Author Archives: Shawn R. McDonald

Smash

I’m going to play the new Smash today for Wii U. Pretty excited. I’ve only gotten one taste of it on 3DS (I don’t own one).

I’m especially interested in figuring out what characters will fit my style best. I’ll have to do a lot of un-learning and re-learning.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to play with the GameCube controller yet, so that’ll handicap me. I suck without the c-stick. I may have to get a new controller. Other people were playing with mine and said it sucked. Part of it is because the joystick has different resistance and part of it is because my controller is hella old and dirty and literally has aluminum foil in it.

Productivity vs Presence

I think in a work environment productivity is clearly better than presence. That is, 4 hours of productive time is better than 8 hours of unproductive butt-sitting. However, productivity can be sometimes hard to measure. So, a lot of places will use presence as a proxy. Plus, when employers can’t trust employees (or choose not to) then presence is automatically valued over not being present. For those employees, all the emails and tasks done outside of work add stress but don’t count in the employer’s eyes. I’m lucky enough to have avoided such situations.

Random Access Memories

“Tom brings home Random Access Memories and they listen to it together, as father and son. A tear runs down Stu’s cheek. He thinks, ‘On this day, both my son and disco have returned. This truly is the greatest day.’” – from my Rugrats fanfiction. Like if you want more!!!

I posted that on facebook. I’m not sure that there are any other appropriate places for that joke. Even reposting it here is weird.

A Dark Room

I was thinking about A Dark Room (Spoiler Alert!) vs Boom Beach and why one game is good and one game is terrible. Both involve resource gathering and waiting, right? The difference is that A Dark Room involves building an economy. You use some resources to produce other resources and you have to make choices about which resources are more important. You can run a deficit to get more bullets. It’s more complex and you have to make choices; it’s not merely mindless clicking. The other difference is the theme. Your villagers become slaves. It’s funny juxtaposed with Boom Beach, where you’re “freeing” villages from people who make them work, but then they’re giving X amount of gold to you every hour. With A Dark Room, there are more layers with both the gameplay and the theme.

Enough

Greed sucks. The more material goods you have, the more you want, and it’s impossible to be satisfied.

I want a new iPad, even though mine is perfectly fine. Well, I want more hard drive space. Is that enough to justify a new expensive toy? Why don’t I finish the games I have first instead of coveting more?

I think it takes effort to appreciate what one has, and I should put more effort into that. I should be very grateful for financial stability and shouldn’t blow it on unnecessary expenses.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

is a very funny show. I’ve only been watching the first season, but the characters make me laugh. It’s not yet in great sitcom territory where I care about the characters and they’re real people, and I don’t know if it’ll ever get there. However, I don’t think that it necessarily needs to be like that to become one of my favorites. I mean, I don’t need the characters in Always Sunny to be 3-dimensional.

Pay for your games

I briefly played Two Dots. The game is beautiful, within each level and in the world map. But the gameplay is kind of garbage. It got frustrating because once you get to higher stages, you just needed increasing levels of luck to clear them. Before I got tired of the game, my friend who was also playing asked me for some recommendations for puzzle-like games. I was surprised to notice that almost all the games I recommended weren’t free. Most of the games on my iPad and iPhone are paid.

My niece recently downloaded Boom Beach on my phone. I’ve been playing it a bit so that I could join her strike force or whatever. I haven’t leveled up my base enough to join yet. The game is not very rewarding so far. It feels like fucking Farmville, but I don’t even get any ribbons. You just wait and wait around. Tap a few things when you get some resources, and then build. Sure, there’s some raiding/fighting, but there’s barely any strategy involved.

South Park recently parodied freemium games. While I didn’t get a chance to watch the entire episode, I saw a clip where they explained the freemium model. It was dead-on and described the game perfectly.

Here’s a heuristic: If a mobile game is free, it’s probably not good.

Corollary: Pay for your games if you want good games.

Recently, Monument Valley released an update with more levels. I have yet to play the new levels. However, I have played through the original levels and I loved them so much. Earlier, I said Two Dots was beautiful. Well, Monument Valley is amazingly gorgeous. It’s a puzzle game inspired by MC Escher. Anyway, the new levels are only available through in-app purchase. This led to a flood of one-star reviews by entitled idiots. Fuck you. Fuck all of you. I left a 5-star review to help combat it.

If we don’t want games to be shit, then we need to start paying for them. It’s especially not hard to pony up some cold hard cash when a beautiful game that gives you hours of entertainment costs way less than a movie and a little less than a few candy bars.

Monday Nights

I missed blogging yesterday. I essentially went straight from work to my friend’s place, and then I was driving home when midnight passed.

It’s crazy that we’re still getting together pretty much every Monday night. I can’t even properly count the number of years. I guess it was right out of college, so… 5 years? We started just watching House, the TV show starring Hugh Laurie. Eventually, we stopped watching House (the quality declined), but we still kept meeting together on “House Night.” It’s nice having the stability of a group of friends and a regular night to meet together no matter what.

Morning Routine

My phone has made it so much easier to browse the internet in bed after waking up. I’ve never found reading stuff on the internet to be that effective a morning routine. (I’m using the term effective very loosely, since I’m not obsessed with productivity.) It may be even less so as my old usual blogs and comics have been phased out by social feeds.

Dark Skies

“Let there be light,” said the industrialists. As the earth grew brighter, the heavens dimmed. The stars all died and no one bothered looking upwards anymore.

We like to think philosophy killed the gods, but I believe it was the lights.

Killing Merlin

The last several times I played Avalon, the Merlin kept getting assassinated. Even adding Percival didn’t help. I knew there had to be a way to counteract this, so I began searching online for a remedy. Lo and behold, I found this discussion: http://boardgames.stackexchange.com/questions/14806/merlin-always-gets-stabbed

The main thing to keep in mind is that usually the other people make it super obvious that they’re not the Merlin. One trick to confuse evil is to be act super sure as a good person, even when you’re making guesses. Hopefully multiple people will be right, or the wrong ones will be seen by evil as Merlin attempting to throw them off. The other thing is that the game can be won even when Merlin does nothing, so Merlin doesn’t have to do a great job hinting and signaling to everyone.

The next two games didn’t see the Merlin assassinated. I think the advice helped.

On a semi-related note, we played Werewolf on Halloween. I’m not as big a fan of the game because there’s a lot more guess-work and a lot less deception. However, we played with a candle in front of every person. During the night, the moderator would blow out a candle. You’d awaken in slightly dimmer light, one candle extinguished representing the dead person. The atmosphere made the game way more fun. I really, really want to play with the Ghost role, where the Ghost communicates via Ouija board.

As a group, I feel like we sometimes get too stuck on a “right” way to play, when the game requires dynamic strategies to keep people guessing and to keep the game fresh.

Gotham

I recently started watching Gotham. I’m not quite sure what to think of it yet. I liked the episode with the Balloon Man. I like it when shows deal with ideas of what constitutes justice and sticking to one’s principles even when it’s hard. I like the atmosphere of a corrupt town veering towards outright chaos. Penguin is fun. I’m always excited to see Don Falcone, but only because I still think of him as Rawls, haha. I’m not enjoying Jada Pinkett Smith’s character. I watched the “Arkham” episode and didn’t like it because it felt like the story was full of “and then,” instead of the plot being propelled by the characters.

I wish the show would be darker. Like, embrace the tragedy. Show that Gotham’s fate is sealed, no matter what people try to do. Those ancient Greeks knew how to do tragedy. We always want a hero. I guess that wouldn’t work on network TV.

Fantasy Calm

I sometimes used poker as an exercise in keeping myself calm. I’d make my decision and then whatever happened happened. I could only control what I did, and I focused on that. I couldn’t control the cards, though, so I tried to be the same whether they were good or bad. A bad play with a good outcome was nothing to cheer about.

I do something similar with fantasy football. It’s insanely stressful to watch scores live and worry about how much you’re losing by or worry about how your lead could evaporate. So instead, I try to use it as an exercise to not worry about what I can’t control. I’m not perfect. But it helps a lot.

Fantasy football is one step closer to real life than poker. Poker has uncertainty but there are lots of times when math will give you the right move. Low-stakes poker is all math. Psychology matters more in no-limit, but less than you’d think. You can know the odds and expected payout. In fantasy football, you can have a sense that some things are more likely than others, but the actual statistics are more fuzzy. There’s more uncertainty. And in real life, there’s even less information and just as much randomness.

Even so, the exercise works well in poker, fantasy football, and real life.

Brainspace

I devote a lot of brainspace to football. I probably should re-allocate that brainspace to other things. Because I really have nothing interesting to say today. I caught up on a lot of chores; I didn’t do much deep thinking.

Or maybe, instead, I could expand my brainspace. I don’t know. I really got nothing today.

Esotericism

In an earlier post, I expressed concern about blogging too honestly when the spiders are there to index everything and anyone can find what you write easily. I guess I must’ve internalized Orwell’s edicts on writing pretty well because something like esotericism never even crossed my mind. I’m a fan of very direct writing. Obfuscation is pretty much a sin to me, when it comes to writing. I once apologized to a professor for an essay title because I was worried that it didn’t actually mean anything. So it seemed like my only options were to write privately or not at all.

But maybe I should rethink that. I recently found this book review via the Dish. The book is about someone investigating Strauss:

Staying far away from questions of foreign (or any other kind of) policy, Melzer has chosen as his subject Strauss’ notorious assertion that virtually all philosophers up until the early 19th century wrote their books “esoterically” — that is, using a rhetoric of concealment, with a surface teaching meant for general readers and a hidden teaching for those who were intelligent, clever, and tenacious enough to uncover it. This contention has been dismissed by most non-Straussian scholars, who have tended to suggest that Strauss projected the phenomenon onto most of the canonical authors he discussed in his many learned books and essays.

I find the concept intriguing and it could be a solution to my current conundrum of public writing in a hostile world. Even though it offends my sensibilities, I’m actually not completely unfamiliar with esotericism. I once wrote about The Prince in this blog and incorrectly identified the book as subversive. I think esoteric is the more proper term. Well, I’m less sure that it’s proper for The Prince, but 100% sure that it can be properly assigned to The Art of War.

Now that I’ve mentioned my interest in this, I guess I’ve opened up a can of worms in interpreting all my future writing. Even if I denied that something had a hidden meaning, that’s what someone would say even if there was a hidden meaning.

I haven’t made a decision yet about what to do. I still find brutal honesty a very appealing quality in writing; it’s a common thread I’ve seen in work that I like the best (both other people’s and my own).

I want to write and it’s important to me, but I have other goals that are just as or more important that may conflict with writing. Esotericism may be a way to have my cake and eat it too.

Short Posts

I remember writing some of my old shorter posts and how I felt like the writing was terrible. But going back and reading them, I’m glad I have something rather than nothing from those moments in my life. It’s always nice looking back.

Contemptuous Cloud

Epictetus told his students, when they’d quote some great philosopher, to picture themselves standing over the man having sex. Grunting, groaning and awkward; like the rest of us so completely detached from their ‘philosophical’ rhetoric. Marcus would deprive things of their euphemisms – roasted meat is a dead animal and vintage wine is old, fermented grapes. The aim was to see these things as they really are, to ‘strip away the legend that encrusts them.’ – Ryan Holiday

I sometimes think of cloud computing as your stuff on someone else’s computer. We like to think that our information is stored out in the aether, but it’s really just on a computer in a different physical location. When I worked at Hitachi, I was using servers all the time. They’re computers. It stripped away the magic.

(Yes, yes, I’m oversimplifying. There are storage devices, but that’s not the point of today’s exercise.)

We think so many of our services are powered by magic algorithms. But facebook is partly built on cheap labor, filtering out offensive material. And after reading Morozov’s To Save Everything, Click Here, I know to be weary of pretending algorithms are objective. They’re still built upon human choices.

Uber? There’s no cloud there. It’s a bunch of people driving in their fucking cars. It’s a taxi service built on smartphones and cheap labor.

It’s kind of like garbage. No, I’m not saying this stuff is garbage — I’m attempting to make an analogy. In modern life, we put our garbage in a nice can on our nice streets and it’s taken away in the morning before we wake up. It disappears, never to be thought of again. Except when we read a dreadful, upsetting article on facebook about where our garbage goes, and we think that we should do something about it, but all we do is click to the next article.

Similarly, we should be aware that the “cloud” often involves a lot of unseen infrastructure and cheap labor.

(Some days we must be gracious and in awe. We must remember the magic in everyday things and rejoice in the amazing things we build as human beings. Some days we must strip away the magic and see things as they are. Some days we must do both. Today, for me, is a day for reality. Remember that no matter the result, nothing is really done yet.)

Joy

Well, ATDP is over for me. Today was the last day of AIC. I felt as if the kids learned a lot and had fun, so it was a success.

I suppose I should feel happy that my life will be less hectic. It’s been a really stressful six weeks. Instead, I feel sad and a little empty. Because those precious 12 days brought me so much joy.

I wouldn’t call teaching my calling, though. On the last day, I told my students to go build cool things. Building cool things can bring me just as much joy as teaching. It’s a thrill, and it pays more.

Although I’m feeling sad now, I enjoy the seasonal element of ATDP. I’m the kind of person who needs to do different things, to exercise different parts of his brain. I don’t have a single calling because I could never do just one thing for the rest of my life. I also like the ATDP students in particular because of how dedicated they are. I liked teaching writing classes, but advanced programming is so much more fun because all the kids want to be there. No one is there because their parent wanted them to be there.

I’m also a little sad because I may not be able to do it next year. I’m getting married shortly after ATDP, and this really ate up all of my life. I wouldn’t have time to help with the wedding planning if I had to teach and work. I guess one alternative is to write my own PHP/MySQL/jQuery book so I wouldn’t have to spend time on lecture. I’d also need rubrics and TAs, so I wouldn’t have to do all the grading. Hmmmm. Is this feasible?

What’s next? My life is more free, but I want to use that time wisely. It’s time to get back to art and philosophy.

The Spiders

There’s public and then there’s public. There’s a difference between picking your nose in the car and someone filming you picking your nose and then broadcasting it on every channel. And there’s a difference between the internet now and how it was before the spiders came along and ruined everything.

Everything I post is now indexed and easily found with very little digging. Imagine a library with books in heaps and piles. To find one book, sometimes you have to look for a scrap of paper in another book. Sure, this library is open to the public, but it’s a very different type of public than an organized library. Now imagine putting a diary in this public library. Sure, random people can find it and your close friends can find it if you tell them where it is, but there are all sorts of people who couldn’t find it. Then, these giant spiders came along and put everything in order. Now, anyone can find everything. I’d imagine one would write with a little less honesty after that.

An indexed world is not necessarily the world I want to live in. The spiders are real. They crawl the web. Organize it. Make everything easy to search. I remember long ago when searching wasn’t so easy. In fact, the way we use the internet has changed. No one knows what a browser is. URLs are too complicated for ordinary users. More and more, the internet is mediated by search, rather than by URL. It’s a different kind of experience.

And who can look up my writing? Potential employers! As an employee, or wage-slave, I must not appear to out of line. (Even that gibe can get me in trouble.) The government! Considering how they treat dissent these days, I’d rather keep my mouth shut. Oops, I mean, the US is the greatest country in the world and can never do wrong. Big companies! Selling anything I say to advertisers. Ick. Delivering that data to the government without warrants.

Thus, what I can say here is considerably neutered. What do I do? Update robots.txt to kill all the spiders? Unindex myself? Or do I take all my writing offline? Or do I password protect what I have? I don’t know.

I do need a space to philosophize honestly.

TMF

I’m teaching a class in TMF. Full circle moment, I guess. AIC was the first class I took in ATDP Secondary Division, and I took it in TMF. Last year was the first year of the AIC reboot, but we taught it in stuffy old Corey Lab. I feel as if I should have more feels about this. I don’t, though. I suppose it’s because I’m still struggling just to get the class taught. It’s a lot of work, and I’m still at my position at SpoonRocket. We’ll see how it goes.

Cheese

White people will tell you they love bacon, but what they really love is cheese. Because if you feed a white person bacon everyday, there will be one day where they say, “No, I don’t feel like bacon today.” Or they will say, “I’m watching my cholesterol.” But they will never say the same thing about cheese. White people never get tired of cheese.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Case for Reparations

Don’t put this in your read later list. Read it right now: The Case for Reparations.

I made the mistake of looking at the comment sections of some other website which had linked to this piece. Some observations: 1) It’s shocking how often people will post comments which show they didn’t bother to read the piece or they lack the skill of reading comprehension. “Hello, slavery ended 150 years ago.” “Hello, you didn’t even bother clicking on the article.” 2) It’s crazy how, for some, their case against reparations (or even the modest idea of studying the damage done) is that the amount would be unfathomably large and un-payable. They are throwing up their hands and declaring moral bankruptcy. Or rather, they do it with a shrug. They never make the connection that if the financial reckoning is so large, then the moral reckoning must be even greater.

Lovable Babe Hound

I recently finished watching all of Cheers. I took a hiatus some time around season 7. Now, I’m watching Frasier, so I can unlock some achievement that says I watched everything with Frasier Crane. (One could make a nice contrarian argument that Kelsey Grammar was the greatest actor of the last century.) Stevie’s been making her way through Cheers, and I’ve caught various episodes. So, I have a lot of thoughts. I’m going to try to focus on just one line of thought today. I love how the later seasons inverts some of the classic sitcom tropes it had been using through the previous seasons. It’s subversive, in a way.

Lilith and Frasier are constantly bickering after being married. Their friction is a great source of humor. Somewhere in season 10, they get a divorce. Lilith cheats on Frasier because their relationship isn’t healthy. Some of the scenes even match the weight of early Cheers. It’s so fantastic because a bickering couple is a sitcom status quo. Of course the relationship is unhealthy but who cares because it’s funny. And then the writers are like, yeah, this relationship doesn’t really work. I loved it.

The other inversion involves Sam. After Diane leaves, he descends into pure id, constantly pursuing women. It even gets really icky the way he treats Rebecca. In the 80s/90s, though, he’s just a lovable babe hound. Haha, all he thinks about is sex. At the end of the show’s run, they change it up and it’s revealed that he’s a sex addict. It makes perfect sense in the context of the show, what with him already being an alcoholic. But I love how it says, no, his behavior really wasn’t okay. He wasn’t a lovable babe hound; he was a man with a problem. Of course, from the way the show is, you can tell this was decided later. At the time, they sincerely portray him as a humorous archetype. However, when you rewatch, you can still easily note that his behavior is indeed pathological. It’s a fascinating indictment on not Sam, but the show itself and how we watched it.

Seriously, there’s so much I can say about Cheers. I’ll end this line of thought for now though because it’s getting late. Also, I hate how terrible my writing feels. Those muscles have severely atrophied. I want to write better essays, but I think I need more practice just letting myself write for now.

Ramblings

Ramble #1

One day, I want to write a sitcom with some of my favorite people. Alas, it’ll probably never come to pass. I’m focusing on work right now, but even if there is a day when I take a less hectic job, I’ll likely never be able to produce it. Judging by how long it took to make a really short film, I don’t know how long it’d take to produce a season of something. Animation was another option since some people live in far away places. However, I can’t even draw, and that takes even longer than acting, so that’s probably out too. Very recently I have been pondering doing a radio show instead. I don’t even know how that’d work. TV is the medium with which I’m most familiar, and it’s the one I love the most.

Ramble #2

I’d like to spend more time philosophizing. Work has lately been mostly reactive. I need more time to just sit back and think. The mornings may be the best time for that. I was going to do it now but I just want to sleep.

Ramble #3

I’d like to simply spit out my thoughts and talk in circles instead of creating coherent essays. That’s what a blog is for, right?

Time Zones and Rails

Local

irb(main):006:0> date = “2014-04-01″
=> “2014-04-01″
irb(main):007:0> begin_str = “#{date.to_s} #{TimeOfDay.new(0,0,0)} America/Los_Angeles”
=> “2014-04-01 00:00:00 America/Los_Angeles”
irb(main):008:0> begin_day = Time.strptime(begin_str, “%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S %Z”).utc
=> 2014-04-01 07:00:00 UTC

Production

irb(main):001:0> date = “2014-04-01″
=> “2014-04-01″
irb(main):002:0> begin_str = “#{date.to_s} #{TimeOfDay.new(0,0,0)} America/Los_Angeles”
=> “2014-04-01 00:00:00 America/Los_Angeles”
irb(main):003:0> begin_day = Time.strptime(begin_str, “%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S %Z”).utc
=> 2014-04-01 00:00:00 UTC

*headdesk*

First Principles

I was struck by this line in Debt: The First 5000 Years, “His conclusion, which he set forth at the very beginning of his Treatise on Money … was more or less the only conclusion one could come to if one started not from first principles but from a careful examination of the historical record…”

It reminded me of Descartes, sitting in a hot room, trying to establish a system of philosophy based on first principles. The man was nutso and completely wrong, so very, very wrong. I had to read and re-read Descartes for many philosophy classes and the more I learned, the more I hated it.

The line also reminded me of Machiavelli, who classified governments based on what he had seen, rather than on Plato’s abstract tyrannies, democracies, and republics.

I hate Plato’s Forms almost as much as stuffy Descartes.

I have a strong distaste for anyone working from first principles. First principles are ahistorical and without context, so I find them useless. (Except in mathematics, which is all abstraction. But mathematicians should keep their ahistorical asses away from government.) Then there’s also all the harm they’ve caused, which I shall get into another time.

As a side note, programming is a weird interaction between the abstract and the world. We build these amazing things with programming. But programming itself is shuffling around abstractions, and creating abstractions on top of abstractions with frameworks that abstract a language that is an abstraction of an abstraction of an abstraction of binary.