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Friday, December 14, 2018

Unless

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Full disclosure, I am not a quote/unquote Pittsburgher by residency.  I have been a lifelong fan of Pittsburgh teams.  I attended and graduated the University of Pittsburgh.  I currently work in the city.  To that end, I consider myself a Pittsburgher because I am very attached to the area in one way or another. And even if I wasn’t I would still have been affected as deeply by the events that took place in Squirrel Hill at the Tree of Life Synagogue last month.  And I’m here to say that it, along with the rest of the world won’t get better.

I say that as I try to raise a daughter to not look at the most horrible negative aspects of humanity.  I say that as she, too, has expressed that the world is a horrible place and everything sucks.  And quite frankly, I cannot disagree with her. But I can reassure her and I want to reassure any of you that think that just because we are living through unusually extraordinary times that it means the world is never going to not suck.

Let’s face it, we’re not getting out of her alive.  The moment we were born, we began to die.  And that’s OK.  After all, we are a living thing and like any plant or animal, our physical beings are only able to endure so much over so long a time.  And no matter how much we try to prevent or protect ourselves from disease or disaster, the end result is the same.  We will all die.  We are born and we die.  Those two points are fixed in their existence. The degree to which we exist within two points is flexible and therein lies the challenge.

Now, more than ever, we are bombarded with news and information about the world.  Now, more than ever, we are aware of things that are going on outside our doors.  Now, more than ever, is that information shaped to illicit a heightened reaction, physical and emotional.  And our children are not immune to it.  We can only guard them against technology for so long.  It’s everywhere.  News alerts, crawls, social media posts… It’s all out there and the more we try to wrap our children in a blanket of ignorance to protect their innocence, the harder reality tries to creep in.  There is no escaping the wolf that is already in the doorway.  Because of that I embrace the news and offer you a caveat in your digestion of it.

The world sucks right now.  People are dying from hate and violence more than just old age.  People are more divided now than they were at a time when we were actually divided by laws.  People are more willing to accept that everything will get worse before it gets better.  And they aren’t wrong.  I’m sorry, but this is the reality we live in. 

Everything we eat will kill us.  If we buy it, it’s got chemicals.  If we grow it, it comes into contact with chemicals.  If we synthesize it, it is a chemical.  The reason you like the way a certain food tastes is because they are designed that way. Natural foods have a real taste that isn’t as fun or zingy as processed.  But real food tastes good if you know how to prepare it.

Our leaders all serve someone else’s interests other than our own.  Oh, sure, they tell us they do.  They say they will remove the corruption and drive out the evil.  They dangle a small carrot to us while giving others huge bushels.  But if that’s what they’ve been telling us for decades, and we keep falling for it, then why has no one actually done it?

Death is everywhere.  As I said, your body is literally trying to kill you every day until it actually succeeds or loses that honor to another killer.  If you eat X, it will give you Y, which is bad. But if you try to avoid X, by eating A, B will happen.  If you take F it will cause you worse side effects than what G’s symptoms are.

So, there you go. It all sucks.  Our food will poison us. Our government won’t protect us.  And our medicine will make us sick. 

UNLESS

Instead of sitting there, making excuses for why it doesn’t matter what you do to your body or the environment, instead of crawling into a hole and waiting to die of old age, covered in bubble wrap with no sharp edges on anything so you don’t get a cut, or instead of simply deciding that maybe a long life isn’t worth it because what reason do you have to make it to 30 when you can just gorge on processed cheese and chocolate and accept death at an early age maybe you can do something to change it.

Stop being complacent that the world is horrible and make it better.  Come up with new solutions to old problems.  Shout YES louder than the loudest adult who shouts NO to changing the world.  Get off your ass, take a stand, and start making little changes that improve things.  Get help.  Organize.  Make a statement. 

Stop listening to what they’re telling you is wrong and start telling them what you can do to fix it.  We used to make things.  We used to solve problems.  Now all we do is make ways for us to be enslaved by the problems we’ve created.  We scare everyone into thinking the world is horrible and that it’s all coming to get you, so hide behind a shield of hate and lies and you’ll be safe from the truth. 

We have access to the greatest wealth of technology and information than we have ever had and it can be used for good.  All it takes is enough people to band together and use it that way.

So, unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.


Friday, December 7, 2018

The Information Super Highway Was Paved With Good Intentions


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As we continue to hurl ourselves into Idiocracy territory, I thought about the last 25 years of my life.  After all, my 25th reunion is this fall.  Good time to reflect.  Look back on my adult life.  Cry in the corner a bit.

What I discovered is that for all the technological innovation we’ve seen in the last two decades, we’ve become incredibly stupid and selfish.  If I could go back in time and change one thing, I might actually make the ultimate sacrifice.  I might try to prevent the invention of the Internet.

I know.

I KNOW.

What madness is this?  Why, on Earth would you un-invent the Internet?   Aren’t you selling shirts, online?   Aren’t you trying, and failing, to produce YouTube videos?  Yeah, but that doesn’t change the truth.  And, before you start clutching your routers and barking madly, understand where I’m coming from on this.  It’s like Terminator 2.  No matter how hard they tried to keep Skynet from happening, it happened.  Granted, it happened in a bad way, a la Terminator 3, but it was inevitable.   Now, I don't want to keep the Internet from ever happening.   I only wish to delay the process until we are better equipped, mentally and emotionally, to handle it.

We were given fire by the Gods and we ended up torching the world.  We literally did not understand what we were given.    For awhile we just did silly things with the Internet.   Hell, we still do.  Cats playing keyboards, planking, Hadouken pics, Horse Head Mask videos, memes, vines...  But soon, it warped and became something different.   There was porn… so much porn.  Then there were cell phones and soon commercial WiFi.  iPods. Tidepods  iPhones. 

Facebook, Instagram, Elvis Presley, Disneyland.

It spiraled out of control.   Slang (OMG, WTF,  ROTFLMAOBBQ)

We became addicted to technology.  Our lives revolved around little devices that did everything for us.   A phone replaced a pager, a camera, a gaming device, a laptop, watch, GPS, radio, Walkman, and tons of other devices.  It became the Swiss Army Lazy Man.   Texting gave way to sexting.   Polaroids gave way to selfies-in-a-bathroom-with-duck-face being Instagramed and put up on Facebook.  “Like, please!”  (read: I have no self-esteem and need constant and instant approval to maintain my shell of an existence.)  Soon, there was cyber-bullying.   Hacking phones, emails, the need for 24/7 news that may or may not even be accurate spread like a wildfire. Hacking of elections and influencing voters' minds.  Fake News, trolls, and bots.  We have become unable to put the genie back into the bottle.

And, I don’t think we ever will.   Isn’t it odd that in the last 25 years we’ve invented things that bring us closer together, more so than ever before, yet they put us farther apart in terms of actually connecting with people.  Used to be, if you wanted to reach someone, you had to catch them at home, by phone.   Now, you call their cell.  And, in a lot of cases, they want you to hang up and just text.    Also, isn’t it odd that in the last 25 years, so much technology has come about yet, what’s the last thing we cured?  Polio, I think.  We’ve created a generation of customers.

Our kids?  Our kids have become over-privileged and entitled. 

“Well, Johnny has an iPod and he’s seven.” “Well, Johnny is also a selfish brat that can’t wipe himself yet, but can send a text.  He probably still wets the bed.”

Nobody wants to work for anything.  And I don’t mean the entitled vs. the uneducated.  I’m talking about EVERYONE.   Somewhere along the way, we lost our mission.   Our grandparents went to WWII.  They sacrificed a lot of things in order to keep the country running.   Now, we’re asked to give up something and suddenly, since 9/11, our government is either out to control or enslave us.  Take away our rights.  Funny.  Our grandparents sacrificed a lot in order to give their family a better life.   Our parents, well, at least mine, gave up a lot of stuff in order to make our lives better.   They scrimped and saved.  They went without new clothes or fancy appliances.  They made ends meet and did what they could to ensure that we never had to live like that, ever.   And somehow, we thought, “Oh, cool.  Great.  Thanks.”  And that was it.  We accepted their generous offer.  We watched as they worked hard and bled for us and we just took that better life and continued to not pay it forward, but instead we cheapened the thought.

We were given so much without having to ask for it and yet, when it came to our children, or the next generation born into the millennium, they didn’t understand what our parents did to provide, because we were the end result.  We didn’t continue the trend.   We didn’t have to work hard anymore.   Technology caught up and made it easier.   Hell, I am just as responsible.   I work in an office all day, but I also run a business where I don’t have to put a lot of effort into it and am rewarded, monetarily.   Granted, I wish I could work more on it.   I know the quality would benefit, but at the end of the day, I get emails saying , “Congrats on your sale” with no deserving of that praise.  The Internet has done the work for me.

We take to Facebook and instead of sharing our lives with each other, we share half assed researched and cited examples of hate against one group or another.   I can count on at least one hand how many friends I have on Facebook that never say a word, yet post CONTINUALLY their disdain for one group or another in this world.   And 9 times out of 10, they share from one subjective group that is not even factual all the time.  It’s just a funny picture, or what they claim to be funny, slamming another person/group/religion/etc.   They don’t say “Hi”, or “How are you” they say, “Here’s why you’re all wrong and I’m right” in graphic form.  And for all that friending and sharing that goes on, I believe we are more so divided than we ever were as a civilization.   Friends are not friends, they are an audience for our amusement and our agendas.  We don't connect, we try to redirect.

We do not deserve the Internet.    If aliens were to come here, looking for intelligent life, we’d be blown off the face of the galaxy like we were a plague. 

“For the love of Blurg!   Zyphos, we must eradicate this menace on Earth before it spreads and infects us.”  

“How do you know that, Lishu?” 

“I saw it on Reddit.   And Grimjor saw a post on Zarnbook that he shared from "I bet this Gorpcar can get more likes than Firtarp.”

100 Andelorians like this.  (Picture of a tentacle in a thumbs up position.)

So, yeah.  Let’s go back, blow the servers and tell the geeks of the 90s to keep working on it and we’ll work on being better humans, so that one day, we may be deserving of such an awesome power.


Friday, November 30, 2018

I Don't Want To Leave


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Open world games such as Minecraft or No Man’s Sky are sometimes overwhelming to those of us who like a little bit of structure in our lives.  After all, we are essentially given not just a blank canvas, but a blank studio, gallery, and entire world in which to create.  The level of awareness of how big the world or universe is in regards to what your footprint is could crush your mind.  You start out at spawn, and immediately worry about survival, so you cobble together a shelter or hide out where it’s safe until you can fully prepare yourself to venture beyond the safety of your immediate surroundings.  As you gain experience and develop more survival skills, you explore further and further.  Your original base is no longer something you need and you want to look for greener pastures or more advanced resources.  You want to move somewhere that your level of evolvement is now at the bottom of the scale and you can work your way up to the master of the domain.  Rinse and repeat.

And especially, in a game like No Man’s Sky, you will shed resources a lot. You will throw away things that seem so important or valuable all because you need more room for consumables to build and survive.  It’s the equivalent of people who survive a shipwreck on an island with a case of extremely expensive 100 year old scotch and they use it for fuel because survival is more important than status or wealth.  Many times, and I mean maaaannnnnnnnyyyy times I have come across worlds, rich in valuable resources that I would love to plunder, only to jump in, grab a small, totally unrelated item, and then jump out.  I may be tempted to grab a couple of high quality items if they are close by, but usually inventory space doesn’t allow for a profitable haul.  The game actually forces you to play slow. It hamstrings your efforts, even though you may be capable of higher functions with items such as advanced mining lasers or hazmat gloves.  And until you progress far enough into the game, you won’t have access to more storage on your person, at a base, or in a freighter.  Probably the best option at this point is to acquire a bunch of starships, park them in your freighter, and use their inventory space to hold multiple stacks of resources you need.  You can always jump back to them and pick up what you need.

But that causes another issue.  Travelling.  How many times have you gone somewhere, say in Skyrim, or Minecraft, or No Man’s Sky and not had what you needed or the inventory space to carry what you came for?  Imagine it, you’ve landed your ship, walked over a mountain towards an item or location and then realized I am missing something that I need or I can’t even carry this.  So, you have to hopefully have something you can drop or you spend an hour creating something to recharge your tools or suit, and then scrapping the rest to make room… A simple walk becomes a two hour ordeal.  And when you don’t have hours to play, it can be frustrating to make very small moves towards a goal.   So there you are, bebopping around the universe looking for a handful of items because they can’t all be readily available in the system you start out in. So, off I go to another system, and another, and the explorer in me is conflicted with the achiever.  I want to search for all the species and all the plants.  I want to discover and catalog all the planets, not just a landing patch on each one.

In the early days of No Man’s Sky, the idea was that you could discover planets and creatures and name them, uploading them to the servers which would retain that information for when the next player, who happens to warp on by, can see your discovery.  It was a multiplayer feature in a single player instance.  It meant “discover all the things” which had me wondering that if the universe of No Man’s Sky was based on algorithms and is procedurally generated, how does every player exist in the same space? But, of course, with the advent of this new type of feature, mapping and discovery, that meant that he/she gets to the end fastest, gets the spoils of being first but misses a lot of stuff along the way, something I find annoying about people who speed run in order to have arbitrary bragging rights. 

But I learned to let go.  I learned that no system is a snowflake.  For as unique and detailed as each system and all their planets may be, the one thing I learned in No Man’s Sky and Minecraft is that I can pick up, go somewhere else and find exactly what I need, albeit after maybe a wasted day, looking over new planets.  The stuff in my inventory can be valuable but materialism in this game is almost as inconsequential as your own physical existence in the game.  It’s all data. There’s a pattern.  It’s repeatable.  It happens once and it happens again.  It took me awhile to leave the worlds I was so accustomed to, so familiar with and enjoy finding the next place that is somewhat new but somewhat the same.  At one point in my early travels, I gave up on the allure of trying to reach the destination and worried more about the journey.  I spent a lot of time just hanging out in the third system I traveled to. I hopped all over the place to max out my ship’s inventory.  I maxed out my weapon.  I maxed out my exosuit.  I linked all the upgrades.  Everything was great… and then it all changed.  And I was reset in a way.  Suddenly, all the bragging rights and inventory and discoveries didn’t matter.  I’m now playing differently.

No Man’s Sky is meant to be enjoyed, experienced, not rushed to conclusion.  And unfortunately, you have competing in game directives.  Follow the path, but explore and build.  So, you move from place to place and keep building, leaving remnants of your existence scattered about the universe.  When in reality, what I want to do is settle down and explore an area that holds so many possibilities.  But I have to continually put that desire on hold due to a requirement that forces me to go somewhere else.  There is no rooting yourself in the experience because the ability to do so requires you to leave your immediate area and after searching countless systems and countless worlds for that perfect paradise to build and grow, your objective lies somewhere else, like a princess in another castle.  The main issue became tracing back over your steps.  After a few updates my progress was lost, planets changed, bases reverted or became missing.  And for me to travel back along my path trying to find previous worlds and systems became annoying.

Luckily, the NEXT update somewhat reconciles this quandary.  I can explore any and every world.  I can follow the path as long and as far as I need to, but along the way, I need to leave breadcrumbs. In every system that has an essential component or seemingly perfect world, I place a base.  Getting enough resources to plop down a wood shack and a portal isn’t too hard.  As I move further and further along, it just means more names on my transporter list.  Even if I don’t put a portal down, at least I can get back to the space station and fly down to where my base is located.  Then, when I find the perfect place to park, I can build my final base and connect a portal network to the essential locations for resources needed to complete base quests.  The main annoyance will be teleportation times but that isn’t as bad as having to physically fly to different systems. 

I don’t have to leave.



Friday, November 23, 2018

A Legacy of Binary Dust


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How infinitesimal will the legacy be of someone born in the 20th century. I often wonder about the effects of our lives and those who have come before us on this planet. Stonehenge. Easter Island. The Pyramids. The Nazca Desert drawings. Croatoan. These are all mysteries of history where we’re not sure what was the exact purpose of their design. In fact, what exactly was being discussed when those responsible stepped back and looked at their creations, now finished. Was it for the benefit of them to leave their mark or for us? Were they trying to simply say, “Killroy was here,” in some ancient fashion, or were they trying to tell future civilizations something important.

But what’s past is prologues and we are the new builders of a legacy that may never be realized. We’ve built structures on the beach, a testament to our ingenuity of molding sand. We leave monuments of our gritty labors for others to partake, some to take out with their feet. Hopefully, they take delight in our design for a brief moment in time. But, ultimately, the beach, like a giant Etch-a-sketch, shakes itself each day, wiping away our efforts. Once towering castles in the sand, a new resets the board and allows the next master builders a chance to impress the passersby. But what if no one glances our works in the sand? What if not one person wanders by before the tides reclaim the sand? Did it ever exist? Did it ever matter?

So what if we carved our initials into that tree or upon the steel beams of a rusted old bridge that spans a river. So what if we tag a water tower or train car? Someday that mighty maple may fall, a casualty of mother nature. Or that bridge may crumble due to the elements, only to be rebuilt anew, sans scratched in symbols of our defacement. The graffiti on an overpass may be painted over. And who really gets the chance to read all the tags on the boxcars as they roll by at the railroad crossing? Then what? Our monograms go unnoticed, forgotten in time. We lose a foothold on the past with our legacy erased.

Of course these acts are all destructive. They hurt nature. We should build things not deface them. But even then, over time, those structures could be wiped from memory with a wrecking ball or an evil plot. Our history books and the Internet preserve those images, indelible in our minds and hearts for generations to come, but still the memories get corroded and the history gets morphed into something different, a narrative told by one side to blame the other. Of course, this only matters to the legacies built by those with presence. Those items are on display for a reason and the knowledge of their dedication is made public. For us, the lowly, anonymous citizen, our legacy gets wiped quite often.

I hope, that one day, many, many years from now, a child puts on their father’s shirt. It’s faded design marks a time in the early 21st century, where a young man, no longer alive, decided to put funny images on a shirt, and perhaps a younger man bought that shirt, wearing it with pride And it held up, over the years, until he had a family all his own, and while the shirt no longer fits him, his young son can run around in the faded and cracked ink marked shirt, still giving the father a smile, remembering when he bought it so many years ago.

And one day, when a new generation comes up with a better idea for sharing content among viewers, and the servers of YouTube are wiped and scrapped, the last remnants of these videos will be lost to time. Even the raw footage and files from their recordings will no longer be able to be viewed as we move onto different, more efficient means of compression and storage of digital media. Today’s MP4s are yesterday’s 5 ¼ inch floppy disks. Centuries from now, an archaeologist may come across a box of these thin black squares and wonder what the faded words “Lemonade Stand” or “DOOM.EXE” means. What will be the legacy of Chocolate Rain or Keyboard Cat be when no one is able to view the videos in the 22nd century?

As for gamers, we spend time and money on a digital footprint. On multiplayer servers, long since decommissioned, we built massive bases and farms in Minecraft, creating pixel art Mario or Pinkachu out of wool, so that a n00b on the server could pass by and see our art or architecture, marveling at the design and detail. Even I gave money to a server which no longer exists. I built many structures costing me countless hours only to have them wiped away after the mods went away and stopped hosting. The videos of these structures, while still on my channel, harken to a time when I was still early into the channel, not really knowing how to best present and edit content. In GTA, we built empires and acquired clothes and vehicles, but those were all temporary fixtures as newer titles were released and support for the old was removed. The money gamers spent on shark cards to amass all this material wealth, gone in a command line execution of finality. Angry Phisting will be no more as will Bob in the world of San Andreas. These are the legacies I’ve perhaps wasted my time on. Many hours, many dollars in maintaining storage and Players Plus accounts only to have everything blinked away. What purpose did it serve? What did I hope to achieve in them? Why do we continue to leave footprints where we know someone will later erase them?

It’s a perfect rabbit hole to climb down as you play a game like No Man’s Sky where in essence, the game wants you to be found. Perhaps not physically, or even maybe literally, but your mark on the game is left to be witnessed. Of course, as the game continues to morph and update and become something further away than what it initially started out as, our digital footprint on the universe is being wiped clean from the servers and one day, maybe a year or maybe decades from now, no one will ever see how you named your first discovery, Planet McPlanet Face. As the NEXT update gives us the option of building bases anywhere and in any quantity I am laughing as I come across the many footprints, little messages from other explorers, screaming out into the void. Their messages like little, “Killroy was here” moments as I pass through on my way to completing missions. And as new players wander by, they may see my half constructed, abandoned bases, a simple checkpoint for me to find my way back, along the landscape of some world I’ve marked up in an effort to cash in on the resources of a world until I find that perfect location in which to build my ultimate base, only to have it wiped away from existence by the next update… or perhaps one day gone forever when Hello Games turns down the servers.

What do we hope to accomplish by making marks in the dirt or on the sides of buildings which can be erased with ease? How do want to be remembered when our digital feats and discoveries can be wiped away with impunity. Why do we care? As we move further and further online we lose more and more of our past because we become more closed off to the outside, opting to bottleneck our interaction into a screen and a signal. There’s a real chance that if we were to digitize our entire history and all of our accomplishments we could lose them all if something happens. If the power goes out, we lose everything. If some kind of attack occurs that wipes our data, we could lose our entire past. No more “Killroy was here” and no more “Ask not what your country can do for you.”

I’ve worked in knowledge management. I know what it’s like to be in an organization where the greatest wealth of information is held close by a very few individuals. The tribal knowledge that could help solve today’s problems and prevent tomorrow’s is closely guarded because by giving up that ownership, the owners feel they become obsolete and no longer useful. We didn’t get to space by having a few mathematicians say, “It’s easier if I just do it for you.” But it’s even more than that. We, as a society, are unprepared for what happens when those who take care of us don’t pass on their knowledge of everyday things. Farming or basic maintenance or even how to function as an adult and manage finances.

Education is the most powerful legacy we can pass on to our next generations. And it’s taught word of mouth and written. Yes, technology can help mobilize and shape the message. It can even help deliver it, but it cannot be the system of record when it comes to our past. That we must write down and teach to the youth. We must cut through all the Fake News and partisanship and pass along those details and facts that will keep up from losing ourselves completely. That is the carving on the tree we need. That is the graffiti on the water tower we should embrace.

We need to have more than a legacy of binary dust to have blown away by the winds of ignorance and shortsightedness. We need to learn from our past or we will forever make the same mistakes.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Time, Time, Time, See What's Become of Me


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Why is that some people look at their life in terms of being so many years removed from something?  And at what point do you stop counting?

This year is/was my 25th high school reunion.  It’s been 25 years since I graduated high school.  Now, I don’t typically count the number of years since I graduated college.  It’s been 20 by the way.  Maybe that’s because we don’t typically commemorate the year we graduated college whether because we have opportunities to go beyond just a basic four year college tenure, or because we just don’t typically have a college reunion.  Hell, I didn’t even go to my college graduation.  There were over 36,000 undergrads at my school.  I don’t think anyone noticed me missing, nor was my name probably called.  Yet, there I was some 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 15 years out of high school saying, “I can’t believe it’s been 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 15 years since I’ve been out of high school.”

And in these, now, 25 years since graduating I have been to a total of…. One reunion.  I’m one for five.  I went to only one reunion despite being very aware and vocal about how many years it was since I was in high school.  20%. I enjoyed high school.  It was fun for me.  I had good friends and had a great time there.  I went to the last one.  Yes, it was the 20th because I felt it was somewhat of a milestone.  Now, I did attend a breakfast for the 10th which was basically across the street from where I was living at the time, otherwise I was not really interested in going.  But for the 20th, I felt there was some need to do so.  Perhaps it was the being almost 40.  Perhaps it was a new chapter in my life.  I was going through a divorce.  Perhaps I just felt like I had some unfinished business to figure out and went to see about some closure.  What I found out what was that any questions I had about my life and the last 20 years weren’t being answered by hanging out with people I rarely saw in 20 years, though communicated with via social media.  I didn’t unlock any secrets of the universe in that evening.  I didn’t look back and think, yeah, I should have really gone to the other three and this upcoming one. 

I knew that it was a small moment in this life.  We all came together and began talking and planning and getting back into each other’s lives but I said that probably, after the 20th, we’d also drift back apart.  I figured we would probably go back to our little corners of the world and keep each other at a distance over social media.  And even that has changed in the last five years.  The people I remember from high school were not the same people I saw that night… and they are not the same people I see today. A lot has changed in the last 25 years… mostly in the last three.

A lot of people can’t wait to get away from that orbit of counting years from high school graduation.  Their time in the halls of their local public school could have been difficult.  They could have been sad or even cruel.  We lived in a different world.  The advances we made in social equality we’re small, but very impactful, when our parents were teenagers but then a huge gap of 40 years before we even began to rethink the most basic tenets of acceptance and tolerance.  We’re still fighting that to this day.  Meanwhile, kids in high schools have worse things to worry about.  Drugs and violence are more rampant than they were 25 years ago.  It will have been 20 years since Columbine next Spring.  Knowing the odds, I simultaneously scoff and worry that my own child will be in high school by the time my 30th reunion rolls around.  The odds are so small, but I’m sure every parent, including those at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas and Sandy Hook, never truly believed they’d have to worry either. 

Their unfortunate truth is that they will begin marking time in years since someone has passed. As we get older, those we love will ultimately be taken from us and we will begin remembering that it’s been “X years since Y passed.”  I look back at how it’s been four years since my first cat died, a year and a half, and six months since two others died, respectively.  I still  have one left and she’s so stubborn that she will probably outlive me and one day be marking the years since I’ve passed.  It’s sad, for sure, and I’m not sure how healthy it is to remind ourselves how it’s been that someone has left us.  Perhaps it’s better to remember how many memories they gave us, focusing on their positive impact on our lives instead of focusing on their absence. 

But, in all fairness here is a list of important “it’s been this many years since…” that I felt were impactful and poignant in our history.

It’s been one week since you looked at me
It’s been 7 years since the end of the Iraq War
It’s been 9 years since the first version of Minecraft was released to the public
It’s been 11 years since the introduction of the iPhone
It’s been 15 years since the beginning of the War in Iraq
It’s been 16 years since the attacks on 9/11 and the war on terror began, and the release of the first Xbox
It’s been 21 years since the movie Titanic was released
It’s been 22 years since the first Toy Story came out and the verdict in the OJ trial was passed
It’s been 23 years since the Sony Playstation came out
It’s been 24 years since Forrest Gump was released and Kurt Cobain died
It’s been 25 years since the first text message was sent, the .mp3 became a thing, and the first Jurassic Park was released
It’s been 27 years since the first web page was launched and the beginning and end of the Gulf War
It’s been 29 years since the first Simpsons episode aired
It’s been 32 years since the Challenger Shuttle disaster
It’s been 33 years since Rocky IV was released and the US release of the Nintendo Entertainment System.  It’s also been 33 years since the first fully CGI character was used on film.
It’s been 34 years since the first Ghostbusters movie was released and the first PG-13 movie was released (Red Dawn)
It’s been 36 years since the first Compact Disc was released
It’s been 38 years since Pac-Man was released in arcades
It’s been 41 years since the first Star Wars movie and the Atari 2600 was released and also Elvis died
It’s been 43 years since I was born and the end of the American military involvement in Vietnam
It’s been 46 years since the first email was sent
It’s been 49 years since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon
It’s been 50 years since Martin Luther King was assassinated
It’s been 54 years since the Civil Rights Act was passed and the Beatles first live American television performance  
It’s been 55 years since JFK was assassinated
It’s been 56 the first commercial modem was released
It’s been 63 years since the first polio vaccine came into use
It’s been 65 years since the armistice was signed signaling the end of fighting in the Korean War
It’s been 73 years since the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and the end of World War II
It’s been 77 years since the bombing of Pearl Harbor
It’s been 100 years since the end of World War I
It’s been 115 years since the first Ford car, The Model A was produced

Friday, October 26, 2018

Going The Long Way

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In the early days of No Man’s Sky, back when no one cared about the game, it often became boring and tedious to world hop.  We would spend hours trying to nail down every flora and fauna discovery in order to complete the collection for the most possible units.  Sometimes you had to travel great distances, at the expense of resources, just to find those last couple crawlers or flying creatures in order to be done.  And while exploration is a big part of what makes No Man’s Sky work, the time it takes to complete a system’s possible discoveries and race other players to the core in order to “be first” to get there, naming everything, became somewhat of a conflict.  In fact, the entire game is a conflict between what you should do to conform to the games story and what you want to do as an open world player, traveler.  After all, grinding in the game was somewhat in direct conflict of what you were supposed to achieve.  As you spend countless hours detailing every inch of every planet before moving on, the game constantly pops up a reminder to “Travel”, “Explore”, and follow Atlas. 

We were given the options to build a base, but the amount of time that you had to dedicate to building and completing all the quests surrounding the base update took away from that whole Atlas path idea because once you left a system, you either had to back track or keep a teleport node to the space station or the base you had unless you wanted to do it all over again.  How many times had I revisited the game, only to have to redo all the worker missions and building of vehicles until the NEXT update game, erasing all of that and rendering 90% of inventory as useless or outdated technology.  It’s almost as if it’s better to complete the game first and then do all the update stuff, or so the developers thought most gamers would have done so when dolling out these new updates.  Some of us, still haven’t reached the core, instead we soak in the landscapes, build wild imaginative structures, and of course, spend a lot of time getting rich.

Yes, back in the early days of the game, you could exploit the mechanics of the game to max out your ship and backpack inventory.  You could invest a lot of time, finding crashed ship after crashed ship in order to exchange it for another one with one more slot.  And if you found a world with some Gravatino Balls or Vortex Cubes you could haul a ton back to the space station and find that one traveler who had some ridiculous need for your valuable items, overpaying for something so useless.  In fact, if you were savvy, you could make millions constructing bypass chips or components of the warp cell recipe and selling them the same way.  I think when I last played the original version, I had amassed something like 26 to 30 million units without travelling more than four systems and never paying for a new ship. 

But, in a way, it ruins your experience.  These days, with the NEXT update, you can exploit a mechanic, making millions by selling cryo-pumps or just farming nanintes from sentinels at an outpost, using the interior as a way to stave off the wave upon wave of attacking bipedal and quadruped level defenses.  While it isn’t cheating, this exploit is basically a way for you to earn fast money and then spend it all on new freighters, tools, ships, or expansions.  Then, what?  What happens NEXT?  Do you build a huge base and just live?  Do you explore the game and finish it which basically restarts everything? 

Part of the overall experience with a game such as this is to immerse yourself in the world or universe.  We are given countless worlds to discover, and even though they tend to be a repetitive exercise, taking things slow and exploring is part of the fun.  Granted, it doesn’t have an overall pro-content spin.  After all, when you, as a content producer want to put forth a game such as No Man’s Sky  in order to satisfy a niche on your channel, you’re given very few options as how to approach it successfully.  You can do hits and bits on general tips to showcase how to discover and build certain things, a basic tutorial style.. or you do an overall long play strategy, where you invite viewers along with you for the experience.

I tend to play that way, because in essence, I want to play the game, not just give tips.  I want to experience what the game is and in the fast paced real world, where gaming time is at a premium, for someone with little time, I don’t want to work twice.  I want to immerse myself into the game and if you want to watch, it’s all the better.  But, in a way, that tends to destroy the experience for others… maybe.  I say maybe, because there are games, like point and click adventures or puzzle based titles, where the long play format tends to ruin the game for someone else.  Now, take a game like Mysterious Cities of Gold, The Bridge, Gone Home, or Back to the Future.  If you bought any of those games and need a tip, Mysterious Cities of Gold, and the Bridge may be a case for doing simple tutorials.   Usually, there is a path to the a goal.  But with games like Back to the Future or Gone Home, it is more of a journey.  It’s not about move here, move here, click this, but what happens when you do those actions.  It’s telling a story, and if you watch someone play the whole way through, it can ruin the experience for you if you were to choose to go back and play it after watching.  

Now, if you have no intention of playing those games or are unable and want to experience it through someone else, then by all means go for it.  It’s just that so many content creators are more focused on what is going to get them metrics vs. which is more enjoyable to do.  In essence, being demonetized frees me from having to worry about getting “ratings” as it were.  Though, one would think it would be my focus to rebuild my channel to become monetized, in order to get those ratings.  But, I simply don’t care enough about the process.  I’m here to play the game and if that doesn’t fly for you… so be it.

Though, I can see the potential of various types of videos with this game.  It’s art, really.  It can be simple as following someone on their journey or just watching the landscape go by.  The possibilities are endless.  You just have to find them.  I suggest going the long way.

Friday, October 19, 2018

No Man's Filters


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I am old enough to remember a time when we had to wait days, if not weeks to see what we took pictures of.  I had a 35mm Instamatic camera that required sticking a flash cube into the top.  The film came in a cartridge that looked like the modern day equivalent of the voice mail symbol on your phone.  You pointed, shot the picture, then had to manually advance the film by a dial on the top that clicked when in place.  You got maybe 24 pictures and had to mail the film away to be processed unless you went to a Fotomat in the mall parking lot, which would still take days.  There was no cloud. We didn’t have filters. We didn’t have ears and noses to stick on our faces. We didn’t even know if we blinked. It was all a mystery to be figured out weeks later.  And we didn’t seem to mind. Nowadays, we have selfie sticks and Snapchats and Instagrams and weird shit that makes our faces look like fun house mirrors.  And now we also take pictures in games.

Now, to be fair, taking a picture of your gameplay in a video game isn’t a new concept. Long before sharing or screenshotting became a thing, some games required you to send in proof that you accomplished some feat or achievement.  Somewhere in a shoe box, is a blurry photo of my high score from Atari 2600 Decathlon, taken prior to 1984.  Again, the ability for us to snap a perfectly framed, in focus, picture with 70s/80s photographic technology was very low and the game would have been turned off or the television would have been burned out before the developed photo ever came back.  But if you were lucky to achieve something so grand as getting over 10,000 points in Decathlon or 20,000 points in Pitfall.  Activision had this thing called Activison Patches which they would send to you in exchange for photographic proof that you finished or attained a particular score in one of their games.  They were these sew on patches you could put on your jean jacket or backpack.  The 80s equivalent to Xbox achievements or PS4 Trophies.  But those were photos of you playing the game.  Then, something happened.  We added taking photos in the game.

Games like the Sims or Second Life took taking photos of your monitor or television and put the power of the photo op into the game.  Minecraft gave players a screenshot feature so that they could share their epic builds or biggest fails with other players.  And other games offered the feature as part of the basic settings, some tongue in cheek like GTA V, complete with selfie mode, filters and sharing capabilities.  Others were more about sharing the environment like Uncharted 4.  But, when you are immersed into a game like Uncharted or even GTA, having to stop and take time to set up a photo op to capture a moment seems counter intuitive to the game itself.  When Uncharted 4 came out, it brought new gameplay features to the decade old franchise.  The first and last title on the 8th generation console wanted to tout the advanced graphics of the PS4 with the opportunity for players to take a moment to stop and look around at their environment, snapping a picture and adding filters and other added effects.  It’s a nice little thing to do but again, it takes away from the rough and tumble, puzzle solving action of the game.  Cinematically, it was on par with the 2nd game which seamlessly blended cutscenes and in game action, but touting the newest bell and whistle brought to the table as being able to Instagram your treasure hunt buried my interest in the game.

But, that’s not to say that in game photography isn’t without merit.  I mean, part of the initial gameplay of No Man’s Sky is to scan and observe your surroundings, discovering new species of flora and fauna.  It only makes sense to enhance that initial offering by adding in the ability to put in documenting of your journey into the great wide open by taking some pics.  After all, even though we’re unknown travelers, caught in some weird metaphysical, philosophical mind screw about will and destiny, we’re still tourists, exploring the universe.

The overall aesthetic of No Man’s Sky is based in that kitschy retro-futuristic science fiction art along the vein of Christopher Foss and Ralph McQuarrie.  Those angles and flared pieces of architecture and the animals that look like they were placed in the Cantina scene, straight out of central casting from the Jim Henson’s creature workshop.  Odd shaped necks and horns and flying fish dragons beg to be captured on film. Caves that resemble overgrown maws and throats, ready to devour you.  The skyscape, streaked with jet comtrails from other travelers dividing the space from atmosphere.  It all looks so pretty.  And now, with multiplayer added, Hello Games has given players the ability to gesture in order to help you communicate… or perhaps pose for a selfie.  Saying Thank you or Help or just sitting among the flowing stalks of grass as you contemplate your place in the whole story of Nada and Polo or Atlas.  You thoughts flash towards the meaning of all this… hashtag pensive hashtag Thoughts before falling asleep.

Friday, October 12, 2018

I Need Space


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When I went away to college in the fall of 1993 I was travelling to a school over 600 miles away from my home.  I was going to have to have everything I would to survive.  That meant taking a shit ton of stuff, packed into the covered bed of my Dad’s pickup truck with enough space for me to slide in and out of a me shaped hole a couple times over the course of 12 hours.  It wasn’t a great idea.  And after four months, I transferred to another school about 25 miles away from my parents’.  Clearly, I had learned my lesson and didn’t need to pack everything for the hour long trip of which I would be coming home most weekends.  Nope, still packed a single dorm room to the gills.  Then, during the summer of my sophomore and junior years, I spent three months working in an amusement park nearly 4 hours away.  Yep, you guessed it.  I didn’t learn and my parents paid the price literally and figuratively.  

But, by the time I got back from my first summer sojourn I learned exactly what I needed to get by on my own at school.  In five years of college, I never moved out of the dorms.  Best decision I ever made.  First of all, I didn’t need to worry about roommates, the two legged or multi legged variety.  The area apartments were nothing if not short of needing condemned and the last thing I wanted was to have rats or roaches as non-paying residents.  The dorms were furnished.  The bed and furniture supplied were all I needed for myself and any guests.  I had a mini fridge, a B&W TV, microwave, and hot pot along with my toiletries.  That was pretty much all I needed.  There wasn’t a need for multiple rooms or floors because quite frankly, I’d never use them.  Yes, I had to share a bathroom with 26-30 other guys, but I didn’t have to clean it and I didn’t have to stock it.  The rest of campus was my apartment.  I ate in the cafĂ© or our little food court, all rolled into my meal plan as part of my tuition.  No need to go buy a crap ton of food.  Outside of what I ate for lunch and dinner, I only needed cereal, a few boxes of Mac and Cheese, Top Ramen, and some snacks.

Unfortunately, after college I felt this need… or at least I was led to believe that I needed to acquire things as a homeowner.  Things I will never use save once.  Things that sit in an attic or the garage or shoved in a room somewhere, never to be seen until something goes wrong and I have to pitch a lot of damaged or broken items due to a catastrophic event.  I am getting better because mainly I see what lies ahead of myself and my siblings when it comes to my parents.  That house is going to be a ridiculous amount of hoarding to go through.  Still, at some point, while I have time and energy to enjoy it, I’d like to be able to build or move from my current house I deemed a starter house because I never meant it to be a forever home.  I intended it to be a place I would fix up and sell after raising a family and saving money.  I’m half way on one, on my 2nd attempt on the same one, and nowhere near complete on the other.

Now, in the world of gaming, my first ever attempt at building a house in Minecraft was pretty much indicative of my loss of imagination and creativity.  The only defense I have is that I began playing back in the days of Beta 1.3.  Upside down stairs were not a thing and if you broke a stair, aka roofing … it was gone forever.  There was no corner stairs either.  So, my house, consisting of mostly stone walls and cobblestone steps for a roof was pretty sad.   It didn’t even have windows.  I would go in there and just store all my resources.  I made connecting tunnels to other parts of the area, including my first place of refuge, the dirt house.  The Minecraft equivalent to living in a cardboard box.

Since then, I built many bases but always struggled when it came to building a house.  And usually, that’s the thing we want to build in Minecraft and now in No Man’s Sky.  We all geeked out over the prospect of building that dream base we all envisioned in our life only to find that spatial proportions made it look like a sad Barbie dream crack house. On subsequent worlds, especially ones I’ve recorded the house was either a requirement, for instance in Skyblock, or a nicety to show off whatever building skills I thought I possessed.  But in reality, the house in Minecraft is never really a functional space, it’s more for show and often times it is a pain in the ass to even have one, causing you to traipse up and down steps to get to your bed in order to quell the banging of monsters outside your door, or to store all your extra gubbins in your storage areas.

At one point, I condensed everything into an area that, disregarding chests for all your shit would be an area roughly equivalent to a 6x6x12 space. That takes into account the 2nd floor containing an enchanting table and bookshelves.  The bottom would have a stacked crafting table/furnace/brewing stand next to a bed and an avil/cauldron.  Granted you would be highly visible and vulnerable to any monsters that followed you home you run the risk of not being able to sleep because they are nearby.  Also, if you’re not careful, waking up can place you outside your house.

I guess I never saw the need or desire to build a house because I saw so much wasted space.  It never had any use other than to look pretty from the outside and everything inside would be so far apart and an inefficient use of space for a game such as this. For any game that involves building, adventuring, or exploring, inventory management this is the furthest thing from fun.  Every episode I recorded for Skyrim involved me taking a good hour to travel back to my house in Whiterun to drop off stuff, switch out gear, and stock up or sell items.  There is about 50% of the experience you never saw because it was boring and usually involved at least one instance where I accidentally took everything out of a bag or chest which caused me to curse and cry.  7 Days to Die took so much time to sort your inventory and you had only so much daylight or night to do it before you needed to get to whatever your were doing next before the horde, which took all your focus. 

But in Minecraft I always felt like a great use of mods or automation was to have a way to get stuff dropped into a central location to be sorted into storage and then recalled when needed without the mundane task of searching through every chest and walking up or down steps to find where I put that thing I needed for the thing. I get that there is a mod that has a computer that can hold all your items and allow you to craft on the fly and that’s cool and all, but unless you’re playing with mods it doesn’t help anything.  And other mods allow for pipes and sorting but those are usually resource heavy causing lag.  It also solves a problem but it leaned more heavily on function following form.  These industrial looking engines and pipes stand out as a stark contrast to the environment of Minecraft which usually exists in nature.  Now, if you were building a modern looking city that relies on a lot of electricity or metal working or concrete, then yes, these engines and macerators and whiz bang gadgets that automate processes would be appropriate.  However, I would like to see ones that match the era of technological evolution a game like Minecraft sets itself in. 

In the ancient city of Petra, you know the one that inspired the end scenes of the Holy Grail temple in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, there was a complex piping system using math and terracotta pipes to transport water from a source over three miles away.  If you could demonstrate through crafting functional machines from clay or sand or other primitive materials as to solve the problems a game like Minecraft presents to you without deviating from the aesthetics of your progression and surroundings I would be all for that.  Simply playing for ten minutes, building a dirt hut, then constructing metal machines that run on electricity just seems to bring me out of the immersion of such a game. After all, ancient civilizations had irrigation systems and even piped methane gas to nearby settlements which were far superior in their design compared to their relative place in history. Fully fleshed out and functional water wheels instead of a block that generates RF would be astounding… but probably lag inducing.

But I have truly got of track because those are solutions to a different problem.  The Minecraft house is such an impractical structure, in my opinion, because it doesn’t do anything except protect us from the dangers of the outside, something a dirt hole can do.  It’s a status symbol without the benefit of bragging rights because it isn’t earned any differently whether you work all day mining for precious resources or just dig up some rocks and chop down some trees.  It’s all about imagination and design and maybe that’s its saving grace.  It exists as a testament to the builder’s creativity, not development as a player in this world.  I’m just the stupid one who feels he can’t be bothered either because I am too lazy or not creative enough to embrace it.

Since base building became a thing in No Man’s Sky it’s been more of a distraction than an integral part of the game.  Think about it.  What purpose does a base serve in No Man’s Sky?
Shelter?  You spend 80% of your game in a ship, flying around.  The time you do spend on a planet is for exploration or gathering.  Any shelter you need is likely because you are on a planet with adverse conditions so you retreat underground or towards your ship.

Resources?  It makes more sense to just make simplified bases on every planet with rare or valuable resources and just portal to them when needed.  I remember spending a ridiculous amount of time doing the base missions, then doing them again, and then again only to have my base removed with the NEXT update.  The farming aspect was neat but not really very profitable unless you expand to a larger operation and then, it becomes unmanageable unless you multiplay. 

Cool aesthetics?  Yes.  This is the main reason.  Again, the only reason you build a house in any game that gives you some form of creative control over the process is to build something with some kind of aesthetics.  And No Man’s Sky has a very cool 70s retro sci-fi look to it.  Those of us who grew up in the shadow of Flash Gordon or Speed Racer and remember the original Ralph McQuarrie artwork from Star Wars have this exposure to a definite style of futurism with specific colors and shapes that we saw in other games like Prey.  And No Man’s Sky plays into that motif with the shapes and architecture available to us along with the planetary backdrops.  I’ve always had an affinity for space and science fiction.  Movies like Blade Runner, The Black Hole, again Flash Gordon, or Logan’s Run were favorites.  Art from McQuarrie or Chris Foss.  I was a big lover of the 70s and 80s space LEGO sets.  In fact, a recent episode of This Old House featured a guy wearing the space logo from that LEGO series which made me geek out, wanting to get one.  Moonraker, as bad as it was, was another favorite in that cheesy operatic space motif versus the 50s and 60s B&W space style.  For me, it wasn’t steampunk, it was that retro futuristic look.

But the real problem with base building is that it sucks up cycles to complete the quests to build the bases.  And quite frankly, like other games, bases in No Man’s Sky are not practical, they’re cool.  Yes, you need rooms for certain things, mostly storage as No Man’s Sky should have been called, “No More Room: An Inventory Management Simulator.” 

On my first go round with No Man’s Sky, I hurriedly completed all of the quests surrounding the base building aspect because I wanted to A: Complete the Game and B: Build a damn base.  I had grand plans to get towards the core of the universe and find a nice temperate planet to move all my slapdash placement of structures to and rebuild.  The original planet I was on that offered me a base was a cold tundra whose weather constantly fought me, even indoors, to keep from freezing.  And while I did all those necessary quests.. .TWICE mind you, I just sort of plopped things down wherever.  I needed containers.  I needed a place to store all the crap that was in my suit so that I could get stuff for building the base. That was the main issue.  And I still wanted to build out a freighter to hold stuff but it became so resource heavy to build all the stuff that you forget that there were other things you were supposed to be doing, especially when the Atlas update came out.  And then everything in those containers became obsolete or no longer usable.  Still, I can see where a base can be purposeful, but usually, I need a spot for storage, and a place for equipment.  The constant wandering around, looking for things when I need to grab it is wasteful, just like it was in Minecraft or 7 Days.

Still, the prospect of being able to construct a cool base in this genre I so love is something I want to explore, if for no other reason than the photo mode alone.  That has been one of the updates that I do approve of.  We’ll talk more on that another time.


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