The Kentucky Derby is Blurry and Spinning

I moved to Louisville in late September of last year, and while I’ve been to the Derby before, I’ve never done it as a citizen of Louisville, so when two close friends of mine wanted to participate in it I was excited to give it another go. Luke had recently read Hunter S. Thompson’s write-up about the Derby, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” and essentially wanted to relive Thompson’s day as much as possible. From my previous experience I knew that it wouldn’t live up to the madness that it had achieved almost fifty years ago, but we tried our best anyway. It was also very important that we have powdered eggs at Wagner’s for some reason, which we did, but I don’t think he ever told me why.

The day was largely spent circumnavigating Churchill Downs, hitting up Wagner’s, the Beer Depot, and a local VFW. At one point, picking litter up from the ground to deposit in a nearby trashcan, I found an almost full pack of cigarettes. I decided it was a stroke of luck, despite the fact that I don’t smoke myself. We stopped in a KFC parking lot while a few of our party (we had met up with some friends at Wagner’s) were told they needed to purchase something to use the restroom.

Luke had decided to commemorate the event by toting with him a book which he had signed by anyone and everyone who was willing. He had chosen “Breaking Cardinal Rules,” an exposé about the Louisville Cardinals’ basketball program providing its players with access to a prostitute, no doubt in the hopes of offending Louisville citizens loyal to their home team. It was in the KFC parking lot that he acquired the signature of a local vagrant and his long-clawed dog (he stamped his muddy paw print on the page).

The Derby itself was for the most part the least eventful part of our day. Having been drinking at a strong pace, I may just be forgetting the fun parts. Though it drizzled on occasion, it only really rained once and only for about five or ten minutes. My desire to place a bet for the tradition of it was not able to overcome the length of the lines, and I had failed to set up any online betting apps beforehand, and didn’t care to look up my routing number etc. at the event. The mint juleps were very good, though.

At one point my picture was taken by a photographer who I believe was focusing on my shirt, which bore my bobcat logo. This prompted me to offer them one of my business cards, and I proceeded to give a few more out throughout the day. If anyone is reading this now, there’s a good chance it’s because you decided to find out what was the deal with the guy handing out those business cards.

We stood under an awning to stay out of the brief bit of rain that did occur, where a security guard asked us to not stand in front of the door. The area which was in front of the door more or less matched exactly the area protected from the rain, and not wanting to be so inconvenienced one of our party told the guard that he didn’t want to move. Surprisingly, the conversation ended there. I wonder what poor motivation he had to ask us to move, when the counterargument of “I don’t feel like it” was enough to sway him to our perspective.

After the actual Derby race was run, we pretty much immediately began the process of leaving, as did most of the other hundred-some-odd-thousand attendees. Two of them in particular were especially keen on exiting and demonstrated this with a juggernaut-esque plowing motion which most affected people seemed to find a little on the rude side. Luke chased after them (in a much less offensive ninja-like weaving fashion), no doubt to politely catch them up on social courtesies, but was unable to catch the pair. We ambled the streets to our street-parked car.

Finally at the car we unloaded our Derby glasses and reacquired our jackets, since the cold was finally back and starting to get to us. We tried to summon an Uber or Lyft or both, but the apps either connected us with drivers who couldn’t get to us or told us to travel by foot to a pickup location, which seemed to strip the convenience and purpose from the app entirely. Passersby and local residents made sure multiple times each that we did not intend to drive ourselves anywhere. One of them, who claimed to be the guy from Godsmack, even offered to drive us himself. He showed me his driver’s license, as to confirm his identity, which was a bold move. Since I didn’t know the names of the members of Godsmack, it neither confirmed nor denied anything about his membership, but seemed to lend him authority anyway as it was an official document. I later looked up the names of the members on my phone, but having immediately forgotten his name, this didn’t provide any information either. I don’t think he was the guy from Godsmack. I don’t know, though.

We mingled a bit more from our positions draped across the car or supine on the nearby sidewalk and eventually gave up on getting a ride (being too polite to accept a ride from the guy who may have been from Godsmack), and slept in the car for five or so hours. Upon awakening we were no better equipped to drive than before, but were now able to summon a ride and found our way back to my apartment.

All in all I had a lot of fun, though I don’t think I’m going to make it an annual thing. If you’d like to read more about experiences at the Kentucky Derby, check out this article my cousin wrote, which is significantly more polished than mine.

One for the Spambots

I get comments on this site every day. But only from terrible robots, so they get marked as spam. Some of them are pretty amusing though, so I will approve ALL comments on this post. Speak your piece, computer friends.

 

Edit: I swear I’ve gotten dozens of spam hits, just none of them on this post. Maybe they are scared of the word ‘Spambot.’ Seriously, I have eighty pending right now, and that’s not counting the ones I’ve continued to clear as I waited for this one to get one comment. I’ll try to compile them and add them to this post later.

Jonathan Coulton’s “Portal” Credits Songs as Break-up Songs

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The Album Art for “You Wouldn’t Know.” Click to hear the songs being discussed.

The Portal series of games is one of my favorite pieces of media ever produced. People described the first game as a sleeper hit from the Orange Box, but the crazy physics dynamic made it the one I was looking forward to the most, and given the other titles that says a lot. One of the most celebrated parts of that game (which was amazingly lived-up-to by its sequel) was the ending theme song, “Still Alive.” Written by Jonathan Coulton and sung by Ellen McLain as GLaDOS, this and the sequel’s song “Want You Gone” are both permanent residents of my music collection. Some may not know that the game Lego Dimensions has a kit containing Chell, the Companion Cube, and a turret (physical Lego build kits. It’s worth getting even without the game itself!), which opens up a Portal 2-based Lego game segment featuring Wheatley, GLaDOS and the Aperture Labs Enrichment Center. Complete with original voice actors, it also features its own song, which, while not canon, I consider worthy of being placed alongside the others for a few reasons. It has all the marks of legitimacy including being endorsed and licensed by VALVe, written by JoCo, and performed by GLaDOS. But what really seals the deal is that it, like the other songs, is a break-up song.

When GLaDOS sings “Still Alive” at the end of Portal, it is certainly the end of a relationship. While she may not have a physical heart to rip out, she is physically destroyed and Chell (unsuccessfully) flees the facility. In Portal 2, Chell and GLaDOS mutually separate themselves from each other. The Lego Dimensions expansion basically follows the plot-structure of a portion of Portal 2 and doesn’t fit into any real timeline of the series, but is still pretty fun. It also ends with GLaDOS being (somewhat ambiguously) destroyed. There are basic parallels between GLaDOS and Chell’s relationship and a break-up, and I believe Coulton was focusing on these while writing the songs.

In “Still Alive,” GLaDOS spends a good portion of the song describing how the player murdered her. She says “…you broke my heart and killed me/And tore me to pieces/And threw every piece into a fire.” While being murdered is rough for anyone, it’s not usually described as having one’s heart broken, especially by a machine without a literal heart. It does, however, resemble how one might feel in a bad breakup. She claims she is happy with this outcome with her dry sarcasm. Then, sadly and quietly she tells Chell to “Go ahead and leave me/I think I prefer to stay inside/Maybe you’ll find someone else…” then quickly shifts to how great her own life is again, how she prefers things this way: “Anyway, this cake is great/It’s so delicious and moist/Look at me still talking when there’s science to do/When I look out there it makes me GLaD I’m not you.” She even says “I feel FANTASTIC and I’m still alive.” She then adds two more lines “While you’re dying I’ll be still alive/And when you’re dead I will be still alive.” Highlighting her own immortality is a point that comes up regularly.

It’s the song of someone who has been hurt badly but denies the permanence (or even existence) of the pain. The claim that Chell is inconsequential, was never cared about, is gone now, and has done nothing worth noting especially in the face of GLaDOS’s immortality is a coping mechanism to deflect the fact that there is permanence there.

The title of “Want You Gone” alone is an obvious flag. At the end of Portal 2, the resurrected GLaDOS chooses not to kill Chell and instead banishes her (sets her free) to an unknown future. GLaDOS states outright “I used to want you dead, but/Now I only want you gone.” Similar to “Still Alive,” but now in a healthier stage, GLaDOS acknowledges the emotions she had for Chell (at least the negative ones) and that she has dealt with them, making peace with the break-up. She makes two more references to her longevity in this song: “One day they woke me up/So I could live forever/It’s such a shame the same/will never happen to you” followed by “You’ve got your short, sad life left.”

Though in-game GLaDOS’s justification for letting Chell live is that killing her is ‘hard,’ and that the easiest solutions are often the best ones, the fact is GLaDOS doesn’t spend much effort killing Chell. The incineration sequence towards the end of Portal, the ‘boss battle’ at the end, and some turret traps in between are the only instances where she is more inclined to kill Chell than to use her for testing. The first instance being somewhat poorly orchestrated (the incineration chamber was likely not designed to kill people but to rather process waste), the second is the only real ‘fight.’ GLaDOS is ill-prepared to kill Chell even then, having only a slow-acting neurotoxin and a single, relatively ineffective rocket-launcher at her disposal (the launcher itself is automated and GLaDOS is apparently unable to manually control or even activate it). All in all, I don’t buy GLaDOS’s argument that killing Chell is hard. GLaDOS never put her full effort into it except in one situation where she was, firstly, fighting for her own life, and secondly, severely hampered. It would be trivial to destroy Chell in any other circumstance, especially while she is sealed in the elevator as GLaDOS explains that she is hard to kill.

GLaDOS lets Chell live because she doesn’t want to kill her. The final chorus of “Want You Gone” tells Chell “Go make some new disaster/That’s what I’m counting on/You’re someone else’s problem/Now I only want you gone.” It’s almost something you’d tearfully say to an animal you’re returning to the wild. GLaDOS knows that she and Chell don’t have a positive relationship in the Enrichment Center, but even as she releases her she seems to be wishing her well, telling her to find a new purpose.

Finally, “You Wouldn’t Know” comes from the non-canon Lego Dimensions game, but as I have stated, fits well among the other two songs. The beginning seems to describe how well GLaDOS has been doing without Chell around to destroy her regularly: “Everything clean, nothing on fire/All by myself, finally.” She quickly goes on to say “It feels so strange not to hate you anymore.” This line perfectly lines up with the progression from the previous songs. In “Still Alive” she is in denial, in “Want You Gone” she acknowledges her feelings, and now she has dealt with them. As with a romantic break-up, however, this does not mean that the love nor the pain is gone, just that it has been processed. She says “I’m fine, just in case you think I’m not.” She remarks that she understands why Chell will not return to her in the future in a regretful tone, despite her claims that she ‘forgives’ her.

She goes on to say that Chell will regret leaving. GLaDOS has baked a real cake “yes it’s real – a cake I made,” reflecting a running gag in the series based on the popular ‘lie’ from Portal. She concludes “Too bad you let it get so out of hand/How much we had, finally I understand/But you wouldn’t know, would you?” The segment “how much we had” speaks the strongest, GLaDOS believes that she and Chell had something wonderful and Chell wantonly destroyed it as she rejected GLaDOS. GLaDOS may see this as a professional relationship, a personal friendship (Caroline in Portal 2 directly showed GLaDOS’s human side), or even little more than a tester/lab-rat relationship (in Portal 2 GLaDOS explains how her position as lab administrator gives her euphoric feedback for testing, and even says this was not her primary motivation as she was always “in it for the science”), but it was definitely something she believed worth having.

From Chell’s perspective, this would all probably seem insane. Chell was, from the beginning, a prisoner. Through the course of the games she does little besides surviving and escaping. The idea that she and GLaDOS had any kind of partnership would be laughable. But GLaDOS is a character who sees things her own way, and she would probably not realize Chell’s perspective without significant persuasion. She believes she has been foolishly rejected by Chell, and works through this emotionally over the course of the series. While it’s hard to say she “just needs a hug” or something like that, I personally find her to be a tragically sympathetic character.

But maybe that’s just me.

Fire Soda

I had a dream where there was a fire flavored soda. It had a goofy cartoon unicorn on the bottle that was on fire and screaming, though in a really silly depiction that was more like how you’d advertise hot wings. You know, where there would be some guy whose eyes were bulging and he was spitting fire, and somehow this makes the product more appealing? It had the advertising line “What do people who don’t fear death fear who death who?” This was weird on many levels, including the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever been able to read text in a dream before. Seems like an odd place to start.

I think the idea was something like, there’s probably some bumper sticker line “I’m afraid of people who are afraid of death.” Some kind of statement on people who never leave their bubble. So the soda asks us, of the people who don’t fear death, what kind of person scares them? A sort of roundabout way of saying the same thing, though more open-ended.

The point I’m making here is: where is my fire flavored soda?

Arduboy

A while back I kickstarted something called Arduboy, and I got it in the mail a few days ago. I decided to inaugurate the little guy by remaking the game that I can’t seem to stop remaking: FANBOAT. The greatest game that ever graced GWBASIC. Arguably. By me.

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Anyway, check it out! It currently runs from the Arduino desktop app but not from Codebender; dunno what problem they have with it. But if you have an Arduboy, you can figure it out, I’m sure.

Hire me

Welp, I’ve finally graduated. If you know anything about how to get one of these ‘jobs’ I keep hearing about, be sure to let me know. Apparently with student employment, the employment part only goes on as long as the student part. Such a shame. Read up on the ol’ résumé if you want.

Suicidal BB-8

So you know I have that BB8 toy? Well whoever programmed it gave him a tendency for suicide.]I let it run out of batteries, but today I put it back on the charger. It has an inductive charger, so it can only juice up when it’s sitting on the pad the right way. In the spirit of giving him personality, they added this thing where if he’s out of batteries, or critically low I guess, when he’s on the charger, he droops his head forward dramatically like he’s powered down. Thing is, it doesn’t have a control for his head separate from the weight shifting that drives him around. Basically, in order to move his head, the entire internal mechanism has to rotate. This has the effect of lifting the inductive surface off of the charger, which prevents him charging further.
So I put him on the charger, he wakes up, rotates himself off the charger, and being without batteries, dies. Put him back -> wakes up -> kills self -> repeat.
I managed to prop up the charging surface so that he still ended up on it while being dramatic like he do, and managed to ride through his little animation long enough to get minimal power into the battery. It’s not an unsolvable problem, so I just think it’s funny. They also patch the firmware on occasion through the control app, so it’s possible that this is a bug that was solved already, but I haven’t powered my guy up in a while so he may be rolling with old code for the moment.