Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Letter To Barack Obama

I respect you Mr. President. But I am wavering.

Your intellect, the knowledge and awareness you have in regard to so many national issues far exceeds the typical politician. You are not a politician to me. You are someone who is fighting by using facts, who is fighting by using reasoning as your weapon. I love listening to you debate and discuss issues.

You are willing to talk, to compromise, to think in larger terms. Our country is immense, and you stand there to represent millions of different views on millions of different subjects.

When you talk, I listen. When you say something, I think on it.

And when you take a stance, I hear what your beliefs and values are.

When you back down, you lose me. You have the heart so many of us have. I've heard it numerous times in the way you speak. So stop backing down. Stand up and make your point and stick with it. No one is happy with congress, why should you accept them either? You are the voice of us.

I support much of what you have done and what you say you want to do. Take advantage of that and stop compromising. Be what you feel, because I know there's intelligence and respect behind your beliefs.

There is a fight upon us, and your backing down only defers the inevitable clash and makes it worse.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Thoughts on Occupy Wall Street

We are forever beholden to the regimes and systems and networks that run our lives. This is as true now as it was two thousand years ago. We can decry the hurt that we have endured because of unfair policies and rule, and we should be thankful for the successes and innovations brought about by such governing.

As we become more aware of those around us, we are more conscious of the successes and failures of those same groups and individuals.


Occupy Wall Street, to me, is the public discontent arising from the realization that one form of success is trumping all others in this country and elsewhere, even when it causes harm.

Most people want to be rich, sure, but for one reason: to take their woes away. Money solves problems. You can solve every problem in your life if you just have the money to pay for the solution. Money pays to resolve problems, and it also pays for leisure, recreation, and entertainment. But that's it.

Most people want to work and then call it a day. Most people want to have time with friends and family, time alone, time learning more about something they love, time for recreation, time to eat.

Occupy Wall Street is about an inability by the leaders of business to see the small things in life, to only see this one element of life.

It is a backlash from people who do not care about being rich, they only care about having enough. In America it is not considered enough to own a restaurant on a corner where you can make your living, pay your employees, and call it a day. No, you are expected to expand to a second location, and then four more. To make more money.

And here's why you are expected to go the extra mile for money: because if you slip up, you better have that money ready. Because these days it only takes a single car accident or one tough month or one ailing relative to cost thousands upon thousands of dollars of damage. For those who are not rich, it might be years to recover. Perhaps they will never recover. You wanted just enough, but enough is no longer good enough. Now you are forever in the red.

We are told that every second of our time matters, every cent of our dollar has meaning. It only has meaning because it has gained meaning by those who care about money. And we are more numb to every cent because of this. Because there is no more context.

Money does not matter. Everything else matters, and we are discontented now because we see money being valued over everything else. Money should be just one of many conduits through which we stabilize, reinforce, and improve our environment and ourselves, and until we see those who would be our leaders of the financial and political world embrace these same ideals, we will be discontented.

OWS is a backlash to the soul-sucking efforts to wrest every dollar back from the majority of people who want nothing more than to live peaceably in harmony with the systems around them. When money becomes the problem, not the solution, it needs to be dealt with.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Daily Inspiration for Game Developers

One of my favorite things about the universe is that it is beautifully balanced. This set of probably super small equations that run this incredibly complex machine that encompasses thought and stars colliding and clouds and cute puppies. Sometimes I find myself staring at a leaf and thinking how the patterns in it remind me of spatial arrangements of planets and stars. Or how the ingredients in my mocha settle just like a geological formation. I love the slow swirl and filtering as the sugar catches at points and stops, elsewhere, the weight of the heavier ingredients pushing onwards, leaving behind beautiful vertical formations.

They look similar because they are. The rules behind much of the systems are the same. Gravity, mass, tastiness.

I guess what I'm saying this morning is that you should be aware of this when building a game, when running your life, that all of life has a generally simpler set of rules that can be applied and expanded to accompany specific scenarios. The universe is generic. Are you aware of that when building your game?

Bejeweled is a series of jewels, all with exactly the same rules, except that here and there is a "special" jewel. But they all move alike. Most just have one fundamentally different variable which is a property that when the same value of that property is aligned in chains of 3 or more, they will disappear. Color, shape, or you could give them numbers, but that one variable is really all that game is. Move shapes around being aware of this one variable.

Minecraft, I've been sucked back into it. I had an idea to build a town. I'm playing the game solo. I know that when I want to, there's this world that is larger than I could ever explore, and the whole system is run by a few simple rules. When Notch added rain, I thought, crap, now there's more darkness. That's all there was to it. (I haven't dealt with gardens and harvesting and all that yet, so I don't know about rain's effect on that.) But that's the beauty of Minecraft, rain didn't fundamentally change how the game works, it took a variable critical to the game, light, and just inserted a little randomness to outdoor lighting conditions. Simple, but it reverberates.

Far Cry 2, you could say it's an incredibly complex game, but the laws ruling it are understandable. There are pieces to it, and those pieces, once you understand them, generally allow you to move throughout the greater world with an awareness of a system. I hated that every outpost was aggressive as soon as they spotted me, but that knowledge informed everything else. I knew what happened where and a new location was just another roll of the dice against a system which I understood. It was rolling dice, knowing that one of them was loaded.

This idea of balance across systems is important to us as game developers in every manner. Last week a theoretical physicist pal of mine (yes, bragging that I know one) tweeted about an xkcd comic which stated that Emmy Noether deserved a Nobel prize for her work which, he paraphrased:

@hundun2:"Fact: Emmy Noether deserves to be more famous. #xkcd Einstein's letter to NY Times on her death.

Her main contribution to physics was Noether's theorem, which says (roughly) that conservation laws come from symmetries in laws of physics. For example, energy is conserved because the laws of physics do not change over time ("invariant under time translation" in physics-speak). Momentum is conserved because laws of physics don't change depending on where you are ("invariant under space translation").
Noether's theorem is a fundamental result in itself. Also led physicists to look at symmetry as a central concept in physics."

Tell me, have you ever once thought about how the laws of physics don't change over time and space? It's mindblowingly obvious, but super critical.

I've been learning the hard way, don't do too many projects at once, use time efficiently. A good gamer knows how to use space and time in your game efficiently. Are systems utilizing that, or do things run differently here and there and everywhere?

My point today is that I love how straightforward the universe is, and the games that I enjoy function in the same manner. (I didn't talk about W. Wright's games since I assume we all know how they derive from the same concept.) Complexity can arise out of a very simple set of rules, so, as a builder, I strive for that, because then I have an incredibly fluid amount of control over the worlds I create. Fifty rules vs. fifteen, are you in control of your game, or being overrun by a flawed concept that the universe is made up of millions of separate situations?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Why I'm Hostile Toward GPS

I don't like using GPS because I have good locational awareness. For others who don't have strong locational awareness, I have no real point of comparison.

GPS, or the idea of it that I am opposed to, is the function in which it gives precise directions on which turns to take where and how to get someone somewhere. I am not opposed to it as a map. I love maps, I think they are there to fill in our brains' gaps in specifics of scale and position. I use maps a lot, before and after and during travel.

The reason I am so opposed to punching in an address and not paying attention anymore is that the mere act of driving requires locational awareness. Where is your car on the road, where is your car in relation to the other cars around you, where is your car in relation to the next stop sign or stoplight? You have to be aware of these things while driving. GPS removes your awareness of everything beyond the immediate, but when it comes right down to it, your use of GPS is for that space close around, for that stop sign, should you turn there? So by using GPS, you are removing the context of each particular location you are in.

When using GPS all I am thinking is stop sign, stop sign, stop light, freeway, left freeway, drive an hour. When not using GPS I'm taking note of field next to stop sign, mini-mall, hills over there. My job driving is to be aware, so why on earth would I want to let the GPS become my awareness of the context of every location?

I don't think GPS is like transitioning from paper to the internet. That is a massive change in how communication works, it changes the amount of work and thought we have to use to get stuff done. But driving, using GPS I become more and more reliant without much benefit, whereas not using GPS I become stronger and stronger and more aware. It takes a lot longer to figure out an area when you're guided by wire rather than having the whole space.

The world is location location location, and I'd much rather be aware of how they are all connected and related than lose sight of that greater space for the blind trust of stop sign, stop sign, turn left.