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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

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