The Socialest Network

Admit it, most of you live here.

Admit it, most of you live here.

Socialest (not to be confused with Socialist) meaning “the most social”. It is how I feel lately with every website on the Internet. Facebook used the be the primary culprit. Their feed, which I always want to read by “Most Recent”, keeps trying to display what it thinks I want to read. And the default setting for new friends is to show “Most Updates”. Zuckerberg and company are trying to curate my experience, to give me the best most awesome items they can mathematically determine – which largely results in me missing everything I actually care about. If I didn’t keep fighting Facebook’s settings, my feed would be entirely populated by items people reshared that have gotten thousands of likes, but when my brother says something cool but gets only 1 or 2 likes it gets hidden.

Due to Facebook’s deluge of ads and app spam (at last count I had over 200 apps blocked from my feed), I would prefer something cleaner like Google+. But then, they are curating my experience as well. Items posted in the last few minutes appear below items from yesterday that are more popular. It’s not as bad as Facebook yet, but it is clearly moving in that direction.

With Google announcing that they are going to retire the Reader application, a place where I spend a huge amount of time reading from my hundreds of aggregated RSS feeds, I have had to go in search of a possible replacement. All of those replacements suck. Each one of them wants to try and curate my reading experience. They want to show me the stuff with the most subscribers, the most likes, the most comments, and they want to bury anything else in the back.

It’s all turning into a popularity contest.

Everyone seems to think not only that they can predict what I want to see but that I want them to. I don’t. I would like to see the things I have asked to see, and when I want to see more things I will go looking for them (which I often do – I mean, you don’t get to have hundreds of feeds in your Reader without seeking this stuff out) or one of the sources I already read and trust will recommend it to me. I read lots of personal blogs, most of which I discovered because they were mentioned or linked to by another blog. What I really don’t need is my reading platform taking my reading habits and trying to select from a database similar items. It could be nice, but as far as I am aware every one of these systems eventually gets greedy and starts allowing people to pay for a better rank or more publicity. My Facebook feed is constant suggesting posts to me of things I could not care any less about that someone clearly paid to have put in front of my eyes.

It has been said, if you aren’t paying for it, you are the product being sold. And that is the center of all of these social networks. They don’t charge you anything because they are selling you. Google+ doesn’t have ads yet, but since Google announced the closing of Reader because they could never figure out a way to make money off it, you have to assume the ads are coming because if they can’t make money off Google+ they will eventually shutter it.

I’m rambling… anyway, I guess my point is that I wish people who stop trying to sell my eyes and control what I see.

The Dream is Always the Same

Mitch: You know, um, something strange happened to me this morning…
Chris Knight: Was it a dream where you see yourself standing in sort of sun-god robes on a pyramid with a thousand naked women screaming and throwing little pickles at you?
Mitch: No…
Chris Knight: Why am I the only one who has that dream?

TheDreamI have a recurring dream. Well, I have two recurring dreams. The other one is more of a theme than a single dream, and it is about zombies. But the one I want to ramble about today is the non-zombie recurring dream.

Lots of people dream about flying. I imagine, however, that most people fly like Superman or some other super hero when they fly in their dreams. When I dream of flying, it’s more like Andrew Clements from My Secret Identity.

Really it stems from high school literature class. We were allowed to pick our own books for our book reports, any book. I chose The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And within that tome was the following line:

The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.

This is how is goes in my dream. I am needing to go somewhere, the store or work or something, and I step outside the house, throw myself at the ground and miss. I slowly float through the sky, swimming instead of soaring. I tilt in the wind and drift. But the key element of the dream isn’t actually the flying. This method of movement through the air requires me to will myself to move, and that force of will exhausts me, both in the dream and out.

Some dreams, like the aforementioned zombie dreams, leave me feeling refreshed. I wake up ready to attack the day. But after a flying dream I am sluggish, physically and mentally. I feel slow, exhausted. I am to the point now that when I begin having the dream, the moment I throw myself at the ground and miss, I start trying to employ the tricks I have honed over the years to control my dreams.

I watched Dreamscape too many times as a kid, but it has come in handy, since it works. Never to escape the flying dream though. Any other dream, I can will it to turn into a zombie apocalypse or move to a beach, or both, but the flying dream remains and I wake up tired.

This probably means something, but I’ve had too many flying dreams lately and my brain thinkering isn’t what it should be. Perhaps if I can just get a few nights of zombies…

Anyway…

The Standing Desk – Month One and then some

I missed the actual one month mark by three weeks, so this is almost a two month update. Check out the original post and the one week update.

Not much has changed. I’m still standing.

The most noticeable effect of this is that when I get home in the evenings, I am much less restless than I used to be. After standing all day, I don’t mind sitting, whereas before after sitting all day I would get home and feel like I needed to be up and moving.

For the time being, I will continue to stand.

And now, we dance!

Yet Another Review Collection

Shakefire.comThe Shakefire site is relaunching soon. Until then, enjoy the old site and these reviews that I wrote upon it.

Enjoy!

Oh, and yes, I’ll still be reviewing after the relaunch.

Educational Wage

It takes money to make money.

It takes money to make money.

I got my first real job in 1992 just after graduating high school. Prior to that I’d done baby sitting and lawn mowing and other odd jobs for cash, but with my diploma in hand and heading to college, I needed a real job. I applied at a few places but I ended up taking a job at Kroger, a grocery store, for two reasons. First, it was a night stock position and for some reason I liked the idea of working 3rd shift. Second, as a 3rd shift job I was offered a rate of $3.55 an hour. Technically it was a minimum wage job, and the minimum wage at the time was $3.25, but Kroger offered 30 cents per hour “premium” to 3rd shift employees. When the summer came to an end and I was preparing to start college, I needed to kick 3rd shift, so I got a transfer to day stock in the “non-foods” department (which also included the video store – yes, Kroger used to rent movies). At the time, I’d done a good job and they let me keep my 30 cent “premium” as a raise. About eight months later I would take the position of “Lead Video Clerk” and wind up making $4.25 an hour.

I told you all of that to tell you this… My parents paid for my first year of college, which I royally screwed up. After that, they stopped paying and I had to take over if I wished to continue. I took the Lead Video Clerk position and my 40 hours a week, moved out with a roommate and paid for my own college. The college I went to cost around $500 per Quarter for a full load (12 credit hours) of classes. At the time, they were on the Quarter system, so 3 Quarters for a standard year, but you could also attend the summer session. The school says it was $1,500 a year, which is about right. The summer session was short, 8 weeks, so I usually skipped it as a break from school and to allow myself the summer to do other things. I was making around $8,000 a year, give or take, after taxes and then my refund. So, 8000 – 1500 = $6,500 per year for “everything else”. 6500 / 12 = $541 a month. In 1993 I could live on that. I believe my share of rent and utilities was around $300 a month, then food and gas (average of $1 a gallon, or less) and stuff… I wasn’t saving much money, but I wasn’t living on credit. By the time I graduated in 1998, I’d upgraded jobs through the school’s intern program and was making $7 an hour as a PC technician/Tech Support guy (minimum wage in Georgia was still $3.25), tuition was up to a little over $2,000 a year (though 2 Semesters now instead of 3 Quarters), rent and utilities had gone up too, but I was doing quite well. (It wasn’t until after college that I screwed up my credit – but that is not germane to this story). Even so, had I still been making minimum wage, or close to it, I could still have afforded college. I probably would have needed a another roommate or two, but still.

Now, before I go on, keep in mind that the fees I listed above weren’t really just “tuition” but the final out-of-pocket price, including other school fees. So, my $1,500 a year was actually around $400 tuition a Quarter plus some administration fees, parking pass, etc. Currently, my alma mater boasts a tuition of about $5,000 a year for local students, but they also tack on about $1,600 in fees. A year there will cost a student about $6,600 just for the school. On top of that a student will need an apartment, food, car, etc…

Problem. Minimum wage right now in Georgia is $5.15 . Don’t worry though, thanks to the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, a state can’t be lower than federal except in certain circumstances, you’ll get $7.25, so working full-time will earn you about $14,500 a year – if you can get full-time. Lots of people are having trouble getting full-time work these days, so you’ll either need multiple jobs or settle for less. So let’s say you’ll get $12,000 a year as a fresh-faced kid out of high school with no experience. Most anything you get taken in taxes you’ll get back in your refund. 12000 – 6600 = $5,400. Divide that by 12 and a minimum wage making student going to my old school will have to figure out how to live on about $450 a month. You would need like 5 roommates, live in a shit hole apartment and eat nothing but rice, potatoes and other bulk foods. I mean, a decent cell phone plan is going to run your about a fifth of your budget if you want a smart phone. Oh, wait… we haven’t even bought textbooks yet! There goes another fifth of the budget! Hope you live real close to the school and have a car that gets good mileage, gas prices are more than 3 times what they were when I was putting myself through college! In fact, everything is more expensive now than back in the 1993 to 1998 time frame of my college days, and I had nearly $100 more a month to live on.

It has become all but impossible for a minimum wage earner to put themselves through school without help. And yet in 1993 I was doing it, without running up a bunch of debt. Twenty years later and you almost require financial aid of some sort – scholarships, grants, loans or parents. This is not good. When the people at the bottom cannot afford to better themselves, everyone loses. I don’t want to get all political, but people on the Right always talk about self-starters and people picking themselves up by their bootstraps and making successes of themselves without the help of anyone else… those stories are more rare these days, and crushing debt from getting a college education is a large part of it.

I’m not sure what needs to be done about it, but it’s something that I don’t think can be ignored for much longer.

Forever Upward!

downwardSo, I was reading an article over at paidContent by way of The Passive Voice, and one quote leaped right out and punched me in the face:

What was once triple-digit growth has fallen to the double digits.

The context is that Amazon won’t win the e-book market because their growth is slowing.

Let me make this as simple as possible. Lets say every day a group of three people buy 10 bananas and split them. On the first day, person A gets 1, person B gets 1, and person C gets 1. 7 of them turn out to not be bananas. On the second day, they buy 10 bananas again, and due to a change in the way they buy the bananas, person A gets 4, person B gets 2 and person C still gets 1. 3 of them are still not bananas. Going from day 1 to day 2, person A sees 300% growth, person B sees 100% growth, and person C sees no growth. On the third day they get 10 actual bananas, person A gets 7 bananas, person B gets 2, and person C gets 1. Person A has seen a 600% growth since the first day, and their growth in raw numbers is the same from day 2 to day 3, they gained 3 bananas each day. However, the growth from day 2 to day 3 is … 75%.

That’s right, person A has seen their triple-digit growth fall to the double digits.

The main thing to note here is that in my example, there are three people and ten bananas every day. Despite what many people involved with the stock market will try to sell you on, growth cannot be infinite unless there is at least one infinite factor by which it can grow. There would need to be either infinite people to buy bananas (demand would exceed supply and drive the price up) or infinite bananas to sell (supply exceeds demand bringing the price down), or both. When it comes to ebooks, or any retail good, like it or not the limit is the number of people in the market (or the availability of the good – but we are going to stick to the market size going forward).

The population of the US as determined by census in 2010 was 308 million people. Assume in the first year of the Kindle, Amazon saw an initial buy in of 10 million people in the US on Kindle and start buying ebooks. Now, I’m guessing here, I don’t need actual figures to prove my point. Let’s say the next year 20 million more people in the US buy a Kindle and start buying ebooks. That growth is 200%, triple digit. There are now 30 million Kindle owners in the US, so in order to maintain triple-digit growth, more than 30 million people will need to buy Kindles. Let’s assume they do, let’s say the next year 50 million buy Kindles in the US and we get 167% growth. Now we have 80 million Kindle owners, and to maintain triple-digit growth, more than 80 million people will need to buy Kindles. Let’s say they do, 100 million people buy a Kindle in the US the following year,  125% growth. There are now 180 million people in the US who own a Kindle. Do you see the problem?

308 – 180 = 128

Even if Amazon were to manage to sell a Kindle to every person in the US who doesn’t own a Kindle already at this point, that would only be 71% growth. Double digit. The year after that would be even worse as Kindle sales would have to be tied to population growth, which since 2010 is estimated at 1.7% over 2 years. Single digit growth.

Growth is a nice number when you are a little guy, a small business. Growth is great when there are lots and lots of market space to grow into. But growth is a terrible number to use in a vacuum for judging a company slipping into failure. Saturation? Sure, but since Amazon is in the business of selling e-books, not Kindles (seriously, the Kindle is a loss leader for book sales), Saturation is actually good because it means your entire market is capable of buying your goods.

And my numbers are complete bullshit, because the market for Kindles isn’t the population of the US. There are plenty of people who don’t buy books at all and probably have less than zero interest in the Kindle. Those people are going to buy iPads, or cheaper tablets, because they want games and the Internet. Sure, the Kindle does those things too, but it is primarily marketed as an e-book reader. The Kindle’s growth HAD to fall eventually. Had to. Because at a certain point it becomes mathematically impossible for it to continue climbing.

Mostly, this irritates me because of the increasing presence of “doom-casting” that goes on in the media. Face it, bad news gets more attention. People don’t slow down their cars to gawk at kids playing with puppies in a safe environment. Because consumers consume it, the writers seek it out. They look for ways to twist and phrase things to make them look bad… well, unless they are writing about the underdogs. The only thing that tracks better than bad news is news about the “little guy” sticking it to “big guys”. Of course, how it is people continue to see Apple as a “little guy” is beyond me – a company with a hundred billion in cash reserves doesn’t seem little to me.

Anyway, that’s my ranting for today…

Warm Bodies

warm_bodies_film_posterKicking off what I hope will be the triumphant return of Zombie Wednesdays here at Aim for the Head, I bring to you a classic tale of boy meets girls. Or zombie eats girl… or, well, he doesn’t eat her. Not on camera anyway, that would get much higher than a PG-13 rating.

I’m talking about Warm Bodies. Based on the book, it is the story of Romeo and Juliette set in a post-zombie-apocalyptic world and casting Romeo as a zombie. And as dumb as that sounds – like Twilight levels of dumb – surprisingly it works.

The movie opens with R and he… wait… they put the first 4 minutes of the movie online, so why don’t you just watch them:

So, he’s a zombie, and then we cut to the survivors, living in a walled off section of the city, struggling to survive. And we meet Julie, daughter of the man in charge who isn’t happy with the status quo. She, her boyfriend and a few others head into the unreclaimed city to search for medical supplies. Things don’t go well for the survivors, but R and Julie meet, and R saves Julie from being eaten. And the movie goes on from there…

I don’t want to spoil the film, so I’ll stop talking in specifics. Instead, I’ll just say that you’ve never seen a zombie movie like this before, in a manner similar to how you’d never seen one like Shaun of the Dead before, but not in remotely the same way. Warm Bodies leans far more toward a typical romantic comedy than it does a zombie horror film, but that’s okay – as I’ve said many times on this very blog, zombies are best as a setting for human drama. The biggest shift you have to make in the world crafted here is that there are two kinds of zombies, corpses and skeletons. The corpses shamble around looking for brains and in their “downtime” they shuffle through almost normal human stuff in normal human places. The skeletons have given up all pretense of humanity, they hunt food with purpose. And like with many zombie movies, the humans are divided into two groups as well, though they don’t get cute names to group them under. One group is content to hide behind a wall and scrounge their survival from the ruins of pre-zombie life, while the other group wants to get back out there and live again.

Anyway… is this the best zombie movie ever? My wife thinks so. I disagree, but I do think this movie is very good and I like the message it delivers in both its subtle and completely unsubtle ways. Most movies about zombies wind up being about hope, or crushing hope depending on how it ends, with a side helping of “people are the real monsters”, but Warm Bodies brings along a message of connection, about interacting with people and looking them in the eye. It isn’t the best zombie movie ever, in my opinion, but it is well worth watching.

Nanakorobi yaoki

Two weeks ago…

GettingTat

And now…

SAMSUNG

When I was 18 I considered getting a tattoo. I didn’t, mostly because I instituted a series of stages. First, I must design the tattoo. Perhaps not a fully fleshed out design, but I had to have a solid idea. Second, I had to sketch out that design and let it sit. I’d put it in a place on my desk or somewhere else I’d see it often, so that every time I saw it I’d ask myself, “Do I want that on my body forever?” Third, temporary tattoo. You can make a temporary tattoo yourself. Just draw/print your design onto a piece of paper – in reverse. Then use a pen (or pens if it’s multi-color) to go over the design – really heavy on the ink. Wet your skin, lay the paper ink-side down and then wet the back of the paper, hold in place for a while and then peel off the paper. Fourth a final step, get the tattoo.

The rules were a good idea. The first tattoo I came up with was terrible and I would have hated it within months. And over the years, many ideas never made it past stage 1. Most ideas died in stage 2. With the drawing sitting on my desk, or my PC as a JPG, it wouldn’t take long for me to realize that I didn’t like it enough to have it forever. Once or twice I got to stage 3, but within a few days I would wash it off and not put it back on.

Getting to stage 4 was going to take an idea, a design, that had great meaning. It would have to resonate through me, to ever fiber of my being. The wife and I have been working on a tattoo we would share, but it’s been a slow road going through several iterations and isn’t quite ready yet. But this one…

I first encountered “nanakorobi yaoki” in 1993. I had just transferred from Southern Tech to Kennesaw State, and in my efforts to try to find something that inspired me to learn, I signed up for Japanese 101. We immediately jumped right in to learning the katakana, hiragana and kanji. The teacher wanted to forego the basics and get right to smothering us in Japanese, so along with the traditional lessons the school required her to teach she also brought in magazines and books. And art. Seeing large paintings peppered with the picture writing was inspiring. I took two years of Japanese. I loved it. And in there, somewhere during that first class, we were given a sheet of proverbs.

Seven fall, eight rise. That’s the most literal translation. When a person is born, they literally rise the first time. They learn to walk, their family and community lift them through childhood. And when they fall, and they will fall, it levels out the rises and falls. And you get back up. Get up more times than you fall down. Or as Chumbawamba might say, “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down.” Or Cmdr. Peter Quincy Taggart you said, “Never give up, never surrender.“ Seven fall, eight rise.

I like to think that this, more than anything, describes the core of my being. Despite many failures, both internal and driven by outside forces, there is always a point where I get back up. And so, I made a design. I printed it out and had in on my PC. I made a temporary tattoo. I got a tattoo.

The Standing Desk – Week One

Stand in the place where you work. Now face West.

Stand in the place where you work. Now face West.

I have survived a week of standing on my feet all day.

I think the most surprising part is that none of my coworkers seem to think that it’s weird. It just is accepted, “Jason is standing now.”

I know the question you all have… how does it feel?

To be honest, it feels… fine. I’m not experiencing some dramatic boost in energy and weight loss – it has only been a week after all – but I am also not in terrible pain. I’m learning. If I wear my hiking boots, my back is cool but my legs get a little sore. If I wear my running shoes, my legs are fine but I get a little pain in my lower back. Of course, sitting all day resulted in different pains. My posture isn’t horrible, but it could be better. I’m trying to make sure I stand with a neutral spine as much as possible, and it helps.

I also still make sure to take little breaks. Not to sit down, but to do some squats or walk around or just bend over and touch my toes a few times.

I need a standing pad. Two reasons. One, to provide a little more cushion. The carpet in the office has cushion, but I suspect after a few years of me riding a chair over it the padding isn’t as good as it used to be. Two, despite all my attempts to ensure proper measurement of the height of the keyboard shelf, I came up a little high… well, it’s about perfect in my hiking boots, but in my other shoes with thinner soles the shelf could be lower.

All in all, the new world order of standing at work has been successful. I’ll report in again when I hit the one month mark.

And because of the stupid caption on the photo, I now have a song stuck in my head. Enjoy!

Bastion

BastionI picked up Bastion as part of the Humble Indie Bundle V in early April 2012. It’s a two-dimensional isometric action RPG. You play “the Kid”. A catastrophic event, referred to as The Calamity, has broken the city of Caelondia. As a survivor, you head to the Bastion, where everyone is supposed to go in times of trouble. Once there you find Rucks, apparently the only other survivor, and you being the adventurous sort he sends you off on the Skyway to other remnants of the city and surrounding lands to find the cores with can be used to power the Bastion and rebuild.

The first thing you encounter in this game is the narrator, which you learn quite quickly is Rucks. But what makes the narrator awesome is that unlike other games where narration fires off based on events or locations – i.e. you cross a certain doorway and a block of narration kicks in telling you about the place you’ve just entered – it is also based on your actions. When you first get into the game, your character is in bed. If you do nothing, nothing happens, but the moment you move the controls and the Kid gets up, the narrator fires off something like “the Kid gets out of bed”. Later, when I was in a room full of boxes, taking my time to destroy them all and collect the items the game uses for money, the narrator said, “the Kid rages around, destroying everything in his path” or something close to it. If you double back on your path too many times it might say, “the Kid wasn’t sure where he was going, but he was getting there fast”. If you run past enemies rather than fighting them you might get a “the Kid was moving fast, no looking back”. It adds an element to the game that other narrations don’t simply because the narration is based on my actions (or lack thereof) and not just my location.

Being an RPG means that you have to level and upgrade your character. You get to improve your weapons, adding extra abilities and special properties, as well as equip the Kid with things that improve him directly. And it wouldn’t be an RPG without choices, so you only get to have two weapons and one special attack at a time, which you can swap out at an armory. To augment this, in addition to the normal game levels, there are a series of Proving Grounds designed for each weapon where you can practice using them as well as earn more bonuses by beating the third, second and first place goals. I really like this mechanic that lets me step out of the story and go play a little, improving both my skill at the game as well as earning new upgrades to my weapons.

The art style of the game is beautiful. Sometimes I just want to stare at the screen. Most of the game play shots below were actually taken during my second play through, in the New Game Plus mode where you get to keep your levels and everything from the regular game, because I was too busy enjoying the game, the play and the graphics, to remember to hit the F12 key.

I made it through the first run through in a little over 11 hours, which feels about right for the story. It never got boring, the pace never dragged, and I never needed to needlessly grind out cash. That last point is important. Being an RPG, you have to buy stuff – weapon upgrades and skills and such – and while you don’t earn enough money to buy everything, you also don’t need everything to finish the game.

As I said above, once you finish the first play through you get the option to do it again while keeping your previous levels, meaning you’ll be able to finish buying everything and get to level 10 – I only got to 6 the first time around. I look forward to continuing playing the game, getting all the items and seeking to get the Steam achievements.

Another great element of the game is the music. Instrumentals, songs with voices & lyrics. When I got the game I also got the soundtrack, which can be purchased through Steam, and it’s good enough that I’m certain I will listen to it even outside of game.

All in all, from top to bottom, I really enjoyed Bastion and would recommend it to others. What a great little game. Now, before I go, enjoy these screenshots. Be warned, a few of the artistic cut scene shots might be considered spoilers.

Page 2 of 15612345...102030...Last »