Proof of Pudding

Here’s kind of a weird tangent.

I don’t “do” politics. I believe a person’s political beliefs are like their religious beliefs: informed by their life experiences, stuff which help shape their values, case which give rise to their views on society, treat humanity, and the future. You can’t convince someone that your view is the “right” view unless they’re floating in a sea of uncertainty, which seems to be something remarkably uncommon in the age of 24 hours news cycles.

But I wanted to touch on one aspect of this year’s Presidential election because I’m finding it salient to a point that I’ve long held about how people argue on social media.

As you know, Clinton was widely projected to win this year’s election. Trump was being hailed as too outspoken, too racist, too misogynist, too orange — and I don’t make that one up. “The Media”, that amorphous yet ever-present beast that is apparently the bane of the alt-right, had a field day with Trump’s behavior. He was a self-writing headline, leaving journalists with nothing to do but come up with creative ways to put him — and his supporters — down. Secure in their predictions that Clinton would win, and even more secure in their own sense of self-satisfaction, The Media relied heavily on snark and sarcasm and insults to make their points.

Of course, Clinton lost. Trump had supporters in the right places — the places which had a whole lot of electoral votes. Those people didn’t vote for Trump to show up The Media. In the end, the sarcastic approach of the pundits served only to entertain those who were writing the thinkpieces, and had absolutely no effect on the subject or subjects of their self-important ridicule.

This is the way social media operates: someone angrily comes out of left-field swinging for the fences. Their opponents try to demean and diminish their behavior by leveraging snark and sarcasm as a way to show how juvenile their actions are. Meanwhile, these targets don’t really care at all; if they didn’t care enough to pull punches in the first round, what good will smug rejoinders do to marginalize them?

What we end up with is a dichotomy of raw and brutal thugs fighting self-important and smug pseudo-intellectuals, with both sides very obviously trying to prove that they are rubber and their opponents are glue.

This is something that I’ve seen a few media outlets cop to as they reflect on their role in this year’s election. Take this piece for example. As I was reading it, I came across this particular passage:

It’s similar to how media Twitter works, a system where people who dissent from the proper framing of a story are attacked by mobs of smugly incredulous pundits.

That resonated with my view of how these raging battles play out on social media — someone always believes they occupy the high ground because sarcasm is light-hearted and intellectual, so they don’t believe that they are swinging low, when in fact they are swinging low…just from a loftier vantage point. Responding with a nose in the air doesn’t make positions “more right”. Both sides end up looking like unhinged assholes, though in fact I am starting to believe those who see snark and sarcasm as “virtues” are the bigger assholes, because I don’t believe they see themselves as anything other than the victims beset by an oppressive force.

A wrong is still a wrong. Trying to make a reposte seem lighter and more carefree might play well in someone’s head as being the approach of a more civilized mind, but as this election has shown, it’s blinding. Smugness ignores the reality in favor of showmanship and prevents people from doing the digging to get to the truth. No one expected Trump’s base to be as vehement as they were, or if anyone did it was to paint them as radicals and zealots who would be intimidating people at polls and were totally unaware of the irony in being caught voting more than once for the candidate who claimed that the election was rigged. None of Joss Whedon’s celebrity-filled videos (as hilarious as they were) deterred Trump’s supporters. They made liberals feel that all was good in the world and that they had this in the bag. So much for that.

This Post Will Ruin Your Childhood

Everyone has sacred cows, dosage which is a phrase that both confuses me and makes me want a hamburger, but as shorthand for ideas that are simply so far out of scope as to be inviolate, it’s something that the Internet firmly believes. The idea that there are some elements in our lives that are above reproach, far beyond anyone’s reach, and practically set in stone is often belied by the efforts put forth by Hollywood when we hear announcements of reboots.

“Don’t touch my childhood, Hollywood!” should be a bumper sticker that people can just slap on any old thing, considering how often it’s used on social media. You’ve no doubt seen it driving by when the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie was announced. I’m sure it was in full force even as far back as The Transformers movies were mentioned. Remember that Facebook-true story about how they were going to remake The Princess Bride? I barely escaped those riots with my life. Those were dark, dark times.

Aside from the emotional weight that people are ascribing to something so humanly insignificant as a movie or TV show, here’s a few things to consider before Tinsel Town schedules a re-visitation to your favorite franchise:

1. The Franchise Isn’t Yours

 

How we came to be right now is very important to us, and while our mothers would surely credit the fact that they all made us eat our veggies before we could leave the table, the entertainment we absorbed played just as much a part in the formation of our personalities and our interests. As such, we guard those specific elements jealously, like the idea of letting them out of our control would somehow sap us of our identities and dilute our high-octane personalities.

We could never claim ownership of what we consume. Even in the age of EULAs, the idea that we only “rent” our entertainment is pretty much a scientific fact. Any claims we think we have the right to make under some misguided “nostalgia clause” is just wishful thinking at best.

2. Hollywood Can’t Take Your Memories

Don’t get me wrong, guys. I grew up in the 80’s, the hey-day of fertile ground that Hollywood is currently sowing with it’s attention. I really enjoyed He-Man and the Masters of the UniverseG.I. Joe, and The Transformers back when they were brand spankin’ new TV shows (and glorious, glorious toys). I’ve also gone back and tried to watch the exact same episodes that wallpaper my memories with happiness, and you know what? I cannot fathom how Filmation got away with using just three frames of animation over and over again for 130 episodes, and I certainly can’t understand what the hell is so nostalgic about that.

There is absolutely nothing that Hollywood can do to touch the memories that we have and that mean so much to us. The presence of an updated MacGyver or a reboot of Miami Vice is absolutely no threat to the times we might have enjoyed the originals. Seriously! It’s not overwriting what we experienced, but is just adding on. Hell, in some cases, reboots actually provide a version that’s superior to the original.

3. Consider That You’re Not The Audience

So let’s say that you can’t abide a specific remake of a specific franchise. Maybe you love Mel Gibson’s mullet in Lethal Weapon so much that knowing that any modern reboot would simply not include such an outdated hairstyle renders any appeal to your fandom DOA.

That’s OK, because maybe Hollywood doesn’t care about you this time. Let’s face it: you’re older, maybe a little wider wiser, maybe have less hair and more wrinkles. You’re no longer in the same disposable income bracket as the kids that have always been the target of Hollywood (and TV, and music, and fashion, etc). At some point we get cycled out of frame while the next generation is forced center stage and fawned over. To them, these IPs might be fresh, and with modern sensibilities appealed to, could end up being blockbusters that leave you scratching your head wondering how anyone could have enjoyed such an obviously inferior product. Just sit back, gramps, and practice your cane-waving for the next time those kids are on your lawn.

 

What we think we remember as being so totally radical probably isn’t. What we remember might be the specific episodes, their plots, and the characters, but what we forget is the bad acting, terrible scripts, and gawdawful production values. It’s the difference between Transformers and Transmorphers.

In reality, our fond memories are actually less about the product and more about our states of mind at the time we started loving them. I don’t have anything against the Transformers these days, but the franchise isn’t something I bother to keep up with. I do have great memories surrounding the days when Transformers meant a great deal more to me than they do now, and that understanding is worth more to me that the toys or the shitty cartoon (yes, even the movie with it’s feel-good theme song).

Besides, hoarding these elements as if they would negate our personal experiences withholds the same opportunities from a new generation. It would be a war crime to subject my daughter to the cartoons and TV shows I watched when I was growing up. Case in point: She has become obsessed with Doctor Who, so when she said that she wanted to watch the show, I started her out with the Ninth Doctor — not the Fourth that I grew up with (and still consider to be “my Doctor”). Doing so would only massage my ego and would have been driven by my belief that if I liked it, it must have intrinsic value. My daughter is growing up in a different time, with different values and different thresholds of what is acceptable and what is “cheesy”. She would never sit for the Tom Baker era, and if I’d made her do so, it might have turned her off of the whole series as a result.

We own our nostalgia, but we don’t own the foundation. The elements that we remember fondly are of our own design, triggered by moments in time and at the hands of entertainment that we enjoyed when we were younger. But the IPs are just keys, and those keys should be free to unlock enjoyment for anyone at any time in whatever format appeals to them. Wishing that what entertained us would just stay in statis forever and ever is selfish and shortsighted, and we need to welcome opportunities for newer generations to experience the same universes we love, but on terms that may speak to them the way out experiences spoke to us when we were kids.

 

Zero to Indignation in 6.2 Seconds

So, pilule permit me to self-advertise, because I like the way an embedded Tweet looks on the page:

This doesn’t relate to anything specific, although I guess it kind of coalesced in this form as I was looking at a thread on Twitter which I will not be linking to here because knowing the way the Internet works, the point of my post will be overshadowed by what readers think about the topic being discussed in the Twitter conversation. It would probably also land me on the shit-list of several people, so while actively seeking to avoid that is one reason I won’t mention it, it’s also part of the reason for my Tweet. I guess this is a round-about definition of “subtweet” for those without access to Urban Dictionary.

The Internet is great for disseminating information around the world in short order, but it’s also good in exporting anger and stupidity just as quickly. With so many people able to subscribe to the unfiltered thoughts of anyone else, it’s almost a certainty that something said is going to make someone else angry. Sometimes the things that people say aren’t intended or even offered to offend, but because humans can’t ever control how people view us as individuals, especially if they’re making determinations based solely on questionable prose or 140 character Tweets, pretty much anything posted online is subject to outrage.

It’s even worse when people go out of their way to be offensive, or simply post without consideration for a situation. That’s what was going on with the Tweet-stream that kicked off this post: someone expressed an opinion on a touchy and already-controversial subject, and that opinion was met with a swift and violently vulgar response spread out over four additional Tweets.

We blame anonymity for the anger we see on the Internet, but let’s face it: being anonymous doesn’t make someone an asshole. It does allow them to express their assholic nature without consequence. Even when away from the keyboard, those people are still jerks, and that goes for anyone who chooses to be callous and offensive as well as those who believe that fighting fire with more fire is a sound way to confront someone that they disagree with.

I guess there’s three desirable outcomes when these interactions go down. The first is to stop the original offender from repeat offenses using the “salt the earth” strategy. If we swear enough, insult enough, make the original poster feel small and insignificant enough, then they will simply blink out of existence and take their offensive opinions with them. The second is to vent, of course, because it’s simple and cathartic to string a bunch of swears and insults together and still be within Twitter’s 140 character limit. The third, and sadly the most overlooked yet most ill-conceived option, is to try and change the offender’s point of view by telling them in no uncertain terms to fuck off, and what a stupid asshole they are for being alive.

There is no good outcome to be expected from any of these approaches. At best you can block someone (or someones) as a result of the exchange. At worst, people who act and react this way make things…well, worse. Despite instant indignation and the certainty we feel that we absolutely understand another human being based on his or her 140 character comment, being offensive only puts the other person on the defensive; it’s exactly the same as person A getting defensive over person B’s comment that person A found offensive. Sure, maybe person B’s comment is wrong or morally indefensible, but regardless of the situation, nothing will change if offense is countered with offense. In fact, with the Internet being what it is, such an approach can only succeed in ratcheting up the anger and insults until one party decides they’ve got better things to do with their time than argue with some [insert expletive here]head on the internet. Best to lob one final parting shot, tell the opponent that he or she is being blocked, and sit back in sweaty but smug self-satisfaction that while you may not have wiped the jerk from the face of the earth, you did get in the last word you’ll see in the battle with that person.

How does that solve the problem? It doesn’t. It just makes us feel better for a short while because even though we’re using jerk tactics against jerks, we’re often convinced that we’re fighting for what’s right — regardless of what side of fight we’re on. We either believe that our tactics are fitting for the arena (the Internet), or that we shouldn’t hamstring ourselves by sticking to the “high ground” if we know or even suspect that our opponents aren’t going to similarly restrict themselves. When all is said and done, though, nothing is any better than it was before we started…only worse, because where there was one asshole behaving assholishly on the Internet, now there’s two or more.

 

 

Unpopular Opinion – I Am Entertained

One of the worst parts about being part of this geek community is the self-gratifying nature of many of it’s members. I always point to the origins of “modern geekdom” being the days when people who liked comic books and science fiction and fantasy novels and movies were forcibly pushed from the mainstream, ailment and when the terms “nerd” and “geek” were actually derogatory, ampoule and not plastered on merchandise sold at one of the MegaFanCons found all over the world every month. You’d think that a group with roots like those would be more, healing I dunno…conscientious about not being dicks to other people, but another problem with this group is their lack of emotional and, yes, intellectual maturity.

Case in point: the unspoken “rules of engagement” whenever two or more geeks cross paths from opposite sides of the tracks. This nerdy West Side Story isn’t fought with guns or knives, but knowledge. The victor is always the one who lays down the most facts (not truths…facts), which is why the stereotype of D&D “rules lawyers” or of two geeks arguing over comic book minutiae is still prevalent today. It’s funny (supposedly) because it’s true…and because it’s absolutely meaningless outside of the context in which it’s being argued.

Last week was the highlight reel of this phenomenon. We had the release of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens ( I actually wrote “The Force Unleashed” for a second there), as well as the initial shaky-cam footage of the Batman vs Superman trailer. One caused orgasms; the other was the equivalent of waking up next to a  deformed goat, if the reaction of the Greater Internet is what you base your comparisons on.

I liked the Star Wars trailer. A lot. Several times. I also watched the “official” BvS trailer, and I liked that too. I am one of the handful of people who liked Man of Steel non-ironically. Yes. Read it as many times as you like; it’s not going to change before your eyes.

When the need to be “right”, or to be seen as being right supersedes one’s ability or decision to be entertained, I think we’ve lost. In fact, I think people have missed the primary irony in last week’s trailer dichotomy. People were all over the Star Wars trailer because it instantly brought them back to their childhood, when they didn’t have self-important Internet slap-fights to worry about, and when they only cared about enjoying the hell out of something. They then turned around and totally lost any and all ability to be entertained by something that should have been entirely within their wheelhouse. One on hand, we had the willingness and desire to be children again; on the other, cranky elderly people complaining about anything that came within five feet of them.

All the snark and the sarcasm and the hate is counter to the core of geekdom, really. We consider ourselves part of this community because of the things we like, and that puts us into contact with people who like the same things. Instead of coming together whenever possible, we opt to fight one another over who likes something more, or why the thing someone else likes is stupid. All arguments are supported with “who the fuck cares” tidbits of wisdom, the more obscure the better (because the more obscure the knowledge, the more of a super-fan (i.e. deserving) you’ve proven yourself to be!) until the argument ends not with an earned “win”, but because one side quits due to “stupid-fatigue”.

Why is it that this community feels that they have to be “right” over being “entertained”? What’s the prize to be won in taking your displeasure to the public? Seriously, I think that this attitude is really why we can’t have nice things, because even if we did have them, we certainly aren’t capable of appreciating them.

A Small Demographic Study on Social Media

I like statistics, ambulance even though they’ve gotten a bad rap in today’s world for being “eye of the beholder” kind of measurements. Statistics are really just counts of “things” that are then grouped and looked at to find patterns. You can’t really mess with that: if your sample of 100 people contains 75 people who claim to like Oreos “more than life itself”, prescription then 3/4 of those surveyed have a very low appreciation for life, and an unhealthy fondness for sandwich cookies.

I think where stats get a bad rap is when we start extrapolating the assumptions that the numbers represent. Our example above tells us that we wandered into a cult of Oreo lovers, but that doesn’t tell us why they love the cookies, what kind of depraved activities they use their cookies for, or even that 3/4 of the greater population outside this sample does or doesn’t give a Fig Newton about Oreos. We just know that three out of every four people surveyed really like Oreos.

Long winded BS aside, I often frequent my Activity stream in Twitter to see what’s going on behind my back. When you see people you follow picking up a new follower, you see that new follower’s bio. I’m always interested in people’s bios, because these are the things that people write down when no one is looking, or the things that they want to tell people about themselves in 140 characters.

tl;dr: a bio is a really short resume about what to expect when you follow that person.

To that end, I casually skimmed the bios of the limited number of people I follow (a whopping 85 of the best and brightest the Internet has to offer) and tried to pull out trends in what folks are posting about themselves. This is, of course, 100% un-scientific. I used keywords, but also kind of used what I knew about people to parse some of their more ambiguous statements.

Interests

In an absolutely unsurprising announcement, I follow a lot of people who self-identify as “gamers” (20). People who like video games are pretty much the only people I follow, so that’s not surprising, but that also means that 65 people aren’t explicitly tagging themselves with this label. Fear not, though, because people do tend to get more specific in some cases. A lot of folks are MMO players (9), RPG players (3), and one person likes FPS games enough to call it out.

What surprised me, though, was how few people name-drop specific games. Right now FFXIV has the most (2), with GW2, Destiny, STO, GTA, and EQ getting one shout-out each. Most surprising: only one mention of WoW.  In fact, more people ID’d themselves as D&D fans (2) or general tabletop/board game fans (3) than did WoW players. And not to omit games of all kinds, three people listed sports (2 for hockey, 1 for football).

Self

In the “how do you ID yourself” category, 11 people lay claim to being “nerdy and/or geeky” or some similar label. Again, not terribly surprised. Three people included content in their bio which I consider to be “snarky”, meaning they’re putting comedy in their bio which doesn’t really tell us anything about themselves except that they have a high opinion of their own sense of humor.

Two people ID’d themselves as female/girls. No one ID’d themselves a male/boys. So that’s that.

A lot of people like to write (5). Some people like to read (2). Crafts (2), TV (1), and other hobbies (all 1) show up occasionally. A whole three people ID’d themselves as someone participating in fitness activities.

Job

Some folks really like what they do. I follow a lot of developers (7), some artists (1), audio specialists (2), and a smattering of other professions (1 or 2 folks here and there). I did include “blogger” in this category because I do know that some folks “blog professionally”, unlike me who “blogs half-assedly”.

Conceits

“Conceits” is the name of the aspects that cover straight up self-promotion.

Six people name-dropped their company. Only 2 name-dropped their spouse or S.O.

I’ve included “blogger” in this category as well, and it overlaps the Job category because blogging is blogging, for free or pay, but 11 people mentioned that they were a blogger and/or included the name of their blog (I didn’t break out actual name-drops). There are a lot of podcasters (4), streamers (4), and YouTube posters (3).

There are mothers (5), fathers (2), a husband (1), and a wife (1), some of whom I assume cross bounds of those counts.

Food didn’t make a huge appearance, but coffee (1) and tea (2) are notable appearances.

So What?

Yes, so what indeed. This was more of a personal edification experiment than anything else. It doesn’t tell me anything I don’t know — I follow a lot of gaming nerds who like socializing (100%).

What I didn’t find was what I see in the general Activity stream: people who carefully craft their bio to sell their personal brand, or people who are aggressive and confrontational right off the bat. Nor do I follow anyone with uninspired bios (stealing quotes, one-liner bios, over-the-top begging for subs on Twitch or YouTube, etc). The overwhelming majority of bios of people in my stream are kind, silly, and informative, which I like. I’ve got really good taste in people.

I’d like to do a wider assessment, but I really don’t have the time or the desire to parse a crap-load of bios of random people. Maybe I can find or make a scraping tool that will pull out keywords from the bios of people in my activity stream and sort them into buckets…Nah, nevermind. Still too much work.

 

The College Experience

My daughter once wanted to be a veterinarian, visit but as she got older she realized that she couldn’t deal with blood and the inevitable euthanasia situations. But she is an excellent artist for her age, and and she “specializes” in anime-inspired drawings. After returning from PAX East this year, it dawned on me that there were a lot of educators who had booths at the show that were providing information on game design and development, as well as animation and 3D artistry. So when I got home, I started looking around…at colleges…for my 14 year old child.

It made me feel old. But I also feel that this is the right time to be doing this. Of course, it all hinges on her maintaining her interest in art and animation. If she decides she wants to get into another line of work, all current bets are off. But 14 isn’t that far from 18, and figuring out options now will at least cover the discovery aspect for when we have to buckle down and really get to work.

It seems timely in other ways, because I’ve recently heard several stories on the radio talking about colleges and their practices. The majority of these stories have been…unpleasant and unflattering to these institutions. Today, for example, I learned about the application to acceptance ratio, and how some “top tier” schools will actively and personally encourage high-scoring SAT students to apply, only to deny most of them so that the college can crow about their acceptance ratio. Most of the stories I’ve heard have been focusing on the widely held belief that all college students are aiming for the highest level name college that offers what they want simply because there’s a mental link between well known schools and the rate of success of its graduates. But these stories then throw down that going to a prestigious school only offers a higher rate of bumping into someone who might help your career later on, and that the quality of education varies wildly between the top tier schools, and in some cases can prove inferior when compared to lesser known or even relatively unknown schools.

I went to a state school which happened to have a good reputation for biology (which is what I was in for), but there were a lot of flaws with the “concept” of the college experience. Up through high school, you’re graded on your performance. Grades and GPA are the meters upon which you’re evaluated. When you enter college, the gears shift dramatically. You can do really, really well in college, but you may find that you’re ill-equipped to enter your professional field because once you’re in college, it’s not what you know, it’s almost entirely who you know. That’s why I’m working as a web/application developer: I wasn’t one of those outgoing, always at the professor’s office hours kinds of student. I did my work — and did pretty well, except in math-related subjects — but I had absolutely no one wanting to look at me because I lacked linkage to anyone of note in the biology field. I once begged for a work study position by offering to wash glassware, and the one time I did stop by a professor’s office to ask her thoughts on what kind of studies would fit into a specific career, she made no effort to hide the fact that she felt I was wasting her time.

Still, the name brand of the school never meant much to me, and I’m thinking the same when looking at destinations for my daughter. What a name means to people doesn’t necessarily equate to the education that students receive, especially when the name is linked more to sports, or the mythology that “the best” CEOs and other people in powerful positions went to Ivy League schools (Surprise! Most do not). No matter where you go, two plus two will still equal four, so it’s just a matter of how much you’re willing to pay for the lesson of learning that truism.

What matters to me the most is that my daughter receive an education in the subject of her choice that best fits what she wants to use it for. It may be difficult, as even large schools with many resources only have so many to use towards individualizing their courses. I have…concerns about how well my daughter will fit into a framework which isn’t constantly focused on the narrow band of what she wants to accomplish, but there’s still a whole four years to go to train her that “well rounded” is the base, and it’ll be up to her to use that base upon which to build her own, personal specifics.

Right now, I’m not overly concerned with the process of looking at colleges for my daughter. It’s certainly not in her mind at this point. I’m passively collecting and perusing institutions, finding ways to eliminate those which are for-profit, tuition mills, or atrocious reviews from current and former students. It’s really easy for colleges and universities to talk up their programs, their resources, their alumni, and their exclusivity, but it’s another thing to see whole swaths of people kicking their alma mater to the curb. Those are the cons you need to put together with the pros put out by the marketing departments to get a good sense of what lies in the middle, and if that middle is worthwhile enough to apply to.

From Bad To Worse

I’ve nuked more blogs than a lot of people have ever run so I can’t remember if I mentioned it here or elsewhere, dosage but I’m still kind of in this gaming slump where I’ve got a lot of icons on my desktop/games on my dashboard but very little interest in clicking on any of them.

For a while there, I was playing nothing but Elite: Dangerous. Then I kind of took a slight detour into episodic gaming with The Wolf Among Us, Tales From The Borderlands, and Dreamfall Chronicles. There was some World of Warcraft in there, followed by a whole whirlwind of other games like Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag (thanks to the much-better-than-Game-of-Thrones show Black Sails), Trove, and the alpha of SkySaga. I bought, installed, failed at, and then uninstalled Lords of Xulima. Then there was the new player experience in The Secret WorldThe Elder Scrolls Online went B2P, Star Citizen has it’s 1.1 update, and I saw someone playing Defiance, so those made a comeback. Over on the PS4, I downloaded a bunch of PS+ freebies like…I can’t remember their names. I got my new bass and so picked up Rocksmith. I still have Far Cry 4, Diablo III, and Dragon Age: Inquisition sitting there. I bought Helldivers because the Twitterati were playing it and I wanted to play with them, and that dragged in Warframe for the same reason. I pre-ordered Etrian Mystery Dungeon for the 3DS, and got the Pokemon Shuffle for free. I started playing my daughter’s copy of Fantasy Life, months after the community has moved on from it. I bought a lot of Unity lessons online, and some tools that I thought might help my projects move faster. There’s also the weekly D&D game, and now a play-by-post Numenera session.

However, my fuck-budget is at zero recently. I’ve stared at things in the hopes that my mind might snap to something, but no…I have the shell of a Tuesday night schedule for TSW, and D&D on Thursdays (turnout out to be alternating Thursday). If it weren’t for a calendar, I don’t think I’d bother sitting at my desk or on the downstairs couch at all. I just learned about the first DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition, and my first reaction should have been “awesome!”, but instead was “well I don’t think I’ll ever get back to that game to really care”.

Still, I find myself looking through Steam, and through my library contained therein, with a restless eye. I put stuff on my wishlist. In passing through the stack of Steam games, I find titles that I forgot that I had purchased. Nothing really jumps out at me. I know I mentioned this before, somewhere, and I wonder if I am really coming to the end of my interest in gaming. Like, not hyperbole-end; more like practical-end.

Thing is, I’m not sure I really care. I think I am finding less of a point of sitting down and loading up a game. I’m not getting the satisfaction out of them that I had been getting for so long. Lately, the idea of a game has been pretty enticing, but the practice of playing the game itself has been extremely lackluster.

I self-destructed Levelcapped.com because I stopped caring to have a dedicated gaming blog, and I’ve abandoned my Quixotic campaign to get the gaming community to grow up and fly straight. I’ve only been writing about gaming here because I have no idea what else to write about. I’m sure as hell not going to write about politics. I’ve tried to make a go of the video blog format, but I’ve recorded about twice as much content as I’ve posted, mainly because I can’t be bothered to jump through the hoops of transferring and uploading.

I think I need a new hobby. Not an additional hobby, but something entirely new. Something not-geek-related. Over the weekend I bought a French press after a discussion about the failings of the Keurig-industrial complex. As I was filling the carafe this past Sunday morning, I thought “I think I want to be a snob about something.” My brother in law is a beer snob (and also a brew-master at two breweries, so he kind of has to be), and my friends are also particular about their beer. Maybe I could be the same about coffee? But that takes research; I don’t think I really have the interest, considering I have to limit my coffee intake lest I blow a hole in my stomach (I’m on medication for that, so it’s not just paranoia). I do have a lot of home renovation projects that need to be done, and I think I might like to get in on that, but A) I have no tools, and B) we need a lot of materials…both of which cost more money than buying video games does.

My entire being is devoid of being an “expert” on anything. Not “Internet expert”, but real deep knowledge expert. I’m not even really all that good at my job, which I’ve been doing for almost 15 years now (I mean, I’m good, but stop me on the street and hit me up with a question and I’d probably divert your attention and run and/or push you into traffic). I like thought experiments, but staring at the wall isn’t considered a “hobby”, or at least not a fulfilling hobby.

I think that’s it: nothing I do is “fulfilling”. I am not making any progress in anything. I’m just being in a place. That’s usually the kind of feeling reserved for retirees and people who have reached a specific and deserved plateau, of which I am neither. So I need to find something fulfilling. I have no idea what that is.

Do What You Love

Sometimes platitudes work; sometimes they’re not worth the paper they’re written on (or the breath they’re spoken with).

Case in point: “Do what you love”. This is a phase whose gravity is the greatest when directed at recently graduated high school seniors or starry-eyed college students.  Expecting kids to decide on their vocation with nothing but the equivalent of a handful of pamphlets to help them make up their minds, buy more about the advice to “do what you love” seems less like something fit for embroidery and more like an epiphany. Why wouldn’t you dedicate your life to something that you love doing? Why would you subject yourself to spend your life — your only life — doing anything but what makes you happy?

There’s two problems with this. The first is that we can’t all be sleep-study, help ice cream testing Netflix QA subjects. Humanity has been spending the past several hundred years working towards a goal of making life increasingly easier for itself, purchase but there’s still a whole lot of shit-work (relatively) that needs to be done. Things like making sure the trains run on time (literally), or that sewage is routed and dealt with, or that kids get their shots, or that cars are made available for sale, or that bread is baked, floors are cleaned, shelves are stocked, airplanes reach their destinations, nations are defended, A/C  units are in working order, and a billion other jobs that get done but which we never realize are actual jobs. Did you ever stop to think that somewhere, someone is making ball-bearings? Or the plastic bristles that make a broom more than just something you could use to play shuffleboard? People do those things, but consider this: Who the hell grows up wanting to be the man or woman who makes broom bristles?

The second problem is that when you do what you love to do, you fly dangerously close to the sun. When you get that close to the sun you may feel all nice and warm, but you also run the risk of burnout. Doing what you love is really only a small percentage of the greeting card. It comes with an implied asterisk that is so implied that no one ever really considers it to be there at all.

What you do is important. Where and how you do it is even more important still. For example, when I was doing desktop support for a national health insurance company, I spent a lot of my free time building web sites. I built blogs before the word “blog” was a thing. I worked with API systems before there was REST and JSON and fancy stuff like that. I fought (and lost, sadly) legal internet battles over domain names. I loved it. It was awesome. I loved it so much that when I had the chance to do what I loved, I took it without hesitation.

I think that was probably the biggest mistake of my life. I now loathe web development. It’s a cancer in my life. There is absolutely nothing enjoyable about it, but the kicker is that I know exactly why, and it’s not because web development has changed in any negative way. It’s the association based on where and how I do it that’s totally ruined any and all enjoyment for me. I’m not a business-minded person; I’m a technical person, which means that I’m smart enough to know that going into business for myself is guaranteed to end in unmitigated disaster. That means I need to work for someone else. Web development isn’t all done with Nerf guns and open-concept office space; I’m sure that the majority of the sites you see on the Internet (and the under-the-water part of the iceberg representing all the sites you will never see) are built under corporate auspices, and we know how corporations are almost universally poison to the kind of processes that people usually think about when they think of “web development”. The reality is that, like anything else, doing design and development for a corporation involves hands on a keyboard. That’s it. Dictates come from a committee that knows little to nothing about what you do, and doesn’t care. Designs are dictated by the marketing department, with a fuck-all towards actual usability. Got a great idea on how to make the site as awesome as all the hipster design and development wonks in San Francisco are espousing? Tough shit. Boring forms and corporate colors are the limits of your creativity.

That’s to be expected, though, right? Corporate culture is so anti-excitement that the best you can hope for is to be able to say that you’re employed by this time next year. But a lot of the process of learning comes from doing and experimenting and in feeding off the energy of like-minded individuals. Tech people love learning new shit, but unless you’re lucky enough to win the “where you live” lottery and get a job for the 0.000001% of those hip companies you hear about at disproportionate rate, your continuing education is limited to what you can swing on your out-of-work time. This is why “doing what you love” is such pathetic advice. We can’t all do what we love, and often times when we find out how we can, we have to accept that doing it means doing it in a soul-crushing environment that drives us to hate what we love not because what we love or love about it has changed, but because having to do it day in day out in a suffocating environment extracts all of the joy from it.

So find something else to love? That’s about as overly simplistic as “do what you love”. There’s a Rubicon everyone crosses in their professional career which makes it next to impossible make such a massive change. The will may be there, but it’s not just changing a job like you do in high-school; it’s changing a career that you spent years and maybe even decades immersed in. Not only would you probably need to go out for re-education, which takes dedication of time and money, but you’re fighting ageism, and would need to resign yourself to the fact that switching careers late in the game means starting over at an entry level position as the low man/woman on the totem pole. Pay is cut, benefits are slashed — and yet you’ve still got a family to support, bills to pay, and a life to lead that might not be able to weather such a drastic change.

So, suffer for eight hours a day, five days a week so you can continue to spend the weekends in the manner to which you’ve become accustomed, or jump ship and risk throwing away your actual life in the pursuit of something that could very well just end up being exactly what you were trying to get away from in the first place? Some people would say that the choice is not a choice at all: do what makes you happy. A closer inspection shows that, like the advice of “do what you love”, there is no guarantee that you will ever be happy with what you do. There’s too many external factors that you have no control over. If you’re lucky enough to do what you love in an environment that fosters your love of that thing, congratulations! You’ve come as close to winning the lottery as you can get without having bought a ticket. But the bulk of the world isn’t — can’t — be that lucky. We’re stuck doing the jobs that are needed to keep the world moving towards ever greater convenience for humanity, and where the best we can offer when asked how our jobs are going is that we’re really looking forward to retirement.

Slack

Social media is great, but it’s  not really for everyone. Yes, order there are those who prefer to not have their laundry hanging out in the yard for some morally questionable time-traveler to steal (because in the future they can figure out how to subvert the laws of time and space, hospital but can’t send anyone back in time with a jumpsuit), if by laundry we mean written words, and by time-traveler we mean anyone and everyone on the Internet. While some social media outlets allow you to keep your business private between participants, you’ll still be under the thumb of the operators who are parsing your every word for their own benefit.

Closed conversation systems have fallen by the wayside in the wake of the open-the-doors-to-everyone social media, so my friends and I have started trying Slack*. It’s being sold as a collaborative tool for companies and other project-minded folks, but we’re not that ambitious. We usually conduct our daily correspondence via carrier pigeon telegraph smoke signals EMAIL, dammit. which is OK because it’s really the lowest common denominator in online communication. But it’s got issues, like being the preferred mode of communication for your geriatric relatives who think writing in 36 point Comic Sans about the stupidity of the other political party is still “pretty amazing”. It’s also really easy to cross conversation by delay. And there’s no really good way to store info for later (organizing by folders and tags, sure, but if you’re OCD about keeping your email as clean as possible…)

Slack’s primary selling point is live chat. Yes, the same live chat we’ve had since the early 90’s (coincidentally, the last time email was actually “pretty amazing”). But it’s got modern perks like inline image and video embedding, public and private channels, and document sharing. So overall it’s not super cutting edge, except in that “everything old is new again” kind of way. We can also sub-divide our participation into channels. And all of this info persists between sessions so we have something to refer back to that might have been meant to be retained, or might have just been mentioned in passing.

*I’m not saying that Slack isn’t peep-holing your conversations. But their purpose of providing a place for business to gather would lead me to (hope) believe that they’ve got an eye on privacy.

Return of Dragonman; Weird Dreams

Return of Dragonman

Normally I’d recount the whole D&D session from last night, this site except that it was relatively uneventful.

The party moved into the next cavern, buy more about where they found three berserkers (“…beserkers…”) and the dwarf’s old friend Langdedrosa Cyanwrath. The half-dragon was pleased to see Gina and wanted a re-match, so he instructed the berserkers to leave her to him.

Over the course of the battle, the dwarf and the monk were downed, but got back due to some long-distance healing efforts by the bard and and druid. The beserkers were tough customers, but ended up falling to the party’s strength. Cyanwrath, however, was too amused by the dwarf’s resilience, and opted to extend their rivalry through to another day, and he walked out of the cavern while the party dealt with is henchmen.

Weird Dreams

This is really just a place to record this for posterity, because I had a really unusual dream last night that I found amusing.

As far back as I can remember, I was at my aunt’s old apartment where she lived when I was a kid, and there were a bunch of people there — including a small dog that was really a demon who wanted to “bite a chunk of flesh out of [my] ass so I would bleed to death”. The dog was actually about the size of a cat.

At some point, I was outside in a neighborhood with…someone else…and the dog, who took to following me around and reminding me that he was out to kill me in the most ineffective ways possible. It wasn’t a priority, apparently, because he just followed me around.

The neighborhood was old, and reminded me of the old city of Quebec, with it’s narrow streets and tall stone buildings. I saw my father driving in the opposite direction one street over, and figured I’d best get home, but I didn’t know the way, so I…

…at some point I ended up in a kind of underground tunnel system. I had a map, but it was a gold cylinder about the size of a standard TV remote control. I had to find where I was, and then I had to rotate the cylinder around to follow the lines which represented the corridors. At a “T” intersection, taking the left path would lead to a dead end, so I took the right path…

…which lead to a horse ranch. Not like out west, but like the ones we have here in New England. It was sunny, and the ranch was a bunch of fields ringed by wooden post fences. I ended up at one end of a crude stable which was little more than bays for horses with a roof over it. I had to traverse the stable lengthwise, moving through these bays that were filled with farm equipment and — of course — horse crap. Lots of horse crap.

At the end, the stable opened up to a kind of drive through-sized opening beneath the roof. On the right was a wide open field. On the left was a woman who was working with a horse in another field. For some reason, I knew I should sneak around and not be seen, but in that open area under the roof was a pony, and the pony saw me.

This was less of a pony and more like a dog (the demon dog had since moved on to something else, and was no longer with me). He wanted to jump up and play, but I was concerned he’d give away my presence. I ducked down behind some barrels near the right side of the stable just as the woman in the field noticed the pony acting strangely.

Sure enough, she came over to investigate, and there was really nowhere for me to go. I told her I was trying to get to Nashua, that my map had led me through the horse farm, and that I had gotten lost. She didn’t seem concerned or angry, just…

…and that’s when I woke up. I have no idea what the hell I ate last night to cause this kind of a dream.