Once upon a time, a man could reasonable answer a request to perform a task with “I’m sorry, but I really don’t know anything about that.” In this modern age, however, saying that is equivalent to saying “I’m sorry, but I really am too lazy to Google that.”
When I was a kid, fifteen, and preparing to get my learner’s permit for driving, my father took me out to the car one day and popped the trunk. He showed me where the spare tire was and the jack and the lug nut wrench. He explained that even though many cars are different, there are standards and all the pieces I should need to change a tire were in the car somewhere. My father then showed me how to change a tire. Or rather, he pulled the car manual out of the glove box and showed me where to find the instructions on how to change a tire.
Years and a couple of cars later, I had my first ever flat tire. Pulled over on the side of the road, I didn’t panic or worry, I simply went to the trunk and located the spare, the jack, and the wrench. I got the manual out of the glove compartment and looked up where it told me the jack should be placed to lift the car without damaging it. Then I changed the tire.
That story is a perfect example of the two things by which I live most of my life: general knowledge and knowing where to go for more information. As a computer programmer, my entire philosophy and success is based on knowing the general principles of logic and programming, and then having books and websites I can go to to learn the specifics. If you corner me in an alley and ask me to program in JAVA or .NET I would possibly do okay, but it would be a struggle. Ask me while I’m at my desk, however, and I’ll pull out a book, open a few sites and get to work.
Last week, the serpentine belt came off my car. It didn’t break, it just slipped. I knew this was coming as I knew there was a previously diagnosed problem with the water pump I had been ignoring until I could afford to have it fixed. I’m not much of a car guy. I know the general principles on how engines work and what makes a car go, I know why oil is important and other tidbits, but I’m definitely not the guy you’d rely on to call up specific details on the fly. It’s just not my thing. However, I do have the Internet.
You see, I knew the car needed to get fixed, but I didn’t want to pay a couple hundred bucks for a tow to the shop. I knew that if I could put the belt back on, I could limp the car there on my own. So I Googled it. “1998 Jeep Cherokee serpentine belt”. I found dozens of websites and even instructional YouTube videos on the subject. I read, I watched, I grabbed my tools and headed out to the car. I put the serpentine belt back on and was able to limp the car to the shop.
Whether we know it or not we are learning all the time, and we may only come to realize the things that have become essential to the core of our being much later. Standing with the hood open, wielding knowledge from the Internet, my arms reaching down threading the serpentine belt back onto the pulleys, that’s when I remembered how I learned to change a tire and how the lesson I learned that day formed the person I am today.
I really wish this were a gaming post, but it isn’t so…
Mechanics. I always hear people talk about how they know a good one, but they never seem to want to give up that name, so most of use have to drive our broken cars to the local auto shop and prepare to be ripped off.
Let me just get this out there. Every single auto mechanic I have ever been to has always been nice and is probably knowledgeable and not a complete thief, but their business model is terrible and shitty and it makes me think of them as crooks.
So, my car is busted. Doesn’t matter how, there is something not working or it is making some sort of sound. I take it to the shop. I tell them the problem I am experiencing and they agree to look at it. They give me a complimentary ride home. Later they call and say, “$800.” I say, “Fix it.” Then they call back, “While we were looking at that thing, we noticed this other thing. $300.” I say, “Fix it.” Again they call, “So we pulled out the thing to fix the thing and found that the noise we couldn’t identify from before is coming from over there. $400.” I think about it, push some numbers around in my head, “Fix it.” They call again, “Turns out that the original issue wasn’t just a little broken, it was totally broken, so it’ll be $200 more.” “Okay, fine.” “Oh, and since we are already charging you $400 in labor to dismantle the whosiwhatsis, we looked at the thingamabob and it’s broken. If you fix it now, $300, but if you fix it later we’d have to charge the $400 labor for dismantling again, so?” “Go ahead and fix it.”
I’m up to $2,000 now, on a car that is only worth about $1,500. But I’m okay with that. It beats having a monthly payment since fixes like this only come along once every couple of years. Then they call again, “We’ve got your car up on the rack and noticed that you have a bunch of other problems, all of which are going to lead to your immediate death should they not be fixed, $2,000.” Now I’m angry.
If I had been told, up front, they would charge me a couple hundred to do a complete systems check and give me a full accounting of problems and come up with a $4,000 price tag, I’d have gladly paid them the couple hundred bucks and bid them a good day, sell the car for scrap and get a new (used) car. But the nickel and dime stuff, slowly climbing from a reasonable cost to a bearable cost to a completely unreasonable cost is for shit. Why in the hell would I spent $4,000 to fix a car that isn’t worth $1,500 in full working order?
So here I am, paying $2,000 to half fix a car when I probably could have taken that $2,000 and bought myself a used car that was in better working order. Mechanics, this is bad and you should feel bad. You might have successfully gotten my money, but you have lost my business, and now I’m going to go around bad-mouthing your store, America’s Service Station in Woodstock Towne Lake. I used to like you guys, you did alright by me for a few years, and now you’ve lost my business forever. Suck it.
And to top it off, when I explained my position to the office staff there, they just shrugged and said it isn’t their place to take the value of the car into consideration when repairing it, and they also don’t do complete systems checks because, and I quote, “they are a waste of everyone’s time.”
The other day I was thinking about when my family used to go on vacation. The topic came up because someone else was planning their vacation and booking flights, and I asked if they ever considered driving. They immediately shot down that idea, not wanting to be “trapped” in the car for long stretches with their kids, or taking multiple days to get somewhere. I’m sure that my rose-colored glasses are firmly in place, but I look back fondly on our vacations when I was a kid. Of course I remember some of the fights too, but there were so many good things that came out of them.
Early vacations with both parents and three kids in a regular car were a bit tight, but in those days our vacations were shorter. We lived in Florida and drove to other places in Florida, like Disney or the beach, or north to Georgia to visit family. When we moved to Pennsylvania though, and trips to Georgia and Florida and other destinations got longer, the family bought a mini-van. It had two bench seats in the back, my older brother taking the front one, while my younger brother and I took the rear. In order for us both to be able to stretch out back there, we’d put a sleeping bag on the floor. It turned out to be the best place to nap because down on the floor you avoided most of the light that came through the windows.
The key, however, to long term survival in the car for our family was the purchase of three Walkmans. It is hard today to imagine the impact that portable tape decks that ran for many hours on a couple of AA batteries had on the world, but it was huge. Suddenly we kids weren’t fighting with the parents for where to tune the radio. And while music tapes had their place, for me, for vacations, there was something better. I have no idea how I got it, but I imagine it come from my older brother, through some friend of his, but I wound up with a tap of Dr. Demento’s radio show. It wasn’t a real tape, it was copied – maybe from a real tape or maybe from the radio. But it had songs like Fish Heads and Another One Rides the Bus and more, as well as other comedy bits and longer stories. This, along with a couple of Bill Cosby tapes would end up being the things I listened to most… until we wandered into the Cracker Barrel one day.
If you’ve never been to a Cracker Barrel, it’s a restaurant with a gift shop attached to it. The shop is full of candy, folky art and decorations, and a random assortment of toys. We’d been there many times, and I’d often perused the tape rack, which tended to contain the works of John Denver and a variety of country singers which after I discovered MTV I just wasn’t into anymore. But one day I was spinning the rack and found a tape that had two “radio dramas”. I asked my mom what they were and she explained it to me. I don’t remember who bought them, but we ended up with three tapes. War of the Worlds, The Shadow and The Green Hornet. I played those things so many times, I’m surprised they tapes didn’t break. I’m pretty sure if I look around, here or at my dad’s house, I could find those three tapes.
Many years later, after the Walkman had been replaced by the Discman, I found a radio show style recording of Stephen King’s The Mist. I love movies and I love TV, but there is just something special about putting on headphones, sitting back, closing your eyes and letting the audio wash over you while imagery explodes in your mind. It’s like reading a book but without the reading. In fact, I’m pretty certain stumbling onto those tapes decades ago actually affected how I read, because I let the words sink in and I build the scenes visually within my mind. The downside is that I read slow. The upside is that I remember what I read very vividly.
Anyway… despite loving those things and them being an integral park of my growing up, I admit I don’t keep track of what’s going on in the world of radio shows. I mean, yes, I’ve been lusting after the Dark Adventure Radio Theater set for quite some time now, and I run across things now and then, but I haven’t actively sought things out. But recently I’ve discovered (years later than most) podcasts. While I tend to hate most talk radio, I’ve been enjoying a few podcasts, mostly entertainment or comedy related like The Nerdist. It’s actually through that site that I’ve found We’re Alive, which is just awesome and one of those “Why did I not know this existed?” sort of things. (Mental note: make sure the Apocalypse Rising track knows about this for Dragon*Con.)
So now I’m looking for more. Know any good radio show podcasts? I don’t want people just sitting around and talking (but if you say it’s completely awesome I’m sure I’ll try it out). I want radio dramas, mysteries, horror, adventure, whatever. Point me in their direction…
I know that I am guilty of driving past a stranded motorist on the side of the road. In the age of ubiquitous cell phones, I can almost safely assume that a person sitting out of traffic has called a friend or AAA or a towing service, or in the Atlanta area on the highways that a HERO vehicle will be along shortly. I consider this to be acceptable. Especially in the middle of the day, off the side of the road, this person is very likely to be okay.
However, when a car is stalled and is blocking traffic, I usually pull up and ask if they need help. Most of the time they say no, whether because they don’t need help or because the bald goatee’d strange guy is asking I don’t know, but at least I’ve asked. Occasionally, people even say yes, and I help them. Not often, because the truth is that it is fairly rare for a car to actually die completely in traffic and not be able to get off the road. I’ve had cars die a few times, but in almost every case I was able to limp them off the road.
Yesterday, the wife’s car died while waiting at a stop light. She called me, I told her to call the service station we use and have them send a truck, and then I packed up my stuff and left work to go help. In the time it took me to get there, more than 20 minutes, many cars had gone by her honking and yelling. One guy did help her slightly, and pushed her car forward enough that people could get around her easier, but didn’t help her get out of the road. After I got there, I witnessed a large number of people continue to honk and yell and drive around. I tried to move the car myself, but it was slightly uphill and I wasn’t going anywhere. Then a guy in a truck towing a trailer asked if we needed help. I said yes, he actually drove to a nearby gas station, parked, and ran back over to help. The two of us pushed the car through the intersection and into a turn lane out of traffic.
For well over a half hour, the wife sat in traffic as people honked and yelled, complaining and upset at the jam her dead car was causing. Out of all of those people, only two bothered to help. I find this indicative of most people in general. They would rather sit and complain about something being crappy rather than to actually take action to try to make it less crappy. So many people would rather be the victim than the hero if being the hero means they have to actually do something.
As I am prone to do, I spent an inordinate amount of time over the weekend considering the concept of Time Travel. Central to any and all discussions of time travel, once you’ve accepted the possibility of it, is the paradox.
The most common of which can be described simply: you build a time machine, go back in time to before you built it and stop yourself from building it.
If you stop yourself from building a time machine then you can’t have stopped yourself from building it, so you will build it and can then go stop yourself… It’s confusing to even talk about because impossible logical loops make most people’s brains hurt. You’ve heard this before, though probably more in the “go back and kill your grandfather” mode where you actually prevent yourself from being born and then wouldn’t be alive to travel back and prevent yourself from being born which means you’d be alive, and so on…
So, taking that into account, there exists only two kinds of time travel that are logically possible.
The Closed Loop
In the closed loop, you can’t change anything. If you were to go back in time to try to prevent yourself from building the time machine, you will, in some fashion, fail at your task. In fact, unless you recall someone trying to stop you when you were building your time machine, not only will you fail, you won’t even get to try.
Going with the grandfather example. Your grandfather tells you a story about this one time he was almost hit by a car, but he jumped clear, the car swerved, drove off an embankment and the driver died in a fiery wreck. When you are older, you build a time machine and on your journey you decide to visit your grandfather as a young man, you see him on the street, lose control of the car you are driving, almost hit him but he dives clear, the car swerves and drives over an embankment and you die in a fiery wreck.
What makes the closed loop interesting as a story telling device is that no matter how much evidence you provide that things cannot be changed, the reader, along with your protagonist, will fight you and insist that it can be changed. The challenge of using a closed loop is craft the story in such a fashion that even though the inevitable inevitably happens and nothing changes, nothing changing turns out to be what needed to happen to get the resolution the story demands. The book and movie The Time Traveler’s Wife actually handles the closed loop very well. It manages to tell a compelling love story while both characters experience it in different orders, and even with every event being unchangeable the expectations of the audience is twisted to keep elements of it surprising. In fact, the only real sticking point it has (the lottery ticket) is handle well enough that it still fits within a closed loop design.
The Parallel Reality
In this kind of time travel, you can change things, but by doing so you create a separate reality. You build a time machine, you travel back and then you successfully prevent yourself from building a time machine… but you still have the one you built, so you hop back in and return to your own time, two weeks from this moment, only to discover you are now at the correct time, but in a world where you didn’t invent the time machine. You are an anomaly, because the other you, the one without a time machine, is still hanging around – he doesn’t have a time machine to get into a vanish with unless he steals yours.
Meanwhile, back in the world that you left after building your time machine, you’ve gone missing. Once people notice, police reports are filed and searches are made, and eventually you become a segment of a TV show like Unsolved Mysteries about a man who vanished without a trace.
Here is where it gets complicated. You decide you want to go home, so you travel back in time again and prevent yourself from preventing yourself from building the time machine. Assuming that in your original timeline there were no attempts at all by other versions of yourself to stop you, that you are the “prime” reality, the world you are in right now still isn’t home. While the you in this reality has just built a time machine and sailed off into history to stop himself from building a time machine, you are standing in a world where not only do you (you prime) exist, but there is also an unconscious you (only because we assume that you didn’t kill the other you to stop him from stopping you) sitting on the ground. There are two anomaly yous (and third you who just vanished into history is about to go create more yous). The end result of these actions is that there will exist worlds without you and worlds with two yous (unless you do actually kill you to stop you, you bastard), on into infinity until you decide to stop trying to stop yourself.
This form of time travel intrigues me because I like the idea that you can’t change your own past, but you can change the past of another version of you. Imagine if you were building your time machine so you could prevent the death of a loved one. When you leave your own time, the world continues on with the loved one still dead and now with you missing, but in a parallel reality you save the loved one, everything is different, except you, who knows the loss parallel you will never know, and he’s knowing non-loss that you can only observe (unless you kill parallel you and take his place).
Of course, there are more theories, but most of those require mental gymnastics or forgiveness of giant flaws that make them feel of much lesser quality that the two I’ve illustrated. Most commonly used is the “reality fixes itself” idea, that the world changes around you when you alter the past, but it only does this by pretending that paradoxes don’t exists. You stop yourself from building a time machine and your machine vanishes and you are suddenly you again, only now you didn’t build a time machine… but do you remember doing it? If you don’t, why wouldn’t you just do it again? Or are we accepting that whatever you did to stop yourself was enough to convince you to never even attempt it? If you do remember it, are you just going to sit on that knowledge? When things go wrong in the future, why not just build that time machine and go fix it?
As much as I love the Back To The Future trilogy, if I spend too much time thinking about them, I get irritated. By the end, if Doc Brown is a commended scientist, respected in his work, then would he have been building a time machine using plutonium he has to swindle from Libyan terrorists? If Marty’s family is well off, he has the girl and the truck and his band is doing well, would he be hanging around Doc Brown at all? They even go to the extent of explaining in the second film that since the future has been altered they can’t go forward to fix time, they need to go back to prevent the divergence. Only before they go back and fix the divergence, wouldn’t there have a been a Marty that went to 1955 from the first film who returned to 1985 AFTER old Biff from the future had changed things but BEFORE having gone to the future himself? There would have to be, since old Biff gives young Biff the book and alters time BEFORE Marty from the first film leaves 1955. That said, in the future, after old Biff returns… wait… how did he return to a future that doesn’t happen anymore? He changed it by going back and giving himself the book. Old Biff should have gone to the future of alternate 1985, not the future of original 1985. And how did Marty get to alternate 1985 from the future anyway? Wasn’t he in the original timeline? They leave Jennifer on a porch in alternate 1985 because “reality will change around her”, but then why didn’t reality change around them in the future after old Biff dropped the book off to young Biff? I’m going to stop now. BTTF is great fun. I’m going to go back to enjoying it now and not analyzing it.
Most times it’s best just to avoid time travel altogether. And yet, I am fascinated by the concept and keep trying, unsuccessfully thus far, to craft a time travel tale. Someday…
I’ve been driving cars for over twenty years now, and what follows is a mixture of helpful tips and venting about stupidity.
- Turn signals are not for the driver. It would almost be better if they somehow made it impossible to turn left or right, or change lanes, without using a turn signal. The problem is that doing those things is possible without the turn signal so many drivers don’t use them. But the turn signal isn’t for the driver, hence why they are on the outside of the car, where the driver could not possibly see them. This is because turn signals are to tell other drivers what your intentions are and allows them the ability to react. Brake lights work the same way, which is why it’s nice when people “cover” their brakes (touch the pedal lightly so that the lights kick on but the car isn’t actually braking yet) before they start braking.
- No one knows what flashing your head lights means. One time, I was driving down the road and a person coming the other direction was flashing their head lights. Over the next hill there was a police car waiting to catch speeders. Obviously, flashing head lights means “cop ahead!” So, another time I was driving and a person coming the other direction was flashing their lights. I slowed down because there was going to be a cop… only there wasn’t. Instead there was a large dead animal in the road. Flashing head lights must mean “something ahead!” This held true for years as people flashed lights for construction and accidents and other things, until I realized that in my own driving I’d only ever flashed my head lights at two other people and both times it was because the other drivers didn’t have their head lights on after dark, and I recalled someone doing that for me once too. So, flashing head lights must mean “something!” In the last twenty years, I’ve come to realize that flashing head lights can mean almost anything from a cop to trash in the road to head lights being off to acknowledging that the driver of the other car is attractive, and so now I pretty much ignore them. Well, I do make sure my own head lights are on, because that’s the only meaning that matters.
- No one can see you waving. Really, the only time anyone will ever see you wave is when they are looking for it. If someone lets you in ahead of them in traffic, a courtesy wave to that someone is not only encouraged, it is greatly appreciated. Always do it. On the other hand, if you are coming up on a left turn and you see someone on that street you are about to turn on also wishing to make a left turn, especially if the road you are on is a busy one, there is a temptation to slow down and wave them out. Only, 90% of the time, they can’t see you waving. Want to know why? A) they aren’t looking at you, they are watching traffic for gaps so they can make their left turn. B) Window tinting and glare and about a dozen other things means when they do look at your car, they can’t see you except for perhaps a faint ghostly swishing of something that might be a wave, but they can’t tell. By the time they can see you waving, you’ve stopped short, there are now ten cars backed up behind you and the gap in traffic they were actually paying attention to a couple cars back is now closed. And odds are you may have to honk your horn to let them know you are waiting for them. Being nice is one thing, letting people in to stop & go traffic is awesome, but if the traffic is flowing, the best thing you can do is to get where you are going as quick as you can. Don’t stop traffic and break up the flow just to be nice to some random person.
Got any tips or truths you wish to share?
The last day of Con is always the worst. First, because it comes after the last night of Con, which is usually filled with too much drinking and staying up way too late. Then there is the packing in order to check out before getting dinged for another day stay. And as bad as you feel, any panelists feel worse, because not only do they have the same issues you do, but they also have to be on panels. The last day of Con is always the slowest.
After getting the car packed and heading back in, I made another trip through the dealer and exhibitor rooms. After a few days of saying there was nothing worth seeing you might wonder why I would go back… well, being the last day, many sellers weigh the expense of hauling back product versus cutting the price. So, its no surprise on Monday at Dragon*Con to see 20%… 50%… or higher signs. See, if you buy early, you pay more, but you will get your item. If you wait, you might pay less, or you might be too late. I found a stall selling RPG materials, all items $2, so I picked up random curiosities, like the Starship Troopers pen and paper game. I wouldn’t pay the normal price, but for $2? Hells yeah!
Then it was off to the panels… Free MMOs was up first. There are lots, most of them look like crap (to me, anything anime is crap, I hate that style, all asian MMOs, free or not free, are boring soulless garbage), but some don’t.
And the pen and paper game Aftermath! has been licensed for an MMO. I heart the apocalypse, so I hope they succeed.
With those last panels out of the way, it was time to head home and sleep…
This all begins over on Raph Koster’s blog, with his post about the RPG Piggy Bank. Then David McDonough ran with it. Now here are my thoughts which began over on Nerfbat…
I think someone really needs to do this. It could be a revolution on two levels. First, it could actually interest more people into saving money. Second, it would finally put a game with a huge real world impact out there and “people” couldn’t just say that games are for kids or are just for entertainment anymore.
I would start with two different games. The first would be kid focused. Build an MMO with puzzles and educational things, while also including an adventurous “hack and slash” type game. Some times you would go out and fight monsters and save the world, and some times you’d stay in and play mini-games for various reasons. And not just the Tetris-style mini-games from Puzzle Pirates, but steal games from Brain Age, games that might actually help with learning while also still being (for the most part) fun. The money invested into the game, either by monthly fee or by a microtransactions model (one where you buy items, game cash or points for real dollars), goes into a trust fund style account for the child. The trust would be set up so that nothing can be spent until the kid gets out of High School, and that drafts from the trust after that would have to be approved, mostly to ensure the money is going to a college or other educational program, and perhaps have a monthly stipend paid out to a checking account for the kid (college expenses and what not). When the kid turns 25, the remainder of the trust is turned over to the kid. (And of course, if something happened to the child, the trust would be released to the family.)
The second game would be aimed at adults. And I don’t mean that in a “blood and boobs” sort of way, but just that the game would need to appeal to more than just kids. Only this time, instead of money invested going into a trust fund for college, the money goes into a retirement 401k or some other similar plan, the kind that begins payouts at 65. Think of it as Social Security by way of an MMO.
If you really wanted to get crazy, you could allow people to set up any kind of saving fund they wanted and pay into it through game play. Say you want to buy a new car and you need a minimum of a $3,000 down payment. Set up a savings goal with the bank of $3,000, then direct your gaming account to desposit all funds into that savings goal. Then a few months (or whatever) later while you are playing… “DING! Car Down Payment Achieved!” What? Oh! Sweet!! You could even set up multiple goals and split your payments into different funds, you want 30% to go into the new car fun, 30% to go into the vacation fund, 20% to go into the big screen TV fund, 10% to go into the house down payment fund and 10% into the retirement fund.
Of course, you’d need some way to fund the game… which could be done by advertisement partnerships and things like that, or even just shaving a tiny percentage off money deposited through the game as a service charge. But seriously, I think this idea has merit. I wonder what it would take to pull something like this off… hmm… where did I put those example business proposals? …
I have my Criterion Elite license, which means I have won every race, unlocked every car and ruled every road. I have 350 out of 350 on the Freeburn Challenges. I have all the achievements you can get without having a camera (and if I ever find a spare $40 laying around, I’ll get those too). And now I’m spending my time chillin’ helping out other folks on their challenges or looking for races, so I think its fair to say I’ve seen the entire game… so here are my thoughts.
Overall, this is a fantastic addition to the Burnout series of games. If you like the older Burnout games or like racing games, definitely think about picking this up. It is worth it. But instead of looking at the game as a whole, lets take a moment and look at a bunch of the design choices of the game, or missing features, and rate those either as a Pro (good idea) or a Con (bad idea). Continue reading Burnout Paradise
It isn’t often I take the time to mention the passing of individuals on this website. My mother, of course… Stanley Kubrick, because I loved so many of his films… Pope John Paul II… Christopher Reeve, because he was, in so many ways, Superman…
I spent most of the morning heads down on some work, barely noticing the world at all, but a few moments ago I broke away and opened a browser to CNN to get a peek at what was going on with the rest of the planet. Amid the usual political posturing and Middle East happenings, I find out that Jeff Healey died.
In 1988 I didn’t have a CD player yet, only this tape playing monstrous boom box. That Christmas, one of my gifts was The Jeff Healey Band’s See The Light. I must have played it a thousand times. And while my first car didn’t have a tape deck, my second car in 1992 did, See The Light became one of the treasured few that would be played until it broke. By then I had a CD player for home and I rushed out and bought it, and I’ve had it ever since.
I wouldn’t say that JHB was one of my favorite bands, I only own one other album by them, but they were a band I would never turn away from if the song came on the radio. But See The Light has always held a special place for me, and it always manages to find its way into my play lists and my CD rotations. If I feel like bringing down a night of karaoke or serenading my wife or dancing one last slow song before hitting the road, Angel Eyes from that album is the song I most often choose. Jeff’s music has been and will forever be a part of the soundtrack that plays in my head as my life unfolds around me.
Thank you, Jeff. You will be missed.