Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Parents vs. Entropy

If it were a fight to the death between my parents and entropy, entropy would lose.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Please Support Planetary Annihilation!

Several of the tastiest original authors of the best real-time strategy game of all time, Total Annihilation, headed up by Jon Mavor, the technical genius behind the original, have created a Kickstarter campaign for the spiritual successor, Planetary Annihilation:

They have already blown past their goal of $900k and are up to $1.75M at the time of this post.  We're in the last 45 hours of the raise now.  If they break $2M, we get a live orchestral score, and if they break $2.1M, we get a documentary of the entire production.  Could you make a pledge and help them meet their goal?

Here's the link!  Click like the wind!

Huge, huge, huge props to Kickstarter for creating a place where great games can be directly funded by their ardent fans.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Summer 2013 Prediction: Riots in Los Angeles

I have a disturbing feeling we're going to have riots in Los Angeles in the summer of 2013, and I think it will be due to a few factors:

  • We're experiencing huge corn crop failures due to the drought this year.  This has sent corn futures soaring.  Corn ends up in all the cheap processed foods that feed the poor, and that means the price of that cheap processed food will go up after those prices have had time to bubble up through the food production system.
  • The drought is making clean water more scarce.  Los Angeles already imports most of its water from outside of Los Angeles, but it's not like outlying areas are experiencing any less of a drought.  This is going to escalate the price and availability of clean water.
  • Something tells me gas prices are not likely to go down, and the buses in LA are a pretty miserable experience.  They get held up by the infamous LA traffic just as cars do, and they're not well air conditioned.
  • The wealth gap between the rich and poor certainly won't be any narrower next year.  I think the riots will be partially motivated as an excuse to loot in an effort to catch up.
  • The jobs situation isn't likely to improve.  The education and literacy levels in the rough neighborhoods of LA aren't too hot, and every year we slip behind other nations on public education, it makes it harder for locals to make a living wage.
  • Temperatures are going up.  Particularly in the asphalt jungles relegated to the poor in Los Angeles, next summer is probably going to feel like they're living on a baking sheet left in the oven for too long.

So you've got a bunch of people who have barely enough money for food and water now, and it's going to be even harder for them to survive when the prices on that cheap food and water go up, then we're probably going to have another summer of record high temperatures, and excessive heat has a track record of inciting violent crime in LA.

From there, I think it'll just require a small nudge, some incident to spark riots.  It could be one of a number of issues ranging from police brutality like last time up to slow response on a natural disaster or something as simple as a lag on the issuance of adequate food stamps and welfare to compensate for the increased costs of living.  I'm guessing the media will attribute the riots to just the incident, and the solution will probably be perceived as needing more police instead of trying to understand the problem holistically.  It feels like that high school experiment where you super-saturate hot water with dissolved salt, slowly cool it, and all it takes is one more grain of salt for it to tip the scales and make it all suddenly crystallize and fall out of the solution.

I'm not one for making such specific predictions at specific times, but I feel unpleasantly certain this one will come true.  I'd welcome comments telling me I'm insane and explaining precisely why.  I totally want to be wrong on this one.

If you agree, what would you do knowing we have about a year before the excitement starts?  Is there anything that could be done to mitigate the damage and help cooler heads prevail?  I feel like we're sort of locked into this, that it's too large a problem, and that there aren't enough people who care to make a difference.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What's it like to be a baby?

"It's like being in love for the first time in Paris after you've had 3 double espressos. It's a fantastic way to be, but it does leave you waking up crying at 3 o' clock in the morning."
-- Alison Gopnik in her TED talk What do Babies Think?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bethesda vs Mojang

(If you don't know who Mojang and Bethesda are and don't know about the lawsuit, skip to the bottom to read a quick background on this.)

I write today to praise the noble Markus "Notch" Persson. Notch was already a hero and inspiration to me and to thousands of indie developers for making Minecraft, but he has elevated himself infinitely further in my eyes by making what could be a costly but ethical stand against Bethesda for levying a wrongful lawsuit against his company.

Ethics are rarely used as the guiding moral compass people use to make big decisions. They get cited all the time when it's debatable one way or the other which path is more profitable, but rarely does someone make a big decision where the ethical path puts him in the charging headlights of an oncoming legal department from a corporate giant, and that is what Notch has done.

He has responded to Bethesda's demands that he change the name of his game Scrolls with a simple refusal, and on threat of lawsuit, he has counter-suggested that they have a game of Quake 3 deathmatch to decide whether he can use the name. This was met with a lawsuit instead of a laugh, as well as the requisite headaches, costs, and time lost that this will mean for poor Notch and his company Mojang as they try to fight off this behemoth.

Notch has just published the scary legal documents he's received from Bethesda, and I can only praise him further for forcing that transparency. It should be seen exactly how Bethesda is bullying this heroic indie developer, and it is an even bolder act of courage. It's a move that's liable to make the petty egos that approved of this course and that drafted those docs feel cornered and all the more motivated to crush him. And it's those wrong-doers that I want to put the spotlight on, because it's not as cut and dry as saying "lawyers are evil."

Most people love the development side of Bethesda, the part that makes their games, and they feel this is a fight between their much less beloved legal department and Notch, but I disagree.

The development side of Bethesda is the money making machine that funds the legal department. They have the leverage, and they aren't using it. While I'm sure they've pointed out it's in poor taste, they haven't done anything beyond that. They could privately insist to management that they drop this wrongful lawsuit, but they haven't. If they did insist and management didn't listen, they could probably end it quickly by publicly protesting that management drop it, but they haven't. If that failed, they could delay the release of Skyrim from 11/11/11, their widely advertised release date, even a week or two, which would cost Bethesda far more money than the lawsuit, nevermind the imaginary cost of Mojang's Scrolls to their brand equity in Skyrim and its assured 20 sequels, but they haven't done that either.

Like every corporation does, the employees have been instructed not to discuss the case with anyone. So they're staying in line. They're cooperating. They're continuing along with Skyrim development, so that it can be released this November on schedule to keep the machine fed with ever-increasing revenues on their path to IPO.

The developers at Bethesda have ethics, too, but they have the kind most of us have, the weak-willed sort that melts at the first suggestion that stopping wrongdoing might cost them something, might upset someone, might reduce the inertia of a machine that is perceived to be unstoppable.

And that's fine. I'm sure many of them are concerned for their jobs and careers, their families, the usual concerns, and fear is a powerful motivator. But it doesn't absolve them. I hold them individually and directly responsible, particularly the leads and particularly Todd Howard, the producer. Together, they are funding this. Together, they can stop this. Together, they have decided not to. Instead, they're going to let the machine they're funding run over a hero and a fellow developer.

I stand behind Notch on this, and I'd like to propose a toast to his courage and offer a prayer that he wins the day in court.


Background: Bethesda, makers of the games Oblivion, Fallout 3, and the upcoming Skyrim is suing Mojang, makers of Minecraft and the upcoming Scrolls for using the name "Scrolls." They claim it violates their trademark Edler Scrolls, which is what they've named their RPG series of games, that most gamers know as Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim, as this is how they focus their marketing, when in fact, the full names are actually Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The unreleased Mojang game, by contrast, is simply called Scrolls.

Bethesda is a very large developer based in Bethesda, Maryland and owned by ZeniMax, which owns several developers now, including id Software (Doom, Quake, Rage), Machine Games, Arkane, and Tango Gameworks. Bethesda's Elder Scrolls games pioneered the migration from overhead-view RPG games to first-person view RPG games. They are immense worlds you can roam freely, and they're much beloved by tens of millions of players. Their new title Skyrim is the latest in this series and a hotly anticipated visual feast. They are now one of the game industry behemoths, and each game release grosses many hundreds of millions of dollars for the company.

Mojang is much younger company than Bethesda and independent. It has only the success of Minecraft, a game written largely by a single developer, Markus "Notch" Persson. It is a little like Legos brought to life in a computer. It's a triumph of savvy design and technology over gee-whiz graphics, and it is one of the games you keep on a short list of counter-examples if someone should try to suggest to you that games are no longer innovative or that they've become uncreative or treadmill exercises. It also has millions of fans but news of Minecraft spread mainly by word of mouth and the press as they began to realize it was turning into a phenomenon.

Friday, March 18, 2011

My grandma died today. She was 100 1/2.

Did you meet her? I loved her. She was quite a grandma.

She taught me to always walk on the street side when escorting a woman, to open her door, and to offer my arm for her to hold onto. She was an artist, and I loved her paintings. Everybody loved her paintings. I'm sure she taught me many other things, probably ingrained so deep I'm not even aware of them. I am sure that I am in part her now.

I loved the way she moved her hands, and I don't think anyone else noticed. I don't know how to describe it. By the time she was 100, her fingers were a little too large for the gestures she was unconsciously making, but I could see the elegance of their movements even then. I could see the artistic power in them. I've always been envious of that. I wish I could move my fingers like she could move hers. I think I have a sliver of her talent in my thoughts, but not my fingers, not like hers.

I don't like how she went. She had to give up her house, which was hard for her, her well-being was the source of a lot of unnecessary drama between my father and uncle, and she forgot her family in the end. I wish we had a better way to go, where we could pick our time and celebrate our lives and be surrounded by our family. I wish I could have spoken to her one last time. I don't like all of the unsaid things.

I imagine the negative space of whatever quantum remnants of her consciousness are mingling with grandpa's now. It makes me happy to know that I got to be in the same universe as both of them.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Freddy Ties One On

Due to the excruciating coolness of their parents Tom and Julie, I had the pleasure of attending Burning Man this this year with my niece Madelleine (17) and nephew Freddy (5).

I worry however that Freddy might have had a little too much fun.