, each with a suitable description, and I had the option of having a space set out so that I could display some of the actual MOCs, should I bring them along on the day. Eventually I decided to submit the Camera Spider, Fissure, Psystrike, the Swordfish, and Yanmega (which can be seen here); additionally I shall bring along the Nameplate and a handful of miniMOCs with me for the live display. I'm currently working on a large gunmetal Rahi, so I may well feature that one too. I thought that these were my most presentable MOCs for the public, as they cover a wide range of shapes and sizes, and some designs were made to replicate a pre-existing character while others were entirely from my imagination.

This also spurred another long photographing session, during which I updated the following deviations:
Bionicle MOC: Elephant by RahidenBionicle MOC: Flywheel by RahidenBionicle MOC: Llama by RahidenBionicle MOC: Psystrike by RahidenBionicle MOC: Spaceship by RahidenBionicle MOC: Toa Pirral by RahidenBionicle PokeMOC: Yanmega by Rahiden
I also decided to make the Webcam widget on my profile display the Camera Spider stopmotion. Get it? Because it's like a webcam...? Ahaha.

I will definitely be attending the Arts Festival myself. I'll probably be sporting my grey Rahiden hoodie too, even though I'd rather be more smartly dressed. But look at that! Rahiden is venturing out into the wider world. It's going to be fun.

Skin by SimplySilent

Part 1: Introductions | Part 2: Trust me, I'm an engineer | Part 3: The city of cycles | Part 4: "Aiden's still working!" | Part 5: A soberman's night out | Part 6: Time for another entry | Part 7: MOCer Diaries | Part 8: Read all about it

Welcome to the second instalment of my Cantablogger series, in which I talk about various aspects of life at university. Before starting with today’s topic, I thought I’d quickly mention the two minor admin developments. The first is that there shall be one Cantablogger part for every month, term time or otherwise, which should move things along at a fairly steady rate; the second is that each entry will be limited to 1,000 words, both for my sake and yours! (The previous instalment had a word count of 780, if you need some perspective.) And now that those clarifications are over, let us move onto the main course (literally!).


The Engineering course at Cambridge University is unusual in that the first two years give you a broad overview of the subject while in the third and fourth years you specialise in your chosen branch, be it Electrical, Aeronautical, Medical, or countless other options. You could argue that the generality at the beginning puts us at a disadvantage compared to people studying their chosen route for the full four years, but I think the intensity of the course makes up for that – I certainly appreciate sampling all of the options before I commit myself to one. So far I’m veering towards either Structural or Mechanical, but I’m keeping my options open.

In a typical week we have 10 one-hour lectures and a spattering of lab sessions in between. I can always see a handful of bright blue hoodies bearing the Engineering Society’s motto ‘Trust me, I’m an engineer’ amongst the 330-strong crowd of first-years, but while the students can be relied on to remain their droopy-eyed selves, the lecturers aren’t quite so predictable. Each one has their own quirks: our Electromagnetics lecturer has a plush monkey which he throws at anyone he catches falling asleep; the guy teaching Linear Circuits occasionally shows us Simon’s Cat videos when he feels like he’s losing our attention; but the fan favourite has got to be our Mechanics lecturer, who never fails to entertain with the expanse of demonstrations at his disposal. Examples include his boomerang collection whizzing above our heads, the hypnotic dancing of a double pendulum, and an intercollegial game of swingball. All in the name of education, of course.

The lab sessions, meanwhile, use the word ‘laboratory’ very loosely. Our first major endeavour was the Lego Mindstorms project, which gave me high hopes for the rest of the year. Other desk-based activities included drawing and programming, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed: we learned how to accurately draw precise diagrams of machine parts, and how to exploit the basics of C++ to do fun things like simulating the first few turns of Monopoly. I have an amusing video of two engineers running on suspended treadmills to demonstrate the rocking motion of bridges when people walk on them. Funnily enough, it was the more physical side of Engineering that I was least looking forward to – that is, cutting wood or working with oily engine innards – and yet our lab sessions haven’t been strenuous at all so far. The most dangerous things we’ve handled this term are hot water and compasses.

I mean, it just goes to show how false the general impression of Engineering is. I’ve talked about this in an ‘Engineering in Society’ essay (one of the few pieces of extended writing assignments that we get): people might visualise engineers as burly men in hardhats or greasy garage mechanics, but in reality they make up only a tiny portion of the discipline. It’s just so inherently broad; engineering encompasses people in all sorts of backgrounds, from academics to company managers to bin men (a.k.a. waste disposal engineers). The people behind the scenes, solving the global problems of today – that’s the kind of engineer I want to be.

One particularly interesting lecture discussed the ethics involved. Previously I would’ve thought “Wait, ethics, in a scientific field? Nonsense!”, but he enlightened us on the many dilemmas that have cropped up in the past. Is it okay to hire an ex-Nazi officer if he has all the correct qualifications? What if your boss tells you to adapt someone else’s product in such a way that you’re practically stealing their profits? How about the possibility that your work in the defence sector will harm innocent civilians? The first company to commercially market video recorders hastily withdrew their products after realising that people used them for pornography, only for the company’s competitor to snap up the opportunity and make huge money out of it.

They actually put a lot of effort into training these ‘soft skills’. There’s a language unit within the engineering department which allows me to continue learning German while two of my friends have admirably taken up Beginners’ Mandarin. I’ve been assigned to the Advanced Plus German set amongst the third-year Natural Scientists and PhD students – it’s very intimidating. We’re learning about proper engineering systems in German, making it incredibly hard to follow if I don’t even grasp the topic in English. One of those two Mandarin learners is actually half-German, which means that she and I can practise with each other through haphazard trilingual conversations. It’s brilliant.

In fact, we have a class called Exposition which is dedicated to honing our presentation and teamwork skills. The one who gives the class is an electrical engineer who is also the Master of Jesus College, meaning that every Friday morning the fourteen of us troop over to his fancy house to sip tea and munch biscuits around a huge purple conference table. Already I’ve given two technical presentations, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both: I find that speaking in front of my fellow engineers really isn’t that different from writing these blog entries, meaning that I can exploit the opportunity for uninterrupted speech quite happily.

While I’ve only been through a twelfth of the course, it’s been absolutely amazing so far. Until next time!

Skin by Celvas

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Journal Entry: Tue Dec 24, 2013, 7:08 AM
It’s spur-of-the-moment journal time!
I really haven’t timed these journals that well at all. I’d planned to write Cantablogger Part 2 earlier this month, but then my sister asked me to answer a few fandom-related questions for an Art project she was doing, which was how Glorified rearrangement came about. I’ve also imposed a one-Cantablogger-a-month rule on myself, meaning that I have just over a week to get Part 2 written up. And do I want to write a Christmas/New Year post as well? That might be overkill.

In any case, I have had the fortune of being tagged by none other than the magnificent Lewanut! The first tag I’ve done since April, impressively enough. Usual protocol, so here goes.

1. Based on an understanding that the word “crib” is being used to refer to one's current living space, and not where one slumbered as an infant, how would you describe your crib, dawg?

I believe you’ve seen rather a lot of my ‘crib’ through Hero Faffory, have you not? Well, that’s a false impression really – I remember shoving all the unnecessary items onto my Miscellaneous Shelf before every photo shoot, which was the cause of the desk lamp’s temperamental existence. Everything I need is lazily within an arm’s reach.

2. Now that you've described your current residence, what sort of decor would you enjoy in your idealized home?

Minimalist. Like, four colours maximum: black, white, silver and either dark blue or dark red. Ooh, unless every room had a different colour! Yes. Black, white and silver would be the supporting colours, and each room would have a different main colour depending on its function. Blue for the bathroom, red for the kitchen, orange for the living room… and my bedroom would be a kind of greyish sand-brown, because that’s my favourite. Buying paint would be a pain.

3. Ooh, that sounds right purty. Okay, now I'd like to know how you derive enjoyment from video games. What is it about video games that makes you want to play them, and drives which titles you choose?

The sense of satisfaction is probably the primary reason for my enjoyment. More specifically, the satisfaction that results from completion - collecting all the Star Coins, beating the final boss, that kind of thing. I do appreciate creativity on the game developer’s part, though: the Super Mario Galaxy series is at the top of my list because of how they integrated so many radically different ideas into the blank canvas that was a 3D platformer, all accompanied by beautiful graphics and a glorious soundtrack. (Just for the record, Super Mario Galaxy is my favourite game, but as a franchise, Pokémon wins hands-down.)

4. Speaking of entertainment, what are some examples of entertainment you enjoy but would admit are rather stupid?

Every game on my iPhone (except maybe Minesweeper and Sudoku). By that I mean Flow, Fruit Ninja, Temple Run… what did I gain out of those games? Nothing! Mindless and addicting, but infuriatingly so.

5. On the trend of being analytical of one's own weak spots, what are some examples of fallacious arguments in favor of something you support?

Oooh… competitive Pokémon battling. Yes, definitely a weak spot of mine. I frequent Pokémon Showdown! far more regularly than I should, under the impression that it improves my decision-making skills. I always have some mental conflict when I click the Showdown! bookmark because I know that at the end of it I’ll gain no knowledge of any physical value, but it’s so addicting! As I am aware that there is a spattering of Pokémon fans among you, my username there is Rahiden and I battle exclusively in Gen 5 Randoms.
Actually, this gives me an excuse to share with you the best single turn I have ever had in competitive Pokémon battling. The opponent is using an Air Balloon Heatran, and so I send in my Scarf Shadow Tag Chandelure to take the obvious Fire move. I know that he’s going to finish me off with Earth Power, and so I use Trick. Outspeeding him with the item boost I take his Air Balloon, making me immune to his Earth Power, which he is now locked into because of the Scarf I just gave him! And he can’t even switch because of Shadow Tag! Unfortunately I didn’t have any set-up moves like Substitute or Calm Mind, so the only thing I could do was finish him off with Hidden Power Ground. Absolutely brilliant nonetheless.

6. How would one's answers, or lack thereof, for the previous two questions affect your view on one's ability in the realm of critical thinking?

So many indefinite personal pronouns! Does the ‘one’ in this case refer to me or an unidentified answerer of these questions? I’ll assume the latter, given that ‘your’ is also present. As long as one is aware of one’s weaknesses and either justifies them or is making steps to eradicate them, then one cannot be harshly judged.

7. Eventually, you're gonna die. Sorry if that's news to you. In light of the life you intend to live before this happens, what would your ideal obituary say?

It would talk about how I spent my life doing things that I loved, somehow having a positive impact on the people around me. Death is not something to joke about, kids…

8. Hm. Interesting. Okay, time to talk about your life in the meantime. If you could work for any one real-world employer (no Aperture Science), who would it be and why?

The obvious answer here is Lego, isn’t it? I can imagine the QI foghorns blaring. My actual answer is that I don’t want to go into the world of work just yet – I’d rather be boring and finish university first. But if I had to choose?
…yeah, it’d probably be Lego.

9. Switch up! Analytically, how would you define the elements of what makes something funny or not funny?

A lot of good jokes are just elaborate insults, or a description of somebody in a bad position: blondes are stupid, your wife cheated on you with the postman, violas suck, various racial stereotypes. On the other hand, there are other areas of comedy like wordplay, slapstick, nonsensical silliness… or you could just use some buzzwords that are funny by default. Penis.
Here’s a short chemistry-related joke that I’m quite fond of:
Two scientists walk into a bar. The first one says to the barman, “I’ll have a glass of H2O please.”. The second then says “I’ll have a glass of H2O too, please.”. The second scientist dies.

10. The New Year is almost upon us. What is something that you're realistically hoping to accomplish in 2014?

Oof. Well, last year my resolution was to put more effort into the 100 Themes Challenge, which I can safely tick off as ‘Achieved’. As for this year… ooh, I know. I want to wear shirts and sweaters more regularly, as opposed to wearing hoodies all the time. It’s becoming more and more difficult not to wear hoodies, though, given how many I have that I like: I have a white one that displays the number 18 in an Ishihara [colour blindness] diagram, and another bright blue hoodie that says ‘Trust me, I’m an engineer’ on the back.

11. Okay, time for the big finish. This is a long one. Dear Generic Advice Columnist, each year I hold a hypothetical holiday party for all my hypothetical friends and relatives. There are two people who hypothetically have a rather bitter disagreement on a certain hypothetical generic controversial topic, and one of them always picks a fight as soon as he sees the other. So before this year's party, I had a talk with the argument-monger, telling them that if they started another row I'd stop inviting them to my parties that celebrate hypothetical holidays. But then the second person decided that in the absence of provocation, they would begin the festivities themselves, and hypothetically goaded the other person until they finally responded. How should I deal with this situation, assuming that it is not hypothetical after all?

Why can’t we all just get along? I guess it depends somewhat on the intensity of the ‘fight’, though I suspect that this confrontation is far from playful. Unless you could somehow diffuse the tension, it sounds like there’s going to be a fight whatever you do, so the best option is not to invite them and force them to have their argument elsewhere. Make the best out of a bad situation, as they say.

Am I going to write a new set of questions? Nah, my Christmas present to you all will be to spare you the burden. As we are now nearing 1,500 words, I think I shall bring this journal to a close. Go forth and be merry, everybody.

Christmas La 

Glorified rearrangement

Mon Dec 9, 2013, 4:13 AM

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You know what’s funny? I’ve been MOCing seriously for about four years and writing for almost two, and yet I’ve never actually written about MOCing as a pastime. I thought now would be as good a time as any.

:bulletred: Beginner
Cast your mind back to early 2001. I was five years old, and I was sitting in my friend’s corridor admiring a green warrior-like toy of his. The toy was part of Lego’s newly-released line called Bionicle. He had a cog on his back that connected to his right arm, meaning that the axe could be made to swing up and down by turning the cog. I was fascinated: the cogs interacted so smoothly, so easily, so simply but so beautifully, to achieve their desired effect and nothing more, all packed into a clean plastic mechanism. A few months later I received Toa Kopaka for my sixth birthday from that same friend; looking back, I realise how incredibly fitting it was that Bionicle was released just when I was entering the age range printed on the canister, as if we were both beginning our little journey together, hand-in-hand.

I’m quite grateful that I had no concept of money back then, otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten my parents to buy me so many sets. Each one came with its own merits, its own charm, something to make it different; one idea that particularly appealed to me was that of combiner models, that made even the cloned sets have some aspect of uniqueness. I found it amazing that three already-great designs could be rearranged into something even more impressive. That was the first suggestion that the Lego sets were by no means set in stone, that each arrangement could be warped into something entirely different.
I’m not quite sure when I started customising the sets myself. I remember recolouring a Bohrok combiner that I particularly liked in 2003. Perhaps when I was about 10 or so I began playing around a little more, making colourful things like this; of course, I’d label them as terrible now, but they meant so much to me at the time. You have to start somewhere, right?

It became a tradition that I would receive one large set every Christmas and for each birthday, plus a spattering of sets in between. As my piece collection grew, though, the number of my friends who remained interested fell. By the time I entered secondary school, there was nobody with whom I could talk about the sets or exchange parts as I had been doing so previously, but this didn’t bother me much as I wasn’t that serious about it. There was one History lesson in Year 7 in which we learned about a type of catapult called a trebuchet; after seeing how the mechanism worked, I became intent on building one myself, which I did. I actually brought the model into school because I was so proud of myself. Besides that, though, Bionicle and school were entirely separate entities. It’s not like Lego was seen as a bad pastime back then – rather, it simply never came up in conversation, and that was fine by me.

:bulletyellow: Intermediate
I joined deviantArt in 2008, and uploaded my first Bionicle deviation later that year. What encouraged me to post my designs online was that I’d happened to stumble across Archinto’s gallery, which completely blew me away. I remember browsing through the photos in utter disbelief. I had no idea that such masterpieces could be made from such simple materials, on such a large scale, with such artistic precision. What was stopping me from building like them?
Not only that, but it made me realise that there existed a Bionicle community online. There were people on the Internet just like me, who enjoyed Lego as a pastime but had no-one else who reflected their interest. They had invented new terminology for me to learn, like names for every individual piece and how MOC stood for My Own Creation. Through deviantArt’s comment system we could share our thoughts on each other’s work, offer critique and give suggestions, mutually encourage each other to improve. I never mentioned anything about my Bionicle hobby at school anymore, as people simply didn’t care. The few times that the subject did come up, it was a source of mockery (from one of my friends, disappointingly), but I didn’t care; I had online friends now, who understood me. Were it not for deviantArt, I am certain that I would not be MOCing today.

As the years went on (and as I became more responsible for paying), I began being more selective of which sets to obtain. I looked up reviews and pored over the piece lists, when before I judged each one purely on first impressions. (I’d bought none of the Toa Inika, simply because they scared me. I regret this.) At one point I made an Excel document to keep a tally of how many sets I had, plus an estimate of their value at the time of purchase; as of December 2013, I have collected over 150 Bionicle or Hero Factory sets and spent about £1300. That’s over £100 a year – a substantial investment, but one that I do not regret at all.
In general, I began taking my Bionicle hobby more seriously. I formed opinions about how MOCing should be done, about the use of colour and lighting, about the use of consistent themes within a structure. I became admins for a couple of deviantArt groups in which people could offer their work up for scrutiny, and we would respond with helpful advice. I developed my own ‘signature’ style centred on the use of obscure pieces in unusual and alternative ways, like a helmet being used as an elephant’s trunk. A positive feedback loop formed: the more I built, the more feedback I received, which only pushed the process even further.
I think the nature of Lego building was central to my fascination about it. MOCing is, at its heart, nothing more than glorified rearrangement. You are presented with numerous pieces of various shapes and sizes with connection points in particular places; your challenge is to use them to make something presentable. I quickly learned that the sets that Lego produced were not a lesson in ‘How To Build With Lego’. Rather, they were easy-to-understand skeletons that you could use as a base to get you going, but offered little opportunity for customisation. The key step was the ability to break away from this framework entirely, to make something entirely custom, and to create something that you could call your own.

I’ll admit that the sense of pride in a creation was pretty crucial to my fondness in the hobby: after constructing a model I would display it on my shelf in admiration, knowing that I had put my time and effort into every aspect of its design. Anyone with the correct pieces could make one, but the fact remains that they didn’t. Compare this to, say, traditional paintings – it’s easy to look at a piece of professional artwork and immediately write it off as something which is beyond your capabilities, as it requires a degree of precision and skill that you simply don’t have. Lego, on the other hand, is so much more relatable: acquiring the pieces is merely a matter of money, and the actual construction is usually straightforward. The only thing stopping you from making something amazing is your ability to visualise, the extent of your imagination, your creativity.

It’s this aspect of creativity that appeals to me most. This particular combination of pieces exists on my shelf and mine alone; unlike the electronic pastimes of my friends, what I have produced is truly unique, and I have something tangible to be proud of rather than, say, a high kill streak or knowledge of a fictional TV series. In some ways, I think this is why I am reluctant to make instructions for my MOCs, as a second copy somehow diminishes from its value for me. It’s also the reason for why art theft is a particular fear of mine; I’ve caught people doing it before (and you could argue that I should be flattered that they do so), but I dread the idea that someone is taking credit for something that isn’t rightfully theirs.

I am breaking away from the mould, standing out in a specialist crowd, trying to become a bigger fish in a small but very selective pond. For me, Lego is far more than a toy: it is art, sculpture, requiring as much thought as ‘traditional’ art forms but presented in the guise of clean, innocent, reusable plastic. The fact that it is marketed primarily for children inevitably means that Lego is not well-respected as an art; unfortunately this also means that people rarely have any experience with it beyond the single-digit ages, making it incredibly hard for me to express how difficult it is to make something look good. Additionally, I feel that my contemporaries can never truly appreciate my work for what it is, nor can they comprehend how much it means to me; they have not experimented with it themselves, so they simply can’t know.

:bulletgreen: Advanced
At this stage I have become rather respected within the relatively small Lego community on deviantArt, for what it’s worth. I realise now that being part of the Bionicle scene has vastly improved my social skills: not only has it encouraged my public speaking in the form of these journals, but I have learned a great deal about how to give (and respond to) criticism. I quite often receive comments from aspiring MOCers asking me to have a look at their gallery, and naturally I’m eager to help wherever I can. But the actual process of critiquing is a delicate one; the MOCs I have to look at are usually of the same standard as my Beginner ones, which are, frankly, atrocious. The aspects of MOCing which are obvious to me now, such as colour consistency and appropriate framing, are often entirely absent from the MOCs that I’m judging, which can get quite infuriating sometimes. I have to constantly remind myself that I was once in the same position as them, and that what I say about their work has to be appropriately encouraging and helpful. I found that I exploited the exact same mindset when I worked as a maths tutor: I had to praise them for their merits while being stern enough to get my point across, knowing that I was in a position of appointed superiority and that what I was doing was for their benefit. A delicate balance indeed.

I guess that’s what I like most about the online community. Everybody is eager to share ideas, to praise good work, to encourage more building. At no point have I ever felt lonely despite having such a relatively obscure hobby, simply because of how wide the fan base appears to be. The people I’ve met online have been incredibly generous too – I’ve already had one donation of pieces along with a handful of competition prizes, and I am told that another donation is on its way. The sense of humour is so delightfully innocent and good-spirited: were it not for the enthusiasm of my readers, I most certainly would not have gone through with my webcomic Hero Faffory, whose immaturity meant that I never mentioned anything about it to my friends. I guess in some ways, Hero Faffory made me realise how isolated my Lego hobby was; it was a pastime that never left the grounds of my house, and yet was broadcast on deviantArt for anyone who was interested. It was a self-motivated project that lasted for two years without many of my close friends even being aware of its existence.

I often wonder how much of an impact Bionicle has had on my life as a whole. For example, there was a time when I was seriously considering Mathematics as a university degree rather than Engineering, but one of the reasons behind my eventual choice of the latter was that I could actually apply what I’d learned from Lego. The thought processes are surprisingly similar: solve a problem under numerous restrictions, making sure that it looks aesthetically pleasing while efficiently performing its function, and finally present it as a product and discuss it with your peers. Thanks to my experience, I think I am more able to visualise the motion of a mechanism, or to identify the weak points in a structure. In fact we are currently doing a Structural Design course in which we have to design and build a bridge to support a load; I used my piece supply to build a scale model so that my partner and I could visualise everything more clearly. (Bionicle also played a central role in my college proposal, but that’s a topic for another time.) In the past I have toyed with the idea of actually making Lego part of my career - it’s certainly been suggested to me countless times - but I have written this off as a fantasy idea. If I were to either work for The Lego Group or become a freelance seller like retinence, I would have to tailor my designs to either be economically profitable or to suit my customer’s desires, and I want neither. The whole point of my Lego hobby is the freedom to build whatever I like, and so I’d want it to stay that way.

Lego has also taught me a couple of things that aren’t directly related to the actual building. Colour is one of them; I talk about this in more detail in my colour blindness journal, but it has allowed me to identify colours that I see in everyday life, even if I’d label them with obscure names like Metru Blue, which is the colour of my bedroom curtains. Photography and photo editing is another hobby I have taken up as a result of my Lego endeavours (and I would encourage other MOCers to do the same – a perfectly good MOC can be ruined by poor photography, which is a piece of advice that I give alarmingly often). And of course, it has provided me with a multitude of platforms to express myself freely, whether it be through blog entries, video reviews or a 62-page webcomic. In contrast, what do you get out of playing games or watching TV? I partake in both, admittedly, but besides the short-term enjoyment and socialising opportunities, you don’t really gain an awful lot.

People’s opinions about my Lego hobby improved vastly upon coming to university. Here, people are far more accommodating towards unusual or quirky pastimes, even though I have far outgrown the suggested age range, and I have yet to receive the hostility that existed before. It’s not uncommon for the sound of tinkering plastic to resonate from my room; I have actually started a project called The Guest Shelf, whereby I encourage any visitors to build something which will then be displayed for all to see. So far I have seven contributions from five different people – perhaps I’ll upload pictures of them sometime. The most interesting thing I gained from this project was that, oddly enough, people weren’t restricted by prior Lego knowledge. There was no such thing as a default skeleton for them; every piece they picked up was to be judged individually, without the mindset of “This is a foot piece. It can only be used as a foot.”, meaning that they had to be creative. Ironically their inexperience forced them to do exactly what I would encourage aspiring MOCers to do!

You know, I’d never actually thought of Bionicle as a fandom before, and yet it perfectly fits my description of one. To me, fandom is the unreserved devotion to a subject, without the need for explanation or justification. The fact that I have devoted so much time, effort and thought into it makes me wonder if or when I’ll ever stop; after all, all my recent building has been done with permanence in mind. I can predict that my general MOCing activity will continue on the current trend, in that it will decline steadily as the years pass until eventually I have no time for it anymore. I don’t think I’ll ever fully grow out of it, though; it will always hold a special place in my heart as the one hobby that remained true throughout my youth. I hope that in the years to come I’ll be able to display my creations as I do now, thinking fondly of times gone by, knowing that it created a solid foundation for so many aspects of my life. All of this, from glorified rearrangement.

On that note, I think I shall call it a day. Thanks for reading.

TC101: Completion!

Mon Nov 18, 2013, 9:21 AM

I finally finished the Hundred Themes Challenge! :la:
For those who don't know: the Hundred Themes Challenge is a deviantArt-wide challenge that any individual can choose to take on. There is a list of 100 themes - for each one of these, you must create a piece of artwork, but no single item can count for two themes. It's a thoroughly rewarding endeavour if you manage to get through it all, so make sure you have the commitment before you start!

You can view the themes list alongside my gallery here:…

After a slog for over four years(!), I have actually brought the project to completion. In total they make up about 19% of my gallery, and there sure is a lot of variation in there. Inevitably there are some entries that I thoroughly dislike, but I guess I keep them around so that I can have something to compare my recent work with; whilst rare, there have been a handful of deviations that I've really enjoyed making, so I'd say it's been worth it. Of course, the 100TC and Hero Faffory were my two 'regular' ongoing projects, and now that both of those have come to a close, I can only hope that I'll stay active enough!

In any case, I thought I'd take this opportunity to highlight a few. Not necessarily because they're my favourites, but perhaps I have something to say about them...

TC1: Introduction by Rahiden
TC1: Introduction. What a boring way to start off, eh? I remember thinking, way back in March 2009, that I'd breeze through the themes with these four MOCs leading the charge. Ahaha, how things changed.

TC11: Memory by Rahiden
TC11: Memory. This was one of my attempts at Bionicle humour. Because remembering the age of a Great Being is harder than it sounds, surely?

TC19: Grey by Rahiden
TC19: Grey. My first 100TC MOC! I'm actually pretty proud of this guy. He was the first time I'd given myself a proper colour challenge, and he even managed to secure a decent role in Faffory three years later.

Niyyan's new friend by Rahiden
TC27-29. The themes Foreign, Sorrow, and Happiness were a three-part strip involving Niyyan and my favourite minifig. In just four silent panels, one encounters greeting, loss, desperation and reunion (and a poorly-drawn heart, too. What was I thinking?!).

TC43: Dying by Rahiden
TC43: Dying. It's fun how I can use projects like this as a timeline for significant events in my MOCing life. In this case, I was in the process of dismantling my Toa team, which was actually quite emotional at the time.

TC51: Sport by Rahiden
TC51: Sport. Utilising Niyyan's colour scheme and GIMP's Contrast setting extensively. I wonder how I would do this differently if I were to have another go.

TC57: Sacrifice by Rahiden
TC57: Sacrifice. Look, it's Creator! He hasn't changed at all.

TC69: Annoyance by Rahiden
TC69: Annoyance. I believe that this one was my most popular 100TC entry for quite a while, but that's just because of the Pokémon reference. May as well use them while I can, eh?

TC76: Broken Pieces by Rahiden
TC76: Broken Pieces. A strong candidate for my favourite 100TC entry. As the second 100TC MOC, Sock was a perfect example of exploiting a simple concept to its fullest, and the concept presented itself to me quite willingly. I had the chance to experiment with colour placement, scrap building style and the fully legitimate usage of illegal connections, so I couldn't really ask for more!

TC87: Food by Rahiden
TC87: Food. I remember being in the kitchen, trying to get a picture of Spore looking at an apple. Then this happened.

TC90: Triangle by Rahiden
TC90: Triangle. It's strange how the 100TC pushed me to try out seemingly simple new things, like balancing Titan MOCs on top of oneanother. I can tell you now that it is far more difficult than it sounds; I had blurry photos of a mid-fall Psystrike to prove it.

TC91: Drowning by Rahiden
TC91: Drowning. Have you noticed that I play around with darkness and water quite a lot? I've gotten quite proficient with operating a camera, torch and watering can all at the same time. This particular shot was done in an old fish tank and involved my hands getting extremely cold, but I'm happy with the result.

TC92: All that I have by Rahiden
TC92: All that I have. My first and only drawing as a 100TC entry. Certainly my least favourite of the three MOC drawings I've done, but I like how it adds a bit more to the variation.

TC95: Advertisement [Stopmotion] by Rahiden
TC95: Advertisement. Speaking of variation, Advertisement was my only stopmotion contribution to the challenge. In fact, only now have I remembered that the Nameplate is a true 100TC MOC; I'm very glad I decided to keep it around, as the letters make for a suitable banner across my shelf.

TC98: Puzzle by Rahiden
TC98: Puzzle. I think it'd be fitting to finish with my (other) favourite 100TC entry, don't you think? The Puzzlebox is one of the very few interactive MOCs that I have made, and it has proven to be a fun challenge to give to my friends. So far only one of them has managed to do it virtually unaided, so I was quite impressed.

This journal may not have been my longest in terms of text, but by vertical height I think it's a good contender! On that note, I shall say this: it's incredibly satisfying to have finally finished this marathon that I signed up for. If you're willing to take it on yourself (as motivation for your activity, perhaps?), then I wish you the best of luck. Thanks for reading!

Cantablogger Part 1: Introductions

Mon Nov 11, 2013, 4:49 PM

Part 1: Introductions | Part 2: Trust me, I'm an engineer | Part 3: The city of cycles | Part 4: "Aiden's still working!" | Part 5: A soberman's night out | Part 6: Time for another entry | Part 7: MOCer Diaries | Part 8: Read all about it

I have been here at Cambridge University for a little over a month. A few weeks ago I decided that it was about time to write an update journal detailing what I’ve been up to, but that came with the realisation that there was simply too much that I wanted to say. In order to do myself justice on topics such as my course, my accommodation, and my newfound friends, I’d have to write reams of text comparable to the work of my friends studying English, and I simply wouldn’t have the time to devote to such a lengthy endeavour (nor would you have the patience to process it all, I'm sure). By the time I’d have finished writing, there’d probably be a whole new set of events to add to the fray.

And so, as a break from my usual style of self-contained essays with word counts reaching the thousands, I have decided to cut it down into several shorter (and more regular) entries that will hopefully be more manageable. Perhaps this will make up for my reduced MOCing activity, too. Brace yourselves for anecdotes about bicycle mishaps, cardboard ninja stars, and elaborate plastic-based College proposals. But as for this particular journal, where better to start than the topic of Introductions?


Having been thrown into a college amongst 144 other Freshers, it’s natural that everybody has had to introduce themselves on countless occasions. Frankly I think it would’ve been easier if I'd worn a T-shirt that said ‘I’m Aiden, a first-year doing Engineering at Jesus College. Yes, it's a lot of work, but we're in Cambridge, so could you expect any less?’. Just to mix things up I once told a fellow engineer that my name is Brendan. We’ll see how things turn out.

Of course, people say that this is prime time to redefine yourself, to pursue new activities, to actively choose who you are as a person. It’s interesting watching how my friends from school have adapted to the new lifestyle: one has changed from a typical nerd into a partygoer, while another seems to have shut himself away from the world at the expense of those close to him. It makes me wonder whether my current friends were radically different just a few months ago.

And what about me? I’ve used the opportunity to be far more open about myself. I talked about how I had four imaginary personas in a previous blog post; those four are still there, and all of them can now run free. I used to keep quiet about my Lego hobby and blogging, for fear of being mocked, but that reservation is now gone. Instead I have established myself as Aiden, the excitable engineer with a fancy camera and too many Bionicle pieces in his room. It’s brilliant.

The best part is how accepting people are. No-one questions any of my life choices, no-one makes any judgement, and everybody approaches the whole Lego thing with curiosity; nobody is in any position to criticise, and so I no longer need to hate the world for its casual dismissal of unorthodox pastimes. I’ve even had discussions about competitive Pokémon battling with a few fellow Jesuans, which would’ve been completely unheard of at my secondary school. (Unfortunately I have yet to get X or Y, but I played on my friend's X for a few minutes and it was magical.)

In fact, the subject of drinking is particularly interesting: I have already made my stance quite clear, but the responses I’ve received here are so accommodating. Instead of the expected “What, you don’t drink? Rubbish! Here, let me buy you a pint.”, people act mature and inquire as to how that decision came about, occasionally with a tone of respect. My college wife has even decided to abstain until New Year’s, though I can’t be sure how much of an effect my alcohol journal had on this choice. (By the way, since writing that particular entry, I have become more aware of the genetics behind it all. Apparently it’s really not uncommon for Chinese people to be unable to process certain alcohols, which would explain the headaches I get. Assuming they’re not psychological, that is.) Of course, I have far more to say about the topic of drink, but I think that would fit nicely under the future title ‘Nightlife’, don’t you think?

But alas, I’m afraid that this is the end of the introduction. University life is absolutely fantastic, and I’m loving every moment of it. As fun as it has been, it was terribly satisfying collating my thoughts into a blog entry once more; I look forward to the next instalment.

Skin by Celvas

The Hero Faffory journal: Reflect

Sat Oct 12, 2013, 4:41 PM
This blog post is a look back on my webcomic, called Hero Faffory. While the last two sections could be applied to the general process of writing, I don't think it'd be very meaningful to you unless you're familiar with the comic itself. You can view the gallery here.

:bulletyellow: The building
The logical place to start would be before the beginning. Set your mind back to summer 2010; I was keeping myself entertained by thinking about my future MOCing projects, one of which was the concept of a yellow and black robot. (At the time, I didn't realise how horrendously unoriginal this idea was.) Being the Pokémon fan that I was and am, I had the sudden desire to build 17 titan MOCs, one for each of the Pokémon types, where this robot represented the Electric type. I quickly dismissed this potential project, as it was clear that I had neither enough parts nor sufficient enthusiasm to build that many MOCs of the same overall structure… unless I could bring down the number, perhaps? I could simply pair up the types, which would halve the number to 8, with one left over. Yes, that seemed more realistic. (Remember that this was long before the recent Fairy type, which would've made splitting them a little easier.) Some type pairings seemed obvious enough: Electric/Steel, Ghost/Dark, Ice/Water, Rock/Ground, Grass/Bug. Psychic could go with Fighting, I suppose, as a kind of 'mind and body' relationship. Fire and Dragon seem to be a good pair too. Poison could represent… corruption? Pair that with Normal and you've got an interesting juxtaposition of purity and impurity, so that would work. Eventually, Flying was the one left over, as my other option of Flying/Ground/Water representing Sky, Earth and Sea went against the Pokémon typing system. (But, looking back at it now, the remaining Ice/Rock combination would actually make a lot of sense. An ice golem with trans-blue pieces embedded in it would be a cool building challenge – I may have to put that on the Project List.)

Armed with these eight typings as inspiration, I began to do sketches. The initial designs were as follows: a yellow and black robot; a flame demon with a gradient colour scheme; a vast gravebound Cyclops with dangling chains; a tall warrior fairy dressed in petals and armed with whips; a blue sword-wielding knight with a harpoon gun on his back; a corrupted soul, strong and muscular on one side but weak and skeletal on the other; a colourful shaman who was often found meditating; and finally, a stone golem based on sedimentary rock, with each colour appearing in horizontal strips along its height. As I was still bothered by the exclusion of the Flying type, I decided to introduce a minor character in the form of a pet bird. This would either be partnered with the warrior fairy or be used as a messenger for the Cyclops; I chose the latter, because I could then introduce the shady ???-type if the bird were otherworldly. (I have only just realised that it was the fairy that ended up getting a pet bird! This was unintentional.)
Now, I have never been terribly good with naming MOCs. One of the reasons I like Rahi so much is that naming them isn't an issue. But here I had to come up with eight or nine names for original characters, which was problematic. Yet again, I turned to Pokémon for inspiration: each name would be a move of one of the two types of that character. After scanning through the move lists on Bulbapedia, I started to build.

The first two were Discharge and Overheat, whose concepts remained virtually unchanged. (Overheat was later redone to make Ember.) However, by the time of their construction, Spore and Nightmare had had their designs completely redone. The thought behind both was that eight titan-sized humanoids would get too boring, so I thought I'd deviate a little. Having brought a pen and notepad on holiday with me in 2011, I began to make plans.

:bulletblue: The planning
Now, it may be worth mentioning that I'd already done a storyline before. I am not proud of it at all; the name was nonexistent, the plot was uninspired, the characters were bland, and my enthusiasm for the project dropped noticeably as the series went on. I'm not sure exactly when I decided to revisit the whole webcomic scene, but I wanted to see if I could actually write something that I liked.
I'd had a general idea of the overall plot since the very beginning, which stayed true to this day: the eight MOCs would be split into two opposing teams of four, one good and one evil. Nightmare would corrupt Endeavour and use him to create an army which would eventually be foiled by the good team. The end.

I am currently looking at the initial plans I'd scribbled whilst brainstorming in 2011, and it is fascinating reading about how different the first draft was. The story starts by following a typical day with Avalanche and Endeavour, who are freelance Heroes travelling around doing acts of good. Endeavour, jealous of Avalanche's fame, finds himself wandering alone in a graveyard. (Either that, or he is tricked into going there by Nightmare's pet bird, Memento; the bird was later scrapped because of how much I detested the MOC.) After encountering Nightmare, Endeavour's powers of purification are warped into powers of corruption, leading him to create Overheat and Fissure from his torch and a nearby rock respectively. While these two cause chaos, Avalanche is sent on a mission to gather a team: Discharge, a robot who is programmed to develop emotions over time; Spore, a magical fairy who lives in a foreign land; and Psystrike, a monk who would be found meditating on a mountain. Avalanche and Discharge spend a great deal of time making their way down to the garden, a task made more difficult by the fact that Toxic had previously corrupted Discharge's navigation system. At one point, the team finds themselves in a zoo filled with every Rahi that I own, during which Spore's powers of flight are used to great use. The final battle takes place in two locations at the same time: Avalanche and Spore fight Toxic and Nightmare in the graveyard while Discharge and Psystrike take on Overheat and Fissure in the garden. The good team wins; the end.

You may be able to see some similarities between the initial and final products. The travel down to the garden takes up a great deal of the plot, as does Toxic's creation of minions. In fact, Page 30 was based heavily on the original Page 1. However, at this point, I hit a problem: the entire storyline was planned, and yet I only had half of the cast! This was resolved by the introduction of prologues, during which I would simply introduce the characters one-by-one and go from there. In fact, I hadn't even come up with a title for the storyline at this point. I decided to implement one of my favourite English words, which is 'faff'. This means something that is a general bother, while 'faffing around' means to laze around, doing nothing of importance. Not only did both of these definitions suit the storyline, but the word itself sounds comical already; thus, Hero Faffory was born. By the time Avalanche, Endeavour, Psystrike and Fissure came into being much later, the story was already well under way.

:bulletgreen: The writing
On December 2nd, 2011, I uploaded Hero Faffory Page 1: Autotomise. (Wow, over 1200 words in and we've only just got to the beginning!) While it may not seem like it, this first page set so many standards and guidelines for the rest of the comic, and an alarming number of these details were unplanned, last-minute additions. The speech font, the names of the locations (which, by the way, were chosen out of laziness; after all, no effort was required to make the scenery look like a teenager's bedroom), panel size, and even more worryingly, the characters themselves. Believe it or not, the Elephant was originally going to be a one-off thing, appearing only to justify Evo's previous mission.  It was Atari93's comment on a lone comic called No strings attached that inspired the entire hidden elephant legacy, and I am so glad about it. Additionally, Figsville was thrown together from my smallish supply of System in the space of one evening, causing the photography of Page 1 to be a day later than I'd originally planned. I also introduced n.5 pages at this point, which I like to relate to the short clips that play during the closing credits of a TV episode or movie: generally something short and sweet, but never anything pivotal.

I'd already decided that each page was to have a Pokémon move as a title. I saw this as a fitting tribute to the origins of the eight Faffory characters, and I do not regret it at all. It was fun trying to link an event to a pre-existing move (the unintentional connections were always the most satisfying), and it was even more enjoyable using the moves to inspire pages from scratch, like Rain Dance and Flash. These pages tend to be more obscure, taking perhaps a slightly different style to most other pages. At times I wish I could dip into the supply of Abilities as well, such as a page entitled Soundproof that would have no text in it, but I shan't be inconsistent.

Pages 2 through to about 9 are my least favourite pages in the entire series, simply because I hadn't gotten into the flow of Hero Faffory yet. I didn't know what style of humour to use, the storyline was ambiguous, Creator's personality hadn't been established… frankly I think they give the reader a bad impression on what future pages would be like. My photography was significantly worse back then too, as I had less appreciation for lighting conditions, even though I have been using the same camera throughout. These pages are probably the main reason for my reluctance to share Hero Faffory with my friends; the fact remains that writing a webcomic like this is seen as an immature pastime, and presenting something that even I am dissatisfied with ("It gets better in the later pages, really!") is something I avoid if possible.
Occasionally, I've considered going back and re-doing those pages. Page 2 certainly deserves it; the location text is wrongly fonted, the number of panels is far lower than the unwritten minimum of 6, and the subject of the iffy 'punch line' doesn't crop up at all for the rest of the series. However, there's a sort of novelty keeping it as it is. Despite its faults, the early pages are a reminder of how far I've come since then.

You know, it's striking how easily I made major changes to the plot. Niyyan's cameo appearance in Page 8 was originally going to be just that, but were it not for his promotion into a major character, Spore would've been twiddling her sockety thumbs alone in Sector G for quite some time. A lot of these decisions were made in response to comments from readers; you guys didn't want Cancer to be killed off, and the Elephant gained enough popularity to merit two pages dedicated to it, along with a brief but major role in the storyline (and the honour of being the last ever panel!). In fact, Page 38 was entirely written around questions given by readers. Another vast change was Faffory's original ending: in accordance with the other reason for bringing the series to a conclusion, Creator was to announce his departure to Sector U, thereby putting a limit on what could still be done and making the final page a reflective one in which you see Creator packing all of the MOCs into cardboard boxes. I'm quite happy with the eventual ending, though.

:bulletorange: The realisation
Anyway, it was a third of the way through when I realised how much freedom I actually had: I can do whatever I want with this! It's my story, and I have the power to make the characters do and say whatever I please. Shall we break the fourth wall again? Sure! How about a long, unnecessary explanation of why Toxic isn't really that evil? Go ahead! There were no standards to which I had to conform, no ideals to pursue. Besides some clerical errors, no-one would ever correct me on how comic writing was supposed to be done, and that liberty was incredibly relieving; I would suggest trying out comic writing for yourself, as it is really a worthwhile experience. My only limit was what I could photograph.
And so, I could make the style of humour whatever I wanted it to be. Only once I compared it to popular TV shows did I realise how dissimilar Faffory's comedy is; it is devoid of sexism, racism, politics, religion, swearing, relationships… more like a kids' show, really. In fact, I was quite intent on keeping Faffory child-friendly, particularly after one memorable comment about a mother whose eight-year-old son enjoyed reading them. After all, it does have 'faff' in the title – it has to stay light most of the time, no?

Of course, this avoidance of themes hardly limited my supply of material to work with. I had created a Toy Story-esque world, opening up so many routes to explore with the characters: what is the creation process like? What happens when MOCs have parts removed, or are dismantled completely? What is going on with the Elephant, anyway? I kept the answers to these questions sufficiently ambiguous (for example, the Piece Boxes are clearly used, but MOCs seem to appear out of thin air), though I did enjoy pondering the more philosophical aspect of things. After all, a MOC is simply an arrangement of pieces, and yet that particular arrangement supposedly has a personality assigned to it. If pieces are removed but the character remains intact, where is the line drawn? What was it about Psy's injury that made his departure irreversible? And let's not even touch on Endeavour's transformation into Toxic, whereby the crucial colour of his font changed while his personality stayed recognisable.

One other difference that I noticed was the general lack of tension between characters. There haven't really been any heated disputes or arguments, with the exception of Avalanche's bitterness towards Creator's nonchalance about everything going on. Similarly, there aren't any truly antagonistic characters; no two display any true hostility towards each other, so you could say that there is no equivalent of Harry Potter's Draco Malfoy or The Big Bang Theory's Barry Kripke. In some ways that's a shame, since I'm sure that those characters are brilliant to script, but my pacifism makes it a little difficult for me to create divides between my own creations when they're relatively unnecessary. On a similar note, I often found it hard to separate my own speech from that of the characters'; several of the characters speak with the same register that I use in these journals, which made me wonder if I was simply having an elaborate conversation with myself. Writing for Spore was delightful, as the 'excitable toddler' voice didn't seem to get old (even if her me and Mister Niyyans made my grammar nerve twitch). Part of me is glad that the two characters with thick accents, Grey and Thorn, never stuck around for too long – I had to constantly talk out loud to myself while editing the text, and I'm still not sure if I've scripted them accurately.

I was pleasantly surprised at the frequency of conspiracy theories relating to the Elephant. One common one was that the Elephant could travel through time, accounting for its random appearances and how it remains unchanged in all 62 pages. Another comment suggested that there is actually a large community of elephants, scattered throughout the Faffory universe, that are almost always in hiding. This second one seemed to be supported by the dual sighting in Page 17: Teleport, despite the explanatory title! Perhaps the Elephant is like a persistent fear or memory in Creator's wild, secluded imagination, making fleeting appearances when it is least expected, with no explanation as to its presence. Though I have said it before, I will restate that the Elephant does not have an official explanation, leaving you completely free to speculate as you please.

:bulletpurple: The reflection
Additionally, going through with Hero Faffory got me into a lot of good habits. While I've always thought of myself as being readily self-disciplined, I'd never before set myself such definite guidelines like 'Maximum 8 panels, aside from the Christmas Special and the Finale' and 'One page uploaded every fortnight'. The panel limit kept me from producing unnecessarily long pages with uninteresting silent panels, while the time limit did wonders for my deviantArt activity. It kept me on my toes, making sure that I was actively thinking about the upcoming page yet giving me ample time to get it done. Admittedly I did cut these deadlines a little fine sometimes, editing late into the night and uploading five minutes before the British Monday came around, but I'm proud to say that I kept to the schedule without fail. While the photography and editing of each page took perhaps two hours, I couldn't begin to count how long I've spent mulling over the plot details.

These advantages far outweigh the disadvantages that accompanied Faffory. What disadvantages, you ask? Well, to start with, I am well aware that a large proportion of my watchers have no interest in a fanfiction. This is perfectly fine, of course, but I have occasionally been conscious that having to delete 88 Faffory comics (as well as Faffory-orientated journals) from one's inbox may have been a bother. Secondly there is the complete devotion to a project that is ignored by the people who are close to me; my family never seemed to grasp how important my deadlines were, which was particularly evident when I was trying to photograph the final page on the day before I left for university. I'm so grateful that I can be so open about everything here on deviantArt.

While I am saddened by Hero Faffory's departure, I am filled with a warm feeling of resolution. It really was an ambitious and fulfilling project, and I'm certain that it has changed me as a person, somehow. Of course, now the question remains: Will there be any more? The only answer I can give is that I have allowed myself the possibility, but I have not put any active thought into a second series, let alone made any tangible plans for one. What with the masses of unused page titles at my disposal, such as Conversion and Conversion 2 providing a two-page introduction if need be, it's not like I'd have to scrounge around for usable moves. The main issue is time, of which there never seems to be enough. I have been at university for about two weeks, and I am certain that a commitment like a webcomic is simply not possible – even getting this journal written in time for Sunday was a stretch. While Cambridge is known for its short terms and long vacations, I'd rather not continue the series only for it to be cut short a few weeks later. Thus, you can expect this blog entry to be the last significant mention of Hero Faffory for the foreseeable future. I like to think that the final two pages rounded things off quite nicely; I hope that they, along with this journal, provide sufficient closure.

And so, finally, I must express my gratitude towards you as the reader. As cliché as it may sound, I would not have gone through with Hero Faffory were it not for your constant support and enthusiasm; it really has been a truly enjoyable ride, and I cannot thank you enough. In more ways than one, thanks for reading.

Skin by SimplySilent

Pastures new

Journal Entry: Thu Sep 19, 2013, 4:52 PM
Skin by SimplySilent

:bulletgreen: I'm off to university in about just over a week's time.

A-level results day was a whole month ago; I got A* grades in all four of my subjects, so come late September I shall be off to Cambridge University to study Engineering.  It's a beautiful city with a diligent work environment and a colourful music atmosphere - I may not sound it, but I'm excited.
One question which has cropped up in the countless post-results conversations I've had is "Do you think you're ready?". And to be perfectly honest, I don't think I am. My accommodation at Jesus College will be the first time that I've been away from family for over a week. It's not the separation part that concerns me, but rather the sudden independence; a few weeks ago, my mother felt the need to refresh my memory on how to iron clothes, and rightly so. All of the things that I've taken for granted over the years will become my responsibility, my obligation, my burden. I'm not saying that I don't look forward to it all, but it is a little intimidating. And what about all the other new things? Well, playing as part of a horn octet should be fun. Drinking shall be avoided if at all possible. Maybe I'll even get a girlfriend! Hah, that's a fun thought.
Nevertheless, it is a challenge I shall have to take on whether I'm prepared or not. If for any reason you are in the Cambridge area, keep an eye out for a Chinese kid wearing a grey hoodie that says Rahiden on the back.  Say hi – you'll make my day.

:bulletred: I've been having trouble deciding how much of my Bionicle to bring with me. Before, I lived under the blissful impression that wherever I went, my entire supply would follow; now, after considering that I'll have to move out at the end of every term, this fantasy isn't quite so tangible. I'd like to have some to tinker around with, and it'd be nice to have some fully-built MOCs to look at… perhaps I shall use my heavy-duty bag with minifigs silhouettes on it to carry my reduced stash around instead of bringing my usual stack of four drawers. I have also set myself an absolute minimum in terms of Bionicle: the Elephant shall be accompanying me to university no matter what. For the time being, I shan't make any comment about my deviantArt activity whilst there. In any case, we engineers shall be spending the entire first week playing working with Lego Mindstorms, so MOCing shall not be entirely absent!
I am aware that a handful of you are in a similar situation in terms of bringing Lego away from home. I'd like to hear your thoughts.

:bulletorange: Continuing with the MOCing theme, I am so glad that the whole Ember/Overheat project is finally resolved! Since the first batch of comments, I've been thinking about female anatomy in more detail, and I've come to the realisation that my previous idea of ideal female proportions was that of a Japanese anime character. I then spent the week studying pictures like this... in the name of art! A shout-out goes to DoorStop1227 for her generous donation of pieces, without which Ember wouldn't be who she is now. Thanks to the deviantArt community as a whole for not suggesting that Ember needed bigger breasts. I'm very proud of you.
I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who contributed to the hilarious punfest that was the comments section of Noze. None of my close friends and family members had any idea why I found it so funny, so I'm glad you guys understand <3 Two puns that I'd like to share both made me consider renaming the MOC. The first was from LockmanCapulet: "What do you call a nose with no body? No-body nose!", and the second was Lol-Pretzel's suggestion to rechristen him Nostrildamus. Brilliant.

:bulletblack: My Air Dragon MOC visited 9gag about three weeks ago:
I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this. While I do appreciate the thought that went into it, my main problem is that there is no mention of me anywhere on the post, even though the one who posted it (who was perfectly friendly when I spoke to him) was happy to supply a link when asked. If it had remained within the realms of deviantArt, referring back to me would've been easy enough. Is it selfish of me to want the thousands of views that that post received, even if the publicity was given freely? Is it bad that I wish he'd chosen a MOC that I was actually happy with? I don't know, but I'm in the process of adding URLs onto older deviations just in case. Given past experiences, I should be grateful that he never claimed it to be his.

:bulletyellow: Hero Faffory is nearing its end! My original plan was for its finale to coincide with my departure, but after some reconsideration and a comment from Lewanut (you guys sway me too easily), I've decided to extend it another week. While this does mean that I'll have to do several pages' worth of photography and editing in a couple of days – which I would've done anyway, mind – it does come with the advantage that the final page, 61, should comfortably fit into 16 panels. Additionally I'll be able to include a Poison-typed title, which would've otherwise bothered me incessantly! I am currently in the process of preparing a MOC built specially for Hero Faffory; hydr0ph0en1x in particular shall be a happy bunny once I'm done.
One question I'd like to ask (which may or may not become a poll) is this: what kind of role should the Elephant play in the final page(s)? It shan't be anything major, given how much I've prepared for the current plan and how influential it was in Page 50. You guys seem obsessed with the idea that the Elephant is a time traveller. However, I would like the Elephant's participation to be unorthodox in one way or another – perhaps some kind of noticeable but minor action, or maybe I'll just stick with tradition using some hopefully innovative hiding spots. Suggestions are welcome.

:bulletwhite: All this talk about finalising things gives me the impression that I should wrap things up here; after all, I've asked rather a lot more questions than usual, and it's already exceeded 1000 words. And so, until next time, farewell!

The Chinese language: a topic that is unfamiliar in Western culture and is yet undoubtedly present within it. Though my research into the topic has been minimal, I think my position as part of a bilingual family grants me the right to shed some light on a few of its quirks – starting, of course, with the very basics. The intention of this rather lengthy journal is not to teach you Chinese, but to give you an idea of what you'd face if you decided to learn it; note that a more apt but less elegant title for this blog entry would probably be 'Why Chinese is far too complicated for its own good (and a few reasons why it's not)'.

:bulletred: This first point is more of a clarification for the rest of the journal than anything else: Dialects.  Admittedly there is some disagreement as to whether this is the correct terminology to use, since the individual 'dialects' could be considered languages in their own right. Whatever the case, Mandarin is the official one and is found generally in mainland China; meanwhile, my family originates from Hong Kong, where a dialect called Cantonese is spoken. As a result I am far more familiar with the latter, though I wouldn't say I'm fluent. (My Chinglish, on the other hand, is flawless.) Anyway, the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese is predominantly verbal, since the written language is largely identical throughout China; Mandarin and Cantonese sound like two totally different languages in speech, so it's a much greater difference than, say, British English versus American English. I like Wikipedia's description of these varieties of Chinese as 'non-mutually-intelligible'. Happily, someone fluent in Mandarin would probably be able to survive in most parts of China, partly because Mandarin has become a compulsory subject in many (if not all) schools throughout the country.

:bulletblue: Anyone who has seen written Chinese will know that it looks like several evenly-spaced symbols or characters. This is because, like a handful of other Asian languages, Chinese is one composed of words as opposed to letters (or, in the case of Japanese, syllables).
I shall carry on with the hopeful assumption that both this font and your browser support Chinese. A lot of Chinese characters had their origins in pictures: examples include mountain 山(a hillside), sheep 羊 (a goat's horns) and moon 月 (a crescent); additionally, the numbers one 一, two 二 and three 三 should be self-explanatory. (Unfortunately, four 四 does not follow this pattern.) One difficulty to overcome in Chinese writing is that each character must be written in a particular order; this becomes a natural thing once you grasp guidelines like 'top-left to bottom-right' and 'fill the box before you close it', though unsurprisingly there are some that don't follow these trends. You know, I've found that whenever I need to draw a box, I always do it as I would write the word mouth 口. If you were to label the corners A to D starting clockwise from the top left, it is always AD, then ABC in one fluid motion, then finally DC. Drawing lines that go vertically upwards feels very unnatural to me.

Perhaps my British upbringing is to blame, but I personally think that the character system is incredibly flawed. First of all, every character is of the same size and must fit within a defined square if it is to be used in writing, even if the character is not naturally square-shaped. The first that comes to mind is the first half of the verb like 喜欢, which consists of four smaller sections piled on top of one another. This inevitably leads to cramming several lines into a small space, which, when combined with rushed penmanship, often makes characters very difficult to read. You could also argue that this process makes the characters less visually appealing, particularly on a computer; in the above example, both rectangles should be square. Chinese doesn't have the luxury of being able to split words down the middle when we don't quite have enough space.
A second impracticality is that a lot of characters are (in my opinion) unnecessarily complicated. For example, the Chinese for I - that is, the first person singular - is 我; this alone takes me about 3 seconds to write legibly. It is for reasons like this that Mandarin speakers opt for Simplified writing instead of the Cantonese Traditional, whereby certain characters are reduced in form to make them easier to write. (Why 我 has not been subjected to this simplification, I do not know.) I have mixed feelings about the Simplified system: while it does make things easier for learners like me to pick up, I agree with my mother in that the simplified characters aren't as beautiful to look at. Chinese writing really is like an art form.

:bulletorange: Romanisation! Again this is more like preparation for the next section. (I have so much to say, it's difficult to arrange it all in a coherent order.) There exists a system called Pinyin which allows any Mandarin word to be written phonetically using the Roman alphabet; examples include 'zhàn' and 'xīng'. While romanisation systems for Cantonese exist, none are widely in use as far as I'm aware, making it virtually impossible for learners (or people like me, for that matter) to visualise how a word might be pronounced. It doesn't help that Cantonese is by far the more complicated of the two.
Pinyin is used abundantly in modern Chinese-English dictionaries, notably because the alphabet as we know it has an order. Whenever homonyms crop up (and believe me, this happens all too often), the system reverts back to the old way of ordering characters by how many brush strokes it takes to write them – that is, the equivalent of ordering words by their length - which still doesn't sort things out definitively.

I used Pinyin to type the characters in the earlier section, and then chose the word I wanted from the short list that popped up. Thankfully I didn't need to type out that many, as it's hardly an efficient system. I still wonder how Cantonese people texted quickly before the introduction of touchscreen technology, as they didn't have access to Pinyin. Chinese keyboards are peppered with countless simple characters, but a smaller device does not have that freedom. True, there are only six official types of line that one needs to use, but how does the computer know how long the line is? Which other lines does it intersect or touch? Where is the line relative to what you've already drawn? Apparently words can be identified by typing the four strokes that are fundamental to their character, but this sounds even more complicated considering that complex characters can take 20 or more strokes to write (see Traditional restaurant 餐廳). I won't even go there.

:bulletyellow: If you have ever unsuccessfully tried to say Hello in Chinese, I can assure you that the hurdle which tripped you was the tones. Your Chinese-speaking friend probably repeated it a couple of times, doing weird pitch changes with their voice, and no matter what you said, it was just wrong. Recognisable, certainly, but wrong nevertheless. It's a difficult concept to convey to a non-Chinese speaker (I myself get tones mixed up in my Cantonese), so first let's go back a step.

One thing I didn't explicitly state in the above sections was that every Chinese character is only one syllable long. Imagine if English were like that; there would be so many homophones flying around that you'd need to find another way of differentiating them. And so, the Chinese introduced an almost musical aspect to the language, whereby each word has a particular tone assigned to it: for example it could have a long, high, sustained pitch, or maybe it starts off low and then rises, or perhaps it is a staccato so short that the tone has no time to go anywhere. One of my friends speculated that this may be why Asian kids are often musically gifted (though I suspect that this is more a matter of upbringing). He also asked how it was possible to sing in Chinese with both the tones and the melody coming across; we generally have to choose lyrics such that the tones fit the tune and phrasing of the song.

The fact that I can only communicate here through text isn't exactly an advantage, but I shall carry on regardless. Mandarin, the simpler dialect, has five tones: one high, one rising, one falling then rising, one falling, and one unaccented. (Disclaimer: the unaccented tone is often ignored by textbooks.) Cantonese, meanwhile, has about seven; my uncertainty is due to the lack of romanisation. The thing about the tonal system is that it's very easy to get mixed up between words of similar pronunciations, making the context of that particular conversation vital to its meaning. One example I like to use is the Cantonese variations on the word 'cheung'. Depending on the tone used, it could mean any of the following: window, gun, sing, sausage, snatch, long, wall, and exchange. Even with all the possible options, three pairs of that list share tones, making them sound indistinguishable. The sounds of buy and sell differ only in pitch (as this is due to their origins, the similarity is not a coincidence), and the three words he, she and it sound identical. Coupled with the fact that the majority of Chinese names are unisex, this can get very confusing indeed. There are some phrases, of course, that require neither tones nor context to be understood: anyone hearing 'ni hao' will know it means Hello in Mandarin, but if you want to do it properly then you'll say the first word rising and the second falling then rising. But don't get too caught up about it, otherwise you'll just make yourself sound like an idiot.

Another impracticality about phonetics: the Cantonese words five and not are pronounced 'mm'. As in, literally a humming sound, which can only be so loud - 55 is colloquially pronounced 'mm-a mm'. Additionally, the common way to say please or thank you is 'mm goi'. Whenever I have brief Chinese conversations across a distance or through doors, corrections often have to be made, since mishearing the word not changes the meaning of the sentence entirely. In fact, they probably couldn't have chosen a more inconvenient word to mute. How could anyone think that this would be a good idea for a language? Allow me to invent a restaurant conversation, substituting the above words for their Cantonese pronunciation.
Customer: "I'll have the number mm-a mm, mm goi."
Waiter: "One number mm coming right up, Miss Ng…"
Customer: "Mm, mm the mm! The mm-a mm!"

:bulletgreen: This is the peak of the complaining part of this journal, but I realise now that I have no good name for it. Inequivalence, perhaps?

The main three components of a word are, in my opinion, the speech, the written appearance, and the meaning. The trouble with Chinese is that there is very little connection between these three, making it incredibly difficult to cross from one point of the triangle to another. Allow me to explain:
Chinese characters are generally composed using radicals, which are like mini-characters that may or may not exist as a character on their own. Each radical is usually simple to write, can be easily tacked onto the side of another word, and has its own implied meaning, making them rather similar to prefixes or suffixes in English. For example, the flower radical can be found written at the top of grass 草 while the man radical forms the left side of you 你. The rest of the character is dedicated to the pronunciation of the word. Well, it gives you a vague ball park to aim for, at least: the aforementioned grass is pronounced 'cǎo' in Mandarin while the bottom section early 早 is pronounced 'zǎo', so you can see the resemblance. Makes sense, right? The only trouble is that working things out from first principles is a little harder.

Let's try a real-life scenario. I was on a bus in Hong Kong, and I saw an unfamiliar word 扣 written on a sign. My detective skills told me that the left-hand side was the hand radical, implying an action; the right was the aforementioned mouth, pronounced 'hau'. Okay, so it's a verb, and sounds a bit like 'hau'. 'Lau'? 'Ngau'? 'Ho'? 'Hei'? What about the multiple other tones that could be used? Doesn't really narrow it down at all. Thankfully the surrounding words 'Please ___ your safety belt' told me that the word was fasten, which I happened to know was pronounced 'kau'.
Yes, this is a pretty simple example, but my point is that the transition from character to meaning to speech involves too much guesswork and prior knowledge for my liking. You can't work things out easily; you just have to know, and there's no way around it. Arguably English is just as bad, but at least we could pronounce an unfamiliar word with some confidence. Hang on, the t in fasten is silent, so… maybe not. Does the first syllable rhyme with last, or does the e make it waste? And we'd probably interpret the meaning to have something to do with speed, like quicken. I could probably rant about the English language for an entire journal (my favourite example: borough, cough, dough, ought, plough, rough, through), but I shall save it for another time.

You may have found it surprising that I knew how to say and use the Chinese word for fasten without having any idea of how it was written, but this isn't an uncommon occurrence. Admittedly my parents (having emigrated in their teens) aren't the best examples of Chinese speakers, but I often hear them asking each other how to write particular words despite their fluency. This undoubtedly comes with a verbal description of a character accompanied with flourishing hand gestures: if I were to describe the second part of my name 'Lin' 霖, for example, I'd say something like "It's a bit like the usual 'Lin' – you know, the one with the two woods – but it's got rain on the top." Compare this to the boring but efficient English equivalent: "My name's Aiden, spelt with an e." I guess the Chinese one is more colourful.

:bulletpink: Simplification! Something a little lighter. I get the impression that the ancient writers of the Chinese language (because they obviously sat around a table and invented it all in one go) realised that it was a fiendishly difficult method of communication, and so they took steps to make it a little easier. Some aspects of grammar that are commonplace in European languages are entirely absent in Chinese, the most notable being the lack of conjugated verbs and word modifications in general. In English, it is quite easy to change the ending of a word to shape its meaning: play, plays, played, playing, player, playful, playfully. This requires knowledge of the many grammatical potholes that must be avoided, such as how child goes to children and not childs, or how show goes to showed while grow goes to grew. (This second one was unintentionally pointed out to me by an old Greek friend of mine, who once shew me a game he was playing.) Chinese, however, cannot adapt its characters so freely; instead it does away with these complications entirely by employing wonderfully simple add-on words to signify plurality, past tense or possession. You could literally translate 'We ate my cake' as 'I [plural] eat [past] I [possession] cake'.

The Chinese have found other ways of cutting corners too. Why give separate names to all twelve months and all seven days? Far too complicated. Instead they're called Month 1 through to Month 12 and Day 1 through to Day 6, with Day Sun thrown in there to mix things up. (As an added bonus, one and sun are only a tone apart.) In fact, the word used for day in this context is also used as the word week, but it's not as confusing as you might think. Since making new words is avoided whenever possible, old ones are recycled (and literally translated) as follows:
Owl: Cat head bird
Jeans: Cow boy trousers
Computer: Electricity brain
Traffic light: Red green light (okay, the word for traffic exists, but I hear red green light far more often)
Aeroplane: Fly machine
Spain: West class tooth (pronounced 'xībānyá', which sounds close enough considering that we're using Chinese syllables)

The Chinese also lack direct translations of a, the and yes. The first two are substituted with one and that (though there is often no article used at all); additional complications to these are coming up in the next section. The word is could be translated as yes, I suppose ('duì', meaning correct, is in the same boat), but instead Chinese yes-no questions are usually answered by repeating the main verb of the question itself. That is, the answers to "Have you read this book?" and "Are you coming?" would be "Read!" and "Coming!" respectively. How nice.

:bulletpurple: Here are two concepts that I'd like to talk about, the first being measure words. It's quite natural to want to quantify things that you're referring to – say, a bowl of rice, a length of rope, a flock of birds. However, Chinese has a system whereby every noun must be quantified, even if it's on its own, and that the accompanying word used depends on what kind of thing the noun is. One such word, 'zhǐ', is used for small animals like cats and dogs as well as generic small things; instead of simply saying 'a dog', which is incorrect, you would have to say 'a zhǐ dog' every time. It's as if you're saying how many units of dog you have; in this case, you have one small animal's worth of dog. Another example is 'tiáo', which applies to long, thin, wavy things like string, roads, hair or fish. (I wonder if Dachshunds could be added to this list.) There are countless measure words like these, ranging from easily translated ones like pairs or boxes of things to more abstract words describing plants, monitors, clothes, vehicles or cutlery. Thankfully there is a generic one, 'ge', which can be applied to practically anything, but using it unnecessarily is frowned upon.

The second quirk is yet another concept that is largely absent from English, making it consequently difficult to describe. The Chinese, being very emotional people, have a series of nuance words that can be latched onto the ends of sentences to make them convey a particular feeling without having to change the words themselves (when accompanied with suitable movements with your voice, of course). Bear in mind that none of these words have a clear definition, and that experience is virtually the only way to learn their use. I shall exploit a simple example sentence, with each line varying only the ending word:

We are going to the zoo. [just a statement with no extra ending word]
We're going to the zoo! [like an excitable child]
Duh, we're going to the zoo, of course! [reminding someone who has forgotten]
We're going to the zoo, aren't we? [unsure, as if seeking confirmation]
But we're going to the zoo! [in answer to someone who has offered to go elsewhere]
So we'll go to the zoo, then! [as if offering a compromise]
Fine, we'll go to the zoo. [in defeat]
We're going to the zoo now! [as you are leaving]

:bulletwhite: The next item is the conflict between written Cantonese and spoken Cantonese. As far as I am aware, much of Cantonese was developed when the speakers illiterate, meaning that the connection between speech and text wasn't particularly strong. This asymmetry is still prevalent today, in that much of what is spoken literally cannot be written down; I have reservations about describing it as slang or colloquialism, as it is more like two dialects sharing only half of their characteristics. The example I like to use is the Cantonese for fruit; on paper it would be pronounced 'sui go', but everybody says 'sang go' instead. 'Sang go' is a phrase that people say on a day-to-day basis, but it has no written character assigned to it.
A repercussion of this is that you pretty much have to learn to speak Cantonese twice: once to pronounce the words you read and again to be able to converse with locals. It doesn't help that many of the words that can't be transcribed are incredibly common ones. The aforementioned word for not, commonly pronounced 'mm', is sensibly (and coincidentally) pronounced 'but' when read out; similarly, is goes from 'hai' to 'si', and the word to indicate possession becomes 'dik' from its previous 'go'. The most evident demonstration of this dual pronunciation is the news, where footage cuts between newsreaders reading from a script and reporters interviewing people on the streets. Chinese consists of several different dialects, but even within those dialects there are even more dialects. Thankfully Mandarin does not have this fluctuation, making it far easier to pick up!

For some reason this inconsistency doesn't seem to bother people. Perhaps it is because there is no obvious solution: we cannot simply invent a character that means fruit and is pronounced 'sang go' (as the process would be in English), nor can we change the pronunciation of the word 'sui', nor can we convince everybody to say 'sui go' since the other pronunciation is already too ingrained into people's speech. See, the process of inventing words in Chinese isn't an easy one. If current words cannot be grouped to form a new phrase, we often resort to piecing together syllables (like the aforementioned Spain example), which is a haphazard solution if you ask me. Meanwhile, if we in the West come across new or alternative words, turning it from a sound, concept or name into a dictionary entry is a reasonably easy process (some examples include tofu, blogging and post-its). In the meantime, though, Cantonese people continue to use a second set of words that exist only in speech, which is a concept entirely alien to English speakers.

:bulletblack: And so, after that mass of text, what have we actually learned? The Chinese language makes very little sense to someone brought up in a Western household, what with its character system of writing, tonal means of speech, and the several concepts that are so unfamiliar that I can barely describe them. If you ever decide to take up Chinese, I commend your bravery. (You'll just be preparing yourself for when China inevitably takes over the world.) But, before you are tempted to write it off as an insane language that is far too difficult to learn, I invite you to become more aware of the countless oddities of our own method of communication. Perhaps there is a blog somewhere about the difficulties of learning English from the perspective of someone living in Asia, complaining about how wise guy and wise man are opposites while a fat chance and a slim chance are synonymous; I would not be surprised in the slightest. Whatever the case may be, I thank you for making it through the marathon that was this journal. 再见!

North Korea and a fourth career

Mon Aug 5, 2013, 9:50 AM
One of my IRL friends, MarmosetsOfDoom, recently visited North Korea (though apparently I'm not supposed to call it that. Oh well). He's written a journal documenting the trip, so go check it out! It gave me an entirely new perspective of the country, so it's definitely worth the read.

I am currently writing this from my Dad's workplace, where I now have a job, and will continue to do so until late September. Technically it's not my fourth career - for a start, one of my past ones was unpaid work experience, and maths tutoring hardly counts as a career - but obviously it's the rhyming that appeals to me most. Oh, me and my journal titles.

Remember how I said I was working on Overheat Reborn, a.k.a. Ember? Well, it was recently pointed out to me that her head is actually trans-green, not trans-yellow as I had previously thought. Man, it's fun being colour blind. Surprises come when I least expect it; a few months ago I discovered that my Mum's car, which she has owned for the past 7 years, is actually blue and not grey. And yet it clearly says 'Galaxy Grey' on the documents, so really I think I'm on the upper ground here.
Where was I? Oh yes, Ember's green head. I was going to provide WIP photos, but hey, I'm not a WIP type. If only I'd never found out - then I could've finished her even with the yellow-green Glatorian heads, and they'd still be yellow to me. As counterproductive as it may seem, I have actually begun a second MOC whose sole purpose is to get me out of this lack of MOCtivity; the stream of nothing but Faffory pages since late June makes me conscious of how long it's been. Two months have passed since my last non-updatey blog entry too, so I should probably get that Chinese journal completed pretty soon. It'd make me feel less guilty about posting updatey journals, certainly.

Final item: Imaginary cookie prizes to anyone who comes up with a good phrase that rhymes with North Korea! Bonus points if it has something to do with the contents of this journal. Go crazy!