Going digital-only

Over Christmas, we moved again. This time, into the house we bought1. One of the more useful things that falls out of the process of moving is that it gives you an opportunity to take account of your possessions. There's nothing like packing everything you own into boxes and carting them off to another place to make you realise how much shit you own.

Well, somewhere around the 30th box or so, I had an epiphany. I have too much stuff.

"Duh, asshole. This isn't news."

No, you're not listening to what I'm saying. I'm saying that my internal understanding -- my mental self-image -- suddenly went from "I have a lot of stuff" to "I have too much stuff". As in, I could easily offload three-quarters of my DVD collection and not really feel the loss. Which is why I'm sort of glad that HMV is gone. As a nerd who loves movies and games, its disappearance leaves me with fewer places to buy these things in Dublin, fewer avenues of temptation. This is a perfect opening for me to re-evaluate my relationship with these things and how they come into my life. A lot has already changed.

Books: Kindle My kindle has completely transformed my relationship with books. I also count this as the thing that completely turned me onto the idea of digital, rather than physical ownership of media. I realised that I had been fetishizing the form, not the content.

Comics: ComiXology I haven't bought a physical comic in at least a year now. Sorry, Forbidden Planet! Maybe if you weren't missing volume 1 of every series I'd like to check out, y'know?

Games: Steam, Xbox Live, PSN, Wii U e-shop I feel like, of everything listed here, games are the best represented in the digital market. Each platform has its own storefront (Steam isn't official, but it is the de-facto standard on PC) and it's only getting easier and cheaper to buy digital versions of things.

Movies: ?

And this takes me to the point of this post. Yesterday, Philips announced that they were exiting the consumer electronics market. This line jumped out for me:

“Since we have online entertainment, people do not buy Blu-ray and DVD players anymore,” Mr. Van Houten said.

I think this ties in with what I'm saying - there's very little need to own physical copies of digital media. Consumers are realising this and HMV, having built the core of its market around selling DVDs and Blu-Rays, couldn't adapt.

But I have a question about all this. People aren't buying Blu-rays or DVDs any more. So what are they actually buying? Is the lack of a standard for downloaded video harming adoption/uptake, just like we saw when HD-DVD and Blu-ray were competing to see which would be the dominant format? Also, until there is a standard, should we expect the price of digital-only movie purchases to remain high?2

1

This is a whole other blog post, but holy fuck, we bought a house.

2

Take Dredd for example (one of my favourite films of last year). On the US iTunes store, it's $19.99 (€15) for the HD version of the movie plus the 'iTunes Extras', the iTunes versions of DVD extras. On the Irish store, it's €17 for the movie by itself. I'm sure they're waiting for more Irish people to be interested in buying movies from iTunes before adding features and dropping the price, but without dropping the price or adding these features, how do they expect to encourage this interest?

In Conversation: Steven Soderbergh -- Vulture

I was watching one of those iconoclast shows on the Sundance Channel. Jamie Oliver said Paul Smith had told him something he hadn’t understood until very recently: “I’d rather be No. 2 forever than No. 1 for a while.” Just make stuff and don’t agonize over it. Stop worrying about being No. 1. I see a lot of people getting paralyzed by the response to their work, the imagined result. It’s like playing a Jedi mind trick on yourself, and Smith is right. That’s the way I’ve always approached films, the way I approach everything. Just make ’em.

A while ago, over the course of a couple of days, I came across two slogans that have stuck with me and have had a profound impact on my approach to my creative projects. First is from Facebook's Analog Research Lab's who have a poster saying "Done is Better Than Perfect". The other is Brendan Dawes' "Talk - Action = Shit". Now, rather than being paralysed by the fear of the blank page and the fear of releasing anything that is less than perfect, I'm churning stuff out. There's a lot of misses in there, but there are a few hits too.

How To See The Future

Ballardian banality comes from not getting the future that we were promised, or getting it too late to make the promised difference.

This is because we look at the present day through a rear-view mirror. This is something Marshall McLuhan said back in the Sixties, when the world was in the grip of authentic-seeming future narratives. He said, “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.”

-- Warren Ellis, How to See the Future

Fear of failure

This weekend, I'm doing something foolish. I'm taking part in the Hell and Back. It's a 10k race up and down the Little Sugarloaf, with a few obstacles thrown in for good measure. There's a lot to be scared of. Never mind the cold, I've also got to haul my fat ass over a 7 foot wall, and deliberately subject myself to an electric shock. And then there's the very real possibility that I will injure myself, badly.

But the thing that's really got me scared -- the thing that's actually keeping me up at night -- is the fear of failure. Of not finishing the course at all. Or worse, coming dead last. This is scaring me more than serious bodily harm. I can handle physical pain. Anyone who knows me knows I can't handle emotional pain.

Ze Frank has some comforting things to say about this. Especially this line:

Let me think about the people who I care about the most, and how when they fail or disappoint me… I still love them, I still give them chances, and I still see the best in them. Let me extend that generosity to myself.

If my wife did anything like this, if she even signed up for something like this, I would be so proud of her. If she came dead last -- if it took her eight hours to finish the course and everyone else had gone home -- I'd still be at the finish line, cheering for her like she'd just out-run Usain Bolt. Can I do the same for myself?

On second thought, maybe I should be watching clips from Rocky instead. Much less likely to make me cry.

The Shining board game →

SHNGMAP1

"The Shining" is a game based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. One player controls the evil and sentient Overlook hotel, the other the Torrence family, winter caretakers of the haunted estate. Using ambiant hedge animals, terrifying phantoms and possibly human possession, the hotel tried to claim young, psychically gifted Danny as it's own - by killing him!

This sounds amazing.

Herp Derp YouTube Comments →

Speaking of stupid comments, I recently installed the Herp Derp extension for Chrome. It turns every YouTube comment into "herp derp derp", and it has dramatically improved my experience with that site.

I made this

Most videogame writing is shit.

And don't give me any bollocks about objective vs subjective, or "yeah, well, y'know that's just, like, your opinion, man." It's true. More than any other entertainment industry, videogame writing is dominated by churnalism -- press releases repackaged as news or editorial. Most videogame writers could be replaced by a Markov Engine and I doubt many people would notice the difference.

Rab Florence's Lost Humanity series on Eurogamer was something special. He wrote with wit, humour and passion. He wrote with honesty. He wrote the kind of videogame writing I wanted to read. Then there was a bit of a kerfuffle and he stopped writing for them.

Remember what I was saying about digital entropy? I didn't want that to happen to this writing. It's too precious to allow it to crumble away to nothing.

So I made a book of it.

I took all Rab's original Lost Humanity articles -- screenshots and all -- and some of the post-kerfuffle articles that were written on other sites and dumped them into LaTeX using Zed Shaw's learn-x-the-hard-way as a basic template. I added an index. I wrote a little introduction (I don't know why). From all this, I generated a PDF, which I sent across to lulu.com. And for less than the price of a decent cocktail, I had a hard-copy of some of my favourite game writing.

I'm really happy with the way this turned out and it's something I can see myself doing a lot in the future. Or at least, I could see myself doing it a lot in the future if I can sort out my LaTeX workflow. I haven't found a decent/reliable tool for dumping HTML/XML to LaTeX, so it takes a good bit of manual futzing to get it to a print-ready state. There's also Blackstrap, which will generate a book of your Instapaper/Pocket queue, which seems like it's scratching a similar itch.

We should retire Aaron's number →

This is something I've thought about a lot. What will happen to all my accounts after I die? Will my digital legacy just lie dormant while slowly being eroded by entropy? It's a sobering thought. All the gold I've been dispensing on this blog and on my twitter account -- gone. That would be sad. But for this to happen to Aaron Schwarz? That would be absolutely tragic. Dave Winer proposes a solution: that the internet at large takes a role in curating Aaron's content as important historical artefacts. A lovely idea.

Crossword master Araucaria reveals in puzzle that he is dying of cancer →

Quietly, ingeniously and, of course, cryptically, the beloved – and sometimes feared – crossword setter Araucaria has used one of his own puzzles to announce that he is dying of cancer.

Above cryptic crossword No 25,842 sat a set of special instructions: "Araucaria," it said, "has 18 down of the 19, which is being treated with 13 15".

Those who solved the puzzle found the answer to 18 was cancer, to 19 oesophagus, and to 13 15 palliative care. The solutions to some of the other clues were: Macmillan, nurse, stent, endoscopy, and sunset.

This is very sad, but also strangely uplifting. I hope when my time comes, I can face death with the same playful, pleasant attitude.

Little Differences

Reading (or is it re-reading? I can't even remember if I ever finished it) Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and, being someone who works with computers for a living, I keep catching myself using it as an analogy for how I respond to computers and computer maintenance. It's like I'm doing a mental search-and-replace as I read the book -- 's/motorcycle/computer/g'.

This piece, in particular, grabbed me

A friend who owns a cycle of the same make, model and even same year brought it over for repair, and when I test rode it afterward it was hard to believe it had come from the same factory years ago. You could see that long ago it had settled into its own kind of feel and ride and sound, completely different from mine. No worse, but different.

Macs aren't renowned for their customizability. In fact, it's part of what I love about them. With a Linux/Unix machine, it's possible to spend your entire time tweaking your system and not actually get any work done. Macs are limited in this regard, each one is pretty much alike, so the operating system effectively disappears and there's almost no friction between you and your work.

All the same, I have still managed to modify my MacBook (through a combination of Moom, Alfred and Keyboard Maestro) to the point where someone using my computer will eventually go "whoa" and back away from the keyboard. But it makes total sense to me. It's the way I work. The same as yours, but different.

There's something nice about that.

Good Night Lamp →

Good Night Lamp from Good Night Lamp on Vimeo.

I spent six months living away from my wife while she finished up her work in Rome. It was the worst six months of my life. Like losing a limb. Having something as simple as this -- a light that tells you when someone is there -- would have made the whole thing just a tiny bit better. I think it's nice because it imitates the presence of the other person, but also because it's a small way of saying "I'm thinking of you".

Motivation

When the Dublin Port Tunnel opened, they inaugurated it with a 10k fun-run. 5k up one tunnel, 5k back the other one. I did this for a laugh. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go for a run somewhere that was built to be un-runnable. And I wasn't in awful shape when I did it. I could comfortably run about four or five kilometers without taking a break. You know, not bad for an enormous fatass.

When you come out of the tunnel, you're just in the middle of nowhere1 on the M1. There's nothing to see. But when I came out, there were people on the bridge above the motorway. People just came out on a cold, bleary day to cheer a bunch of people they didn't know. They even hung a banner - "YOU CAN DO IT".

That broke me. I started welling up and completely lost my stride. And that's because I am a complete sucker for this kind of thing. I think it taps into something deep inside my lizard-brain. Some really basic emotions. These people could have stayed at home in their nice, comfy houses, with their feet up. But instead, they came out in the cold to cheer a load of out-of-shape people they didn't know, just to tell them they could do it. That was strangely powerful.

Whoever is doing the copywriting for Nike is doing a great job of tapping into that same feeling. I'm struggling to get into shape (or rather, a shape that isn't 'round') and I'm watching this ad almost daily. It's cynical emotional manipulation by a heartless corporation, to be sure, but that doesn't mean it can't be a little bit beautiful too.

2013-01-09 10.35.36

And then there's this. Who wrote this? Most companies would be happy to leave it to the app's programmer to write something insipid and bland like "You beat your previous record". Because let's face it, running 7.19km isn't really an achievement for most people. It doesn't need any extra effort or thought. But for me (and people like me), it was huge. It was epic. And I just love the fact that they use epic language to describe it.

Thanks, anonymous Nike copywriter.

1

Technically, you're between Santry and Coolock. Which is a synonym for "the middle of nowhere".

Vigil

But isn't a language that deletes code crazy?

No, wanting to keep code that demonstrably has bugs according to its own specifications is crazy. What good could it possibly serve? It is corrupted and must be cleansed from your codebase.

Vigil will do this for you automatically.

Vigil deleted a function. Won't that cause the functions that call it to fail?

It would seem that those functions appear to be corrupted as well. Run Vigil again and it will take care of that for you. Several invocations may be required to fully excise all bugs from your code.

Vigil - a very safe programming language