It’s been a while since the last post. Most of you who followed me through that time via Twitter and Facebook know that it’s been a pretty stressful stretch, but the worst of it is over now. I’m working on a bunch of things behind the scenes– which I’ve previously used as an excuse for not updating or sharing information, but in this case it’s the honest truth.
In the time since I last posted, I’ve:
- Finished painting 1850 points of Imperial Guard.
- Assembled four warjacks for Warmachine, and am ready to paint them up soon.
- Started a dedicated gaming blog– it’s going to pre-launch on Friday and full launch on Monday.
- Made ready a Paranioa one-shot that’s happening this Wednesday.
- Actively made strides towards improving my job performance and happiness.
- Been away from home for a week on business. (I handled this better than I thought I would, actually.)
- Continued preparations for the Tekkoshocon video game room, including getting ready to order arcade sticks.
And that’s just the stuff I can talk about. I’m not kidding you all when I say I’m a very busy person!
Anyway, with the new blog starting up, I’m not going to promise frequent posts here. I am, however, going to redouble my efforts to keep on top of the more life-changing stuff as it happens; there may not be a set schedule but I’m going to try to avoid missing whole months in a row this time.
I’ll be back later this week with the pre-launch of the new blog and a bit more information on my current state. Everything’s fine… I’ve just been really, really busy.
As nostalgic as it would be to bust out the Moleskine and page-a-day, I knew on Wednesday that there had to be a better and easier way. I looked at how I was handling the day-to-day tracking of my weight plan and found that I could very easily upgrade how I managed things, especially considering that I had a much more sophisticated piece of equipment on me at all times– my smartphone. As always, I’m very iOS-centric, so Android users may need to adapt to different tools. Your mileage may vary. Also, as you should no doubt be aware, this is merely what worked for me: if you want to start a diet, do your homework first and/or see a doctor.
The first thing I did was digitize my “burndown” chart. This is the table of values that I set up in 2006 to track my daily weigh-ins and current status towards my goal. It started off as a fairly simple chart: just my weight for the day, with a little bit of math to determine my change over the last 24 hours and the cumulative loss. Turning it into a spreadsheet using Numbers was a great idea. I now have a very simple entry form where I can enter my weight and time spent exercising, and see an instant readout of the daily and cumulative changes. However, things get interesting with the “Math” form. With the press of a button I can add the day’s numbers to a rolling set of larger statistics, augmenting a charts page which visually shows me how I’m doing. I’ve also added a measure of how well my metabolism is working, in the hopes that it’ll prove my suspicion that it got easier to lose weight as I stayed on the wagon.
Next, I needed a tool to count my intake points. This would be the culmination of a search I’ve had ongoing for a few years now– a basic counter app would work just fine. I found the rather spartan Counter+, which does what it does very well. There’s a few issues with its interface, but by and large it doesn’t need to be anything terribly flashy. In order to augment this, though, I needed a calorie counting program. I’m still looking for a better replacement for my old Moleskine and its list, but right now the MyFitnessPal app seems to be a strong contender. The big priorities here are being able to handle a lot of different fast food places as well as keeping that information relatively up-to-date. If I’m cooking at home, I’ll probably stick to the calorie book I bought back in ’06: rice doesn’t get reformulated much.
Finally, in order to spur on some of the metabolism boosts I’m looking for, I decided to pull the trigger on a gym membership again. I last had a membership in ’08 and kept up with that for, you guessed it, about four months. I didn’t go for the full contract-year this time, instead taking a weekly membership to make sure I can actually stick with it. Plus, this is a nicer facility with much better hours (as in I’m going to be going in the morning in order to make sure I actually do it) and closer to home. With a little bit of effort I can make this work.
That’s the plan, boys and girls. Let’s see how far we get.
It’s hardly a secret to say that I like food. In point of fact, I like food a little too much for my general level of activity. This is something that I’ve felt I need to fix for a very long time, and back in Cleveland (at what I would later realize was the lowest point of my depression) I made an attempt towards doing so. This was a rather difficult thing to do, because of the aforementioned lifestyle: coders tend towards very fat or very skinny, either because they’re constantly eating at their desks or completely forgetting to eat.
So, in the first third of 2006, I made a resolution: I was going to lose some weight. I had set myself to a goal of losing 50 pounds, and I was honestly making great strides to it. While I didn’t make my goal before I lost motivation (which was due to a combination of a pig-out session at Tekkoshocon and an uneven meal schedule during E3), I still pulled 40 pounds off of my frame and dropped a couple of inches from my waistline. This was an incredible accomplishment for me, and because of it I was able to make the first steps towards getting out of my funk.
Whenever I tell the story, people ask me how I did it. The answer is depressingly simple: I counted calories religiously and forced myself to exercise. Because of the way my job was structured, I had the later shift, but I still was waking up rather early. This meant that I had an hour or so before I showered to take a long walk. I started with just about a half-mile, but as time went on I moved up to a mile, then two. This was greatly helped by the fact that I had a route which was flat, and long enough to be visually diverse no matter how I extended it; there’s only so many times you can lap around the same building before it gets old. I did that walk every day.
As for the calories, I changed how things were handled. Anything that was less than 10 calories “didn’t count” unless I was eating enough of them to push over that threshold. Meals, then, were based on a “points” structure: ten calories were one point, and at least some of them had to come from a “healthy” source. I transcribed calorie counts from a thick paperback into a smaller Moleskine notebook, and kept track of my daily counts on a page-a-day calendar. As long as I was under my target goal for the day– which was 150 points– I was good.
Believe it or not, this worked wonderfully while I kept it up. I don’t have the notes from those three months anymore (I started in late January and was off the wagon by May), but I do know that by the time I was in full swing, I was losing half a pound a day, and feeling much better. More to the point, it allowed for one “cheat day” a week: on Saturdays I would go into Macedonia and play DDR for about an hour or so, then get a big meal at Long Yun’s Mongolian BBQ and watch a movie or two in the theater. Not being on the clock the entire time made it rather bearable.
Over the last week, I’ve started to think that I need to restart the plan. It’s made much easier now that I’m less restricted in terms of what I can eat, so now I can focus on controlling how much. And that started yesterday.
I hate to be short today, folks, but yesterday was a long day at work, and I’ve had comparatively little time over the last few weeks to devote to building up the May backlog. I’m looking to fix that tonight, of course, but for the moment you’ll get this brief little discussion of how depression can really hit you like a ton of bricks sometimes.
Saturday I waas feeling really good when I woke up, and I got more than a little overambitious. I sat myself down for my usual internetless painting session, with only the XM for technological companionship. I was going to finish off 24 grunt troops that morning, taking them from mostly-started to completely-finished. That way, I could be ready to spray up the four tanks on Sunday morning and be more or less in the home stretch for my June deadline.
I got through painting the armor on twelve of them before I got bored and depressed. That’s just one color on them out of about four, and in all honesty it was still in the “sloppy” phase where I didn’t have to be too terribly careful. I’ll be the first to admit that my failure to commit to the task probably had a lot to do with how I was arranging the work: I was moving ‘completed’ troops back to the waiting table, and filling in my to-do queue with what I had to do next. This created the illusion that I wasn’t actually getting anywhere.
Of course, Sunday came and I was almost too depressed to really get anywhere, but the thought of getting to see a few people at the theater helped snap me out of the mood I was in. Until I got there and found that nobody really wanted to see the movie (myself included– we’re starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel for theatrical anime that we could run). And then I had to go to work on Monday.
All it takes is a handful of setbacks to wreck what should have been a productive weekend.
A couple weeks ago I happened to come across a TV Tropes entry for the television program Revenge. It was summed up pretty accurately in the article as a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, which is a book I really, really need to get around to reading some day (I’ve glossed over the Cliffs Notes, though)– but that’s all beside the point today. I just wondered exactly why some executive thought the title Revenge would in any way compel people to watch the show.
Although, sadly, the more I think about it, revenge is itself pretty much its own motivation. I have to admit that I find some amount of satisfaction in seeing someone get a comeuppance they seem to deserve. Schadenfreude is, after all, a perfectly legitimate emotion to feel– it’s a primal instinct that helps to reaffirm our tendency towards being social creatures. When you f#$% up, you’re gonna get it somewhere down the line. Humans as a rule like to know that the karma bank is solvent, and paying out dividends on time and to their rightful clients.
Where it gets ugly is in the urge to act on that oneself. The people that wronged us should get their just desserts, but for us to see that happen we have to be on the outside of it. Otherwise, when you start working towards the goal of revenge, suddenly the nature of the catharsis changes: you’re not seeing something bad happen to someone you dislike, you’re actively causing harm to that person, and that’s what your brain rewards.
Besides, the perfect revenge isn’t about stomping someone down below your level: it’s about raising yourself up so that you end as far above your aggressor as they pulled you down with them.
I’m working on it.
Something I’m finding to be an especially egregious problem in the world today is the lack of clarity in communications. For a good while now, I’ve noticed that people tend to word their conversations in such a way as to avoid actually making a clear, decisive statement one way or the other. This way, if the point that they are waving and gesticulating towards is somehow proven wrong at a later point, they can then go back and say, “Well, no, see, you missed what I was getting at, what I really meant was…”
This infuriates me. It’s not even so much the fact that I don’t do it– I certainly could, if the thought of doing so didn’t make me want to vomit out my lower intestines and strangle myself with them– it’s that people have been doing it so long that they seem to not even realize that they’re doing it. There’s no clear answers anymore, no straight up definition of facts. Anyone trying to tell you that their discourse is the truth is automatically lying, and while that may be harshly cynical, more often than not, it’s borne out as being a pretty reliable barometer.
The worst part is that when the inevitable confusion does arise, the fault is somehow turned on the person who did misunderstand. After all, listening skills are important, and if someone isn’t able to follow “simple, clear directions” then it reflects fantastically poorly on them. The speaker is never in the wrong, because the speaker can always weasel out of it. The burden of communications is put on the listener, and if that listener has the foresight to ask for clarification, they’re either brushed off entirely or the situation is muddied even further.
Apparently nobody actually learned anything from the fable of the Tower of Babel. Which, of course, doesn’t surprise me.
Just before Tekkoshocon, Pez lent me his copy of Jane McGonigal’s Reality Is Broken: How Games Can Make Us Better. I regret to say, actually, that I didn’t get a chance to crack it open until well after the show was over. On the flip side, though, it only took me about twenty pages before I realized I needed a copy of the book myself.
McGonigal doesn’t waste any time in providing her argument. She starts off with a mythological story about how the ancient Lydians survived an eighteen-year famine through the effective use of games. (Which put the other purchase I made at the bookstore that day– Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games– is a markedly less pleasant light.) She then breaks her argument into three parts, detailing along the ride eleven ways that reality could be improved through the strategic implementation of behaviors that are seen in gaming of all stripes.
While McGonigal focuses predominantly on electronic gaming, only breaking out of it for a handful of her examples, she presents an incredibly strong case that the mechanical aspects of gameplay in general are worth far more than the condescension that most people have for players of games. And, while fundamentally I agree with a lot of her points, I also have to take issue with her assertion that making everything a game will make life better. This is mostly out of the incredibly poor way that a lot of “gamification” efforts have been implemented in the past.
When dealing with incredibly boring or tedious tasks in my childhood, I was often told that I should make a game out of it. The problem is that fun cannot be “enforced” in that way. It didn’t matter how I compelled myself to accomplish whatever I was told to do, only that I did it. And if I wasn’t invested in the task to begin with, there was no way I was going to put in the mental effort to compel myself to do it. Now, if the game had developed organically among the other people I was working with at the time– or hell, even if there were other people to engage in the game– it would be a different story. But solo, it was just frustrating to be told that I should somehow force myself to enjoy something objectively boring.
That’s why I take a jaundiced eye to games like Chore Wars or Fitocracy: it’s great to compete with other people in these games, but for someone on their own, if they’re not already committed to the tasks, they sure as hell aren’t going to be motivated by a little number or avatar. It’s a bit like having a competition to see who can finish their homework first. There might be a reward at the end, and it might not be any more substantial than bragging rights; in the end, though, you’re still doing your homework, and if you just plain don’t want to do homework, no reward is going to be good enough. More to the point, games of any sort get boring after an extended period: when people ultimately get bored of Chore Wars, the dishes will start to pile up again.
Do I think that making reality more fun is going to make people happier? Absolutely. I love games, and I play them constantly; earlier this month I was introduced to Tiny Tower, and I’ve been using it alternately as a time-waster and as a productivity monitor (work for x minutes, check on the tower for one or two, then back to work for x more). But I have some issues with the assertion that gaming can become a force that will make kids do their homework or eat their broccoli, or make adults save for retirement or mow the lawn. Games are only so powerful, after all.
Were we wrong about Mass Effect? That’s not really the point. Personally, I think it was a better game than the reviewer said it was, but then again we almost always disagreed internally about the games we reviewed. Netjak always inhabited that quasi-professional level, where we weren’t getting paid to write about video games, but we all approached it with solemnity approaching the sepulchral. So, how exactly should we have been approached?
In his book “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom”, Cory Doctorow introduced the concept of whuffie: a quantitization of personal reputation that had replaced money as the way to gain non-essential luxuries (basics were freely available). People who did good things, like composed symphonies or let people ahead of them in line, gained whuffie, while people who did bad things, like cutting people off in traffic, lost it. It is instantaneous and mostly subconscious due to constant neural connections to an/the internet. In short, it puts a number on positive attention, while penalizing negative attention. While it sounds like the ultimate in egalitarianism, it sits poorly with me as something that should ever be implemented, even in the internet, simply because it’s instantaneous. Someone who just made a bad mistake will have a low whuffie score due to the snap-judgments of those around them drowning out or undoing the good they’ve done in the past.
If you try, but fail, you may have gained experience, but you have still failed. In private, the only one who ever sees it is you, and thus it’s easier to take. The problem is when your failures are public: if someone sees you fail, no matter how close you came, the memory of that failure is still there. On some level the witness will always have that knowledge about you, and there’s a good chance that it will in some way color their perceptions about you. When the failures are ephemeral– like bumping into a glass storefront because you thought it was an open door– the effect is minimal. When the failures are permanent and/or replayable– like a Youtube video of that very same collision– the effect is compounded.
With blogs and the internet, the temptation is to take everything as being instantaneous. Something posted years or decades ago is just as accessible as something posted right now, and whether or not it’s just as relevant today is, ironically, irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how long ago you posted that topless picture, or if it’s just one ill-conceived moment among thirty thousand exquisite photographs; it’s there forever and it’s all that matters. There is no statute of limitations on the internet.
It should, of course, go without saying that I think that’s a load of absolute bullshit. For my part, I try very hard not to let one mistake in the past color my perceptions of any site, professional or personal. The big names are capable of cranking out stinkers once in a while. But the little guys who don’t get any attention sometimes have the biggest ideas. The internet was supposed to let everyone’s voice be heard.
So remind me why we’re ignoring some of them, just because everyone else is?
The question then becomes one of effort and consistency. If 99% of the posts on a blog are filler (cough), does that automatically condemn the 1% of the posts that have genuinely good and interesting content? More important to the point at hand, does that 1% of posts command the blog’s readership attention for the uninteresting 99%? If it’s not a 1%/99% ratio, where exactly do you draw the line? How do you judge a site’s real worth?
The “fun” thing about all of this comes when you realize that some of the internet intelligentsia happen to have some rather cruel streaks in them as well (and I most certainly include myself in that categorization from time to time). The egalitarian nature of the internet just doesn’t sit well with some folk, and that gives rise to sites such as “Web Pages That Suck” and “Your Webcomic Is Bad And You Should Feel Bad”. This is to say nothing of the legions of commenters and forum-goers who pooh-pooh anything that isn’t a work of magnificent perfection.
Now, far be it from me to say that criticism isn’t warranted or desperately deserved in some cases– and I’l be the first to own up to the many, many mistakes I’ve made in the past. But as I’ve always said, honest and constructive criticism will always beat just plain ol’ criticism. For everything that’s wrong, there should at least be something that was done right. This isn’t always the case, obviously, but the cases where it doesn’t hold true are so astonishingly rare as to be worthy of the ire and bile that are heaped upon– well, more or less everything.
It gets worse when you start trying to quantitatively and objectively assess the quality of something based on a relatively incidental number. Back when Netjak was still around– which was itself a remarkable example of a professional blog– we raised our fair share of hackles with certain of our reviews. The biggest offender here was with Mass Effect, which didn’t get the glowing praise from the reviewer that the rest of the gaming press was lauding onto the game. This prompted an individual to sign up for our forums (which we used in place of a comments system) and berate us for not falling in line. The individual went so far as to suggest that our small userbase on the forums (because we’d just gone through a dormancy period due to technical failures) as well as the low number of threads and posts (because it was set to auto-purge posts older than a certain threshold) “did not give [us] the right” to our opinion of the game. Nevermind that Joystiq had linked to us repeatedly; we were small, therefore we didn’t count.
Last week, Pez mentioned (via Twitter) that he was in the bad habit of disregarding blog posts that don’t have comments. His argument– and it’s not an unfounded one, but I’ll get into that later– was that if nobody had bothered to respond to it, it wasn’t worth his time to read. He himself admitted that it’s a flawed reason to not read something, and when I made the snarky self-deprecating remark that “nobody must read my blog, then, if there’s no comments”, it was mostly as a joke. But then, I got to thinking about why he’d have that policy about feedback uber alles, and why its scarcity somehow indicates a lack of quality.
My introduction to the social internet was, as I’ve said often, Usenet. That was nothing but feedback. It’s post upon post upon post, each one building off the rest, and a community emerging from nothing– not even a structure more concrete than “post about this here, and that there”, and even that was fluid to some degree. Occasionally one post or another would become a foundation for more discussion, either by virtue of its own content or by containing a reference or link to something else, like a World Wide Web page. It would be the “big topic” for a while, and then fade away as the next one came to the table.
A good friend of mine, who I met during our shared time in Usenet, dislikes the idea of blogging in general. He feels it to be narcissistic and unnecessary, as the vast majority of them are people just endlessly talking about themselves into the void to make themselves feel important. I, of course, can’t argue with that, considering the fantastic amounts of pure crap that I put out here, but as the past month or so seems to have shown I’m working on fixing that. But what I think that friend is missing is the rather important distinction between a personal blog and a professional blog, and a rather frightening blurring of the lines between hobbyists and professionals.
The coming of the World Wide Web made everybody rock stars, and elevated all content to the same plateau. Suddenly, personal blogs, not necessarily intended for widespread consumption, are being presented and styled as if they are. Structurally, there’s nothing different between my site and say, Joystiq, aside from the content and the tools used to produce them. Where it all breaks down is in content: Joystiq has it and I, to be quite frank about it, don’t. At least, I don’t regularly have any content nearly as compelling as Joystiq’s constant feed of gaming news. And that’s where things start to get hairy.