on island time

The spiritual borders on this.

With no phone, laptop or even a watch, my wife, daughter and I walked on the beach. We flew a kite, played in the sand, and got out in the still chilly spring ocean waves.  The strong breeze and constant soft roar of the surf was hypnotic. My senses came alive, filling the void left behind by my routine bombardment of information, visual and audio stimuli, tasks, and traffic. We had no where better to be, no deadlines, no reason to look at a clock. Not unwinding; unwound. We were on island time.

My fascination with the ocean and beach, like the deep woods and mountains back home, is rooted in a strong sense of connectedness – call it meditative, spiritual, or just very relaxed. It is my carrot. My self-medication. Take either one or two per year or as needed for an adjusted perspective and deep sense of peace. Plus, it’s legal.

I love the outdoors. I am thankful that my family shares my enthusiasm. We had a great time at the beach on Topsail Island, and as usual we were already planning our next trip before we left.

ipod tracklist executive summary

What does your iPod song collection say about you?

While not all of my favorite music is on my iPod, with three and a half days worth of music on there, what is present does tell a story. Or many stories. Was the artist with the most songs or albums present also my favorite? What would my track list say about me if a casual acquaintance glanced at it?

When I listen to music most often and what I listen to forms a solid outline of my own biography, in a way – at least to me. Every hour behind a lawnmower since I owned headphones had a soundtrack, and every commute since I got my license. My playlist is like an audio scrapbook. Looking through my collection dates back to the first cassette tape I purchased with money from my first job more than twenty years ago (yikes! that long?). Iron Maiden: Lost Somewhere in Time. I recall being amused that the answer to a history class quiz question on “Alexander the Great” was accurately represented in an Iron Maiden song of the same name. How did Alexander solve the Gordian Knot to become the master of Asia? Yeah, he cut it.

When I stop and think about it, every period of my life had certain albums I might associate with it. Whether it was countless hours in front of my C64 playing a dungeon crawl game to “Alice in Chains”, classic Dungeons and Dragons with friends to “Metallica” and “Anthrax”, or the timelessly relevant tracks in “NIN: Pretty Hate Machine”, most of my music reminds me of something, someplace, or in a few cases; people.

Fast forward through the decades and while my music tastes broadened to include everything from classical movie soundtracks and Enya to System of A Down and Sepultura, the two artists I had more content from than any other were Metallica and Nine Inch Nails. The former, in sheer content. With everything present except their live tour boxed set, they beat out NIN by just a few songs, the latter whose track total included the forty-someodd short wordless instrumental outtakes on the double album “Ghosts I-IV”.

Metallica coming out on top wasn’t really surprising, although I wasn’t sure before I counted. Looking at the bands represented, few have been producing consistently good music for as long. I was first turned on to the band a few years after their debut in 83, but haven’t missed buying an album at release since. And yes, I actually buy my music despite the ease of downloading it free – something I am proud of, and not just because Metallica lead singer Hetfield took an unpopular stand against “Napster” and similar media sharing services.

Ever had your iTunes Genius playlist come back with something really, really weird? Could be my fault, but I doubt that I am the only one who thinks Enya’s “Celts” transitions well to “A Downward Spiral”.

Or maybe I am.

la doomsday machine?

Beware: The French have powered on the doomsday machine.

The Large Hadron Collider at CERN has weathered several such search-engine-friendly media sound bytes, and is no stranger to the woes of sensationalism in science. Leading up to it’s first months of successful science, the 17 mile long atom smashing black hole factory buried beneath the French-Swiss border enjoyed much infamy in the press. Yet once scientists assured us that there was no threat to our safety, we changed the channel.

Science and sensationalism have never mixed, as science does not progress in media friendly “ah ha” moments. And while individually we are intelligent enough, as a consumer horde of rapid fire media bits we can be quite moronic. In a day when entire political movements can be summed up in as few as one word (or scream) in a 60 second news summary, our information diet becomes very low on substance. Where’s the beef?

Thankfully in this case science progresses with or without sustained public interest. The LHC completed a successful year with experiments up to about half the planned power range of the device, up to smashing lead ions. It should reach full power (around 14 TeV) in the next two years. And while we’ve no god particle or mini black hole sightings, particle science advances.

The payoff? Among the many goals of the international teams at CERN are answers to key gaps in the generally accepted “Standard Model” of physics, not the least of which are mysteries about gravity unanswered since Newton was presumably bonked by an apple.

For now, expect the LHC work to continue quietly, that is unless the Higgs Boson bears resemblance to any well-known rock stars.

Below is a link to more on the subject, from CERN.


of telescopes and astrology

During a vendor-customer technical interview, my manager once introduced me as being an avid amateur astrologer.

Bless his heart, he knew I had a few telescopes and was even working to build my own large Dobsonian sidewalk telescope – right down to grinding out the mirror myself. While astronomers can tell us a lot about the past, in galactic terms, if you wanted a prediction about the future, your lotto numbers, or to know if the gal with the May birthday in apt 403 was compatible with you, you might have consulted an astrologer.

Without much hesitation, the customer manager asked if I could do a reading for his IT systems.

I happened across that memory while on an archeological dig under my house. The remnants of some ancient culture dating back to the mid nineties were in several boxes down there, along with my mostly finished telescope mirror.

With it I found piles and piles of art, articles I wrote for an EverQuest fan-site, a few semi-rare comic books, college papers, my paintball gun, the missing bits of my scuba gear (what I was looking for, score!), some collectible memorabilia from the launch of Ultima Online, and a baby pic of my oldest daughter and my childhood pet cat Maverick, the original orange man-eating king of many naps.

No, Astronomers may have a good idea about what could happen to the solar system in a few million years but they cannot predict the future. I can’t be sure where I’ll store my boxes next – I certainly could not have predicted where the boxes would go when I first packed them three houses ago.

With the ghosts loose, and a fresh reminder to get the irreplaceable properly stored in some sort of albums, I put the lid back on the boxes. The telescope project can wait for darker skies. My perspective checked, I was ready to start making predicitons.

This year, I am getting back in the water. Mask and Snorkel – check.

a theory of fun?

I’ve been interested to read Raph Koster’s “A Theory of fun for Game Design” ever since I saw its title. He is “Designer Dragon” of Ultima Online fame and was Chief Creative Officer for SOE’s “Starwars Galaxies” when it was at it’s peak. Both games were groundbreaking just over a decade ago – peerless in some respects. They both also saw rise of key challenges still faced by game designers today.

Ultima Online practically invented PVP combat in an MMO, and saw the birth of many social (and anti-social) phenomena that rose from competitive, anonymous player vs. player interaction. Most of the actual software written to govern anti-social behavior in UO was written after the initial game was finished. (which was the groundwork for rules generally assumed to be functional in most future MMO titles). What started as “arm the players to police themselves” with a functional crime and honor system was far insufficient to protect the majority of casual gamers from a very small percentage of players who played only to cause casual gamers grief, interrupt their game play experience, or even cause loss of virtual assets (experience, loot, etc).

Only after peeling back the player vs. player features of the game till they were almost non-present would they casual gamer find peace, at the cost of numerous features previously fundamental to character design. This sweeping redesign changed the game completely, as well as the direction for future content releases.

The same type of problems dogged Starwars Galaxies, despite a promising start that encouraged better division between casual and competitive players. Numerous game redesigns rendered Starwars Galaxies unrecognizable next to its original released form.

EverQuest (also a SOE title worth it’s own series of blogs, which built on the success of UO in the same MMO space) had a very interesting faction-and-deed-based system of player vs. player combat and character advancement, but that system was more or less abandoned soon after release and today features mainly cooperative and solo play.

Fast forward ten years. “World of Warcraft”, easily the most successful MMO ever, polished “optional” Player vs. Player combat as both separate from cooperative player vs. environment advancement and occasionally tightly integrated. Even still, game dynamics that govern PVP in WoW are in constant flux and have been central to a few minor redesigns. Warcraft raised the “fun” bar very, very high. It will take a truly kingly title to ever rival Blizzard’s runaway success.

I am interested to see what Raph has to say about fun in a game, a decade later, and if it touches on any of the many social aspects of his previous game titles at all. Either way, the future successor to WoW stands on the back of folks like Raph – that is assuming that Designer Dragon doesn’t pen it himself. 🙂

beach brain

When I close my eyes, I see waves.

I have a serious case of beach brain. What started as an idea, a tropical getaway, turned into a persistent motivation to leave all my electronics at home and flee to someplace where the lands end and water meet. The sensation borders on the spiritual – the compulsion tingles in all of my senses.

Every task at work eventually arrives at the same place: sand between my toes. Each keystroke just another step on the hot boardwalk. There is only one cure, and make no mistake – I am planning my escape.

Ever since my wife had her surfing lessons through wbsurfcamp last year, I have wanted to get on a board myself, at least once. The water is still very cool this spring, but as my dreams of a beach vacation and reality converge, I am certain the water will be just right when I get there.

Until then, time to set down another empty mug of coffee and get set to dig into another day at the office… right after I shoo the ethereal seagulls from my cube.

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