Arkangel

I would think most people who read this blog are fans of The Twilight Zone. All the various iterations.  In igloo-ville we also received The Outer Limits during the 90s.  Psychological, horror, sci-fi…mostly standalone episodes.  All of them acting as parables or warnings for what could happen. It’s either in the now, or about 15 minutes from now, making the best of those episodes very poignant.

Looking back at them now, without the social context of the time, it’s hard to fully appreciate what they had going for them.  The best of them certainly do.  It’s a Good Life may be the most recognizable.

The real joy of these is that they are not brain dead stories, or pure entertainment.  They engage your brain matter and feel like they are talking to you.  Compare to say, Game of Thrones or Lost.  Both excellent but the viewer is not an agent.  Rod Sterling talked to us.

Black Mirror is as close as we can get to that feeling today.  Disclaimer – I have a soft spot for English writing.  Proper English.  First season ran in 2011 and woo is that episode a doozy.  Season 3 and 4 have been picked up by Netflix and each have 6 episodes. I’m only a few into season 4 now.  USS Callister was solid with a good premise.  Crocodile was like a mini-psychological thriller.  Hang the DJ is what happens when Tinder goes on steroids (and the most uplifting of the bunch).  Arkangel though – that’s a Phillip K Dick short story.

The foundation is solid – an anxious single mother who worries about her kid.  She loses sight and ends up putting a tracker on the daughter.  But the tracker does more… it gives a health check, let’s her see what her daughter sees and can filter “bad things”.  I’ve read enough sci-fi to see where this is going.

Sure enough, it follows the proper notes, with the necessary social commentary. As a parent, I could relate with the steps taken to “protect” the kids.  It hits a special note where there’s a clear psychological impact of permanent helicopter parenting and you really hope the mother learns a lesson.

Of course she does until her teenager lies about where she is for one night.  And what teen has not done that? The draw to snoop on her kid is too much, and then it’s a massive descent into invasion of privacy.

Side note – since I work in IT, in particular user-facing IT, I’ve been very exposed to the concept of privacy and network connectivity.  In that privacy doesn’t really exist.  If people knew what Facebook on a smartphone actually collected… or maybe if they cared…

Back on track.  The 1 hour episode felt more like a mini-movie.  There was some rather solid points to be made about a nanny-state (within a family), in particular when the individual being spied on is not aware of it.  The hurtful part was that the mother deemed watching her kid better than talking to her kid.  Like the data collection only ever needed to be one way and from one source.  (A bit like getting your news from a single source without any dialogue).

The best part is the feeling of not being comfortable watching the episode.  It hits really close to home.  I am really enjoying this series.  People should take a watch.

New Year Start

The holidays are rarely a relaxing time for me.  There’s just so much to do and whatever time “off” I have is actually planned weeks in advance.  This year was going to be different.  Work had delivered a major milestone and after 18 months without any time off, I decided to take 3 weeks and do the stuff that mattered.

I ended up spending last week in Cuba with my family.  Great decision overall.  Read 4 books (including the entire Broken Earth series), slept in every day, lounged by the pool/beach…didn’t plan a thing.   I’ve gone to a few places down south but never over the holidays.  Much different crowd.  First, no 20 year olds on party mode.  Second, since it’s Cuba, no Americans.  An interesting thing that I didn’t really catch on to until later in the trip.  It helped that it was ~30 below (where C and F meet) that week as well.

The rest of the time has been spent just having fun with the family.  The ice rink in the yard is top notch.  Lots of games and crafts around.  A whole lot of cleaning and tidying around the place.  Went to see Star Wars (better than I had expected in that it willingly throws away the traditional SW tropes).  One hockey tourney to go and then it’s back to work.  Finally refreshed.

2017

Overall it’s been a really good year.  Family is super.  I’m in some of the best health.  Finances are good.  The job has had more progress in 1 year than should be possible in 3.

Gaming has also been kind.

  • Horizon is my current game of the year.
  • WarFrame is a platinum best seller on Steam and worth 5x what Destiny brings.
  • XCOM 2 launched a DLC that is more than most expansions ever deliver
  • Mass Effect showed great potential (and EA timelines failed to deliver)
  • Dishonored 2 showed what a story driven sandbox can do.
  • Shadow of War delivered a better nemesis system, but a broken end game
  • Path of Exile launched two expansions this year.
  • Quite a few more games that I need to eventually pick up
    • Cuphead
    • Wolfenstein 2
    • Divinity 2
    • A Nintendo Switch!
    • Nier
    • HellBlade

Aside from the slow down this holiday season, it’s been my most active posting in a long while.  There are many fewer bloggers nowdays.  Most folks have left and vbloggers have taken space instead.   It’s still quite immature, as clickbait runs the money in the first few years.  It takes a long time for quality to start showing up (as it did with blogging and online news), so my guess is we’re 2 years away from that.

2018

I rarely have any resolutions for a new year, not like there’s a difference between Dec 31 and Jan 1 in terms of goals.  Change is a gradual thing, though there are always goals that can be achieved.

Work should provide a new opportunity in the next few weeks, one that’s about 10 years earlier than I had planned a long while back.  My team has recently completed year 1 of a 3 year plan, and there’s a lot of excitement for what’s coming

I’ll keep playing hockey and working out.  I’d like to get to a baseline 200lbs bench this year and push from there.  There’s surprisingly little weight gained over the holidays and vacation considering my indulgences.  Back to my regular habits now.

The family will be heading to Florida in March, then open the cottage a few weeks later.  I think we’ll be focusing on saving money from that time forward as there’s a few long term plans that need some funding.  Still 2 months of hockey to go with the eldest, and likely some dance classes for the younger.  Both squirts are doing great in school, have a insatiable curiosity, and a solid level of autonomy.   All told the focus this year, as with last, is ensuring that I simply have more time for the family.

Of all the potential games in 2018, I’m only looking forward to Pillars of Eternity 2 and Ni No Kuni 2.  Darksiders 3, God of War and Kingdom Hearts are a maybe.  Anthem I am looking forward to seeing play out.  I won’t be buying it, but if it does launch this year (I doubt) it will be the real bellweather for how MTX work in games moving on.  I think we were spoiled rotten in 2017.

As for the blog, I’d like to have more cross posts with other awesome blogs that I read.  That means more work on Feedly, at least 3 posts a week, and maybe some more videos.  I won’t lie – blogging on a regular basis is hard work.  I am somewhat envious of both Syp and Wilhelm.

 

And with that, time to sign off and enjoy the rest of my vacation.

Imagination Is Key

I have two lovely daughters.  They are similar but different – one being much more creative/artistic while the other is practical/structured.  Those are their areas of comfort and certainly their approach when it comes to problem solving.  It’s quite interesting to watch them think things through.

I worked for some time as an enterprise architect.  This is really similar to what people know as a traditional architect – buildings mostly.  I my case, I take the overall view of a business, its services, and its solutions – then map out how they work today, the growth, and then a plan to get there.  It’s a relatively new field, and not something that I’ve ever found taught in a formal institution (college/university).

It’s easier to compare it to Lego blocks.  I define those blocks, then use them to modify/build new things.   When I was a kid, I had a ton of Legos.  I never had instructions for them, just a giant pile of blocks.  I built what I wanted.  Nowdays, 90% of Lego come with an instruction book.  I am given a general idea of that final structure but it’s my job to build that final picture and instruction book.  Except I deal with people, technology, and really big budgets.

My kids aren’t really given the opportunity to flex that imagination muscle.  Everything is packaged/rote.  School has yet to really transform from memorization/tests to practical tests and creative outputs.  There’s not much focus on group-work.  It takes some effort to provide opportunities for them to develop that skill set.  But they do it.  My youngest may create new songs or dance moves.  My eldest may build a spaceship and pretend that it flies across the moon.  They’re both given boxes, and they make conscious efforts to look outside of it.

Tooting my own horn here, but when they were younger my wife and I applied a problem-solving approach to the kids.  We allowed them a fair amount of freedom in the house to discover what did what, and then to manage their own needs.  Practical example – making breakfast.  By the age of 2, both were able to make their own breakfast on their own.  They knew where the dishes were, the food, what amount to use, where to put the dirty dishes following.  We were both watching them… didn’t want knives and stoves going… but they did an awesome job to figure out how the pieces worked together.  All of a sudden we’d see Nutella, yogurt and cereal in the same bowl.  Something we sure didn’t show them.

It makes for interesting feedback from their teachers too.  Rather than either following the “expected behavior” they ask questions all the time.  (It’s a bit like that Simpson’s episode where Lisa steals the teacher’s copy of the lesson books).

That does take energy and patience.  It is a lot easier to just show them the right way (or your way) and have them repeat it.  There were a lot of spoiled breakfasts, or things I certainly would not have eaten.  I see it as an investment.  The steps we took years ago allow them to self-manage today.  It helps with their decision making process, taking more into account than just black and white.  They can relate to past experiences, find similarities, and then find a new solution.

It’s truly an eye opening experience to watch children grow and learn.  To see them fall and find a way to pick themselves up without our direct involvement.  Now if I could only slow time for it to last a bit longer!

 

Sleep is Underrated

Lots of work, crazy deadlines, busy family, and then a chest cold.  Makes for a great weekend of flop sweats and 12+ hours of sleep a day, still feeling exhausted to start the week.  Good news is that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.  It feels entirely achievable.  Plus, the VP here sees the work being done and the need for additional resources/structure.  That bodes well long-term.

My eldest had 2 hockey games this weekend.  On her team, 11 other girls are first-time players, so the understanding of the game just isn’t there yet.  They lost Saturday 10-0 on  team that had that understanding, and won 3-1 on Sunday when you could see it start clicking.  I spent some time watching a men’s league game on the other ice pad, folks mostly in their 40s-50s.  They were smart hockey players.

I played about 12 years when I was a kid, but I’ve been back on the ice for another 12 since.  All of that pretty much competitive play.  The skill is less important than the thinking now.  We have a few skaters on one team where even though they are young, they just don’t have that mind-set.  Great skill and effort, but that 6th sense just isn’t there.  Work smarter – not harder.

Full circle a bit then.  Work is in the same bucket.  I’ve had enough crazy deadlines and projects to have a decent sense of what is actually important and what is noise.  I know some members of my team are concerned at my lack of attention on some things, and deadly focus on others.  It’s a practical thing.  Tough calls are needed, and there’s only so much good will to go around.  It’s difficult, but sometimes you need to let those spinning plates fall to the ground.

Warframe

I read Isey’s comment on my last post and want to extract the gibberish.

When I found that I had Liths via the codex (bur no clue what to do with them) eventually I noticed the prompt on the NAV screen, found the mission, jumped in with others, and got my 10 reactants to unlock.

This reminds me of 90% of Wilhelm’s EVE posts.  I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.  Then I played a bit more and unlocked Venus (the 2nd planet in the unlock chain).

Ok, that sentence makes more sense now.  Liths are lockboxes that can only be completed by doing a certain mission (Void Fissures). In those missions, enemies sometimes drop “reactant”, and after 10 pickups and a successful mission, you get to open the Lith.  These missions are not terribly common (at least at the start) and the one I did was quite difficult.  Next topic.

I don’t understand what the levels mean on missions.  I have a level 11 Warframe (the class, Excalibur, good with swords).  I have a level 12 Braton (automatic rifle).  There are some mods on each to augment certain things.  The Warframe has + health and + shields.  the rifle has a flat + 40% damage.  Taking on a level 5-8 mission is a challenge.  Not so much that I am very worried about kicking the bucket, but more so that enemies are bullet sponges and I need to pay a lot of attention to ammo levels.  No ammo – little damage.

There are missions on my map.  I complete them to unlock more nodes on the map for more missions.  I am not seeing any power curve (or rather it appears logarithmic) and future goals are not all that clear.  Some missions are 5 minutes, others are 20.  Wave defense is fun.  Spy missions are not.  Overall, the feedback loop is good so far.  But I’m thinking I need some viable measure of progress in the next 4-5 hours to keep me going.  Using the same class, same skills, same gun for 10 hours…there’s a limit.

Gaming is Learning

My eldest (and youngest to some extent) is bitten with Pokemon.  For kids that age (7), cards are relatively cheap, and there are plenty of books with neat pictures and stories.  There’s the obvious Pokemon Go, but there’s also the TCG mobile game.  And of course, what seems like 20 years of animated shows with Ash & co.  What is fairly interesting is that due to Nintendo’s all-gamers approach, the entry level for these games belies a more complex system.

TCG games as whole are predicated on the concept of deck building.  Either you play a preset deck, or you actually build one by hand.  For now, the kids are happy with just a random deck that I throw together.  I mean, no sense in having Fire Pokemon in a Psychic deck… Once drawn, the card plays are fairly straightforward.  Add energy, run an attack, draw a card.  It is hard to make a mistake, even with semi-random choices.

But then you start paying a bit more attention to the cards.  Some have resistances, or skills that work better on other types.  You start adding and removing some from the deck, piece by piece.  Eventually you realize that some cards are just not fun for you, or that they interrupt your play.  You realize that more cards means more chances, but it also means giving up other items.  Now you’re talking probabilities.

I’ve experienced this myself, when I had my first set way back when.  I thought Magic was way too complicated/expensive for my tastes (still think so) but wanted some sort of TCG experience.  It was fun learning the inner workings of the game.

Now I get to see that again in a kid’s eyes.  It’s small at first, tiny little lights going on.  Then it starts snowballing.  They become comfortable with the concepts.  Then they start sharing them with others.  Then they start looking for similar tactics in other games.  It’s really quite amazing to watch curiosity at play.

Movie Musings

Went and saw Guardians of the Galaxy 2 last night.  It’s a solid enough retread of the first movie.

I remember watching GotG back in 2015, where superhero movies were a lot more serious.  It really stood out, with both visuals and sounds from the 80s – like a giant throwback.  Since then we’ve had Ant-Man, Dr Strange (more trippy than funny), Strange Things, and a pile of TV series.  They figure out that laughing is good entertainment.

GotG2 takes that to the next level, where there are no serious people.  Drax fights for about 3 minutes at the start of the movie, then another 3 minutes in the first act, then never again.  He’s relegated to throwing out punchlines (which admittedly are pretty good).  Where GotG went more or less full speed (minus the Collector-related scenes), GotG2 spends a lot more time examining why these people are who they are.  It does work, just not as well as expected given the rest of the tone of the movie.  Still a very enjoyable movie.

Related, this movie is why I am so hesitant on Zack Snyder’s Wonder Woman film.  He seems completely unable to project relateable heroes.  That works in the Watchmen, since it’s part of the underlying theme, but since then… ugh.  Still, the trailers look good and my wife is super-mega-hyped.

The Dark Tower

 

I’ve read the books and have been looking forward to this for a long time.  Given the cyclical nature of the story, this is a sequel to the books.  It’s a weird series to explain to people.  Anyhow, I think the setting works, Idris and Matthew are well-cast.  My concern is around the idea that the Gunslinger is somehow

  • not telling everyone he’s a gunslinger
  • not willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to get to the Tower

If you’ve read the books, those are the two things that make him stand out – aside from you know, being good with guns.  He has no fear, and will do anything to reach his goal.  Perhaps it’s just related to the cut.  Fingers crossed.

Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies.  I still watch it every other month.  You can clearly see the impact it had on cinema moving forward, as pretty much every sci-fi movie pays homage to the ideas, visuals, or sounds.

This one is set 30 years after the first one.  Deckard is still alive, so that would mean he’s not a replicant (they have short lifespans).  There’s a very large focus on how technology has impacted society, which is very appropriate I think.  Surreal that after nearly 40 years (BR was in ’82) that it retains so much of the original’s essence.  Having Denis Villeneuve behind the camera is nothing but good news to me as well.

Appreciation

Personal tint here.

On Tuesday morning, a good friend of mine lost his 18 year old son.  Just didn’t wake up.  Highly active, no pre-conditions, just gone.  There’s something about a child going before a parent that really hit me like a ton of bricks.  It’s always sad to hear, and to have it happen with a friend’s circle…

I had learned at about 8am and went through a busy day at work, though always at the back of my mind.  I got home and gave a big hug to my wife and kids, fully appreciative of the gift they provide by simply being there.  Supper came and went, and my brain decided it was time to start addressing the issue.  Hockey came to take that spot, mind, and by the time I got home it was time for bed.

It was one of those nights where you can clearly recall your dreams in the morning, or for days ahead.  It was not a good rest, nor should it have been.

Morning came and another set of hugs to get the day going.  Still not really able to focus much.

The blog post is part of my process to deal with the issue.  I’ll need to talk it through a bit with family and friends.  And be sure to support my friend in whatever way I can.

It sucks, even from the outside.  Give your loved ones a hug.  Everyone can use one.