Innovation Lost

Once again my dreams are ripped from me.

Yes this is (yet another) blog post bemoaning the fact that Facebook bought Oculus Rift.  Before I go onto comment why I dislike this so much, here’s some transparency points.

I wasn’t one of the many people that invested financially in Oculus Rift, so I have absolutely no financial stake in the matter.  Furthermore, it was unlikely I was ever going to purchase an Oculus headset.  I wear glasses because one of my eyes is long-sighted, the other short-sighted.  I have not met a 3D system, or any kind of alternate visual experience system that does not give me a headache within a few minutes.  I would certainly have to try the device extensively before I bought it which is a good reason to cultivate friendships with people.

Also I cannot stand Facebook.  Mark Zuckerberg and his organisation are a stain upon the technological world, and I’d rather cope with the annoying “3D headache” above for hours on end than have anything to do with them.

My concern about the deal isn’t particularly from a gamer’s perspective.  Oculus was the next big thing in gaming, the potential of it excited me, the possibilities drove my imagination further than many other “next big things” have before. But unlike many, I’m not aghast at the thought of Farmville on Oculus Rift.  I like gaming, I think the more people involved in gaming, whether that be board games, tabletop games, computer games, or whatever is a good thing.  If people enjoy playing more casual games so be it.  I can’t stand the elitist nature of Hardcore gamers vs Casual gamers as if they were two different things.  As I see it, they are both people who enjoy playing games.

Equally my concern about the deal isn’t particularly from a financial perspective.  As I said I have exactly £0 invested in Oculus.  I am not one of the many Kickstarter backers who at this point feel incredibly betrayed (although I do understand, and sympathise with their point of view).  If reports are to be believed Oculus gained around $91 million in funding by the end of last year, with only $2.5million of that from Kickstarter (so just under 3%) The fact that they now have been bought for ~$2 billion (although most of that is of course in Facebook stock.) means they should/may (delete as appropriate) have more funding to complete their vision.  They already had gained funding additionally to the Kickstarter, and always would have done.

No what concerns me, is that I just don’t like it.  I love technology, I love my gadgets, I’ve been interested in Science-fiction since I can remember, Space has always fascinated me.  Maybe it’s just me being weary of capitalism, maybe I’m naive, but just once I really wish that technology was about discovery and innovation not profit.  The great thing about the Indie gaming scene, and to an extent with Kickstarter, is that projects are being created that may not make a huge amount of money, but they’re being made to try and make them.  People are wanting to create something to see if they can create something, not with money being the end goal.  People are being innovative and daring, and yes of course they would probably all be happy if their idea made money at the end of the day, but it’s not the goal, the goal is to innovate, to try something different, to prove it can be done.  Oculus Rift, whether it ever was or not, in my eyes, was about innovation, about catching the dream we all had in the 80’2/90’s that Virtual Reality could happen.  It was about making that dream happen, the desire was to do it and prove that it could be done.  Now even if that was me just lying to myself, I cannot suspend my belief any longer.  Sony announced Project Morpheus, and someone got scared, because there was a competitor, so they sold out.   It’s no longer about a brave new world of discovery, but about caring too much about the bottom line, and that makes me feel sad.

Bias

I’m a pretty biased person…it doesn’t bother me that much because I know I’m not alone in that, in fact most if not all of us are biased people.  We see things in the light we want to see them.  For instance I’m pretty certain that Mike Tomlin deliberately stepped in-bounds.  But examining the issue in detail, my evidence for believing that is almost 100% that he’s the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and I’m a Baltimore Ravens fan.  I have no knowledge of him personally, I don’t know or understand any of his motives about…well anything really, my firmly held belief that it was a deliberate action is based almost entirely on my bias.

Our bias determines our world view.  When we read the paper, watch the news, see our twitter feed updating, our initial reaction to headlines and stories is coloured, changed and filtered by our world view, which in turn is determined, at least in part by our bias.

When it comes to faith, or even religion this is magnified.  The temptation as a Christian to blow past, ignore, or outright deny stories, especially those with a scientific bent is a constant threat.  The recent evidence uncovered to support a Big Bang theory of universe creation (did you see what I did there?!) is an easy example.  Christians on both side of the ideological spectrum, those that believe in a 10,000 year old Earth with Divine creation, and those that hold both science and their faith in equal weight, and all those in-between, were quick to weigh in.  Either by condemning it as still “only a theory” or hailing it as another way that scientists and those of faith can come together.

A lot of the internet, especially in the States is thoroughly enjoying a new TV show called Cosmos (I believe it’s a remake as opposed to something truly new).  A descriptive history of the story of scientific discovery, and while – not living in the States – I’ve not seen much/any of it apart from a few clips, I did read a news story today about it that intrigued me.  David Sessions writes for the Daily Beast detailing the issues that the producers of the show glossed over in a recent episode about Giordano Bruno.  Go read it!  Then come back.  Right done? The quote I enjoyed most in the piece was this one:

“It reminds us that history rarely gives us uncomplicated heroes or black-and-white moral choices. It reminds us that even our most impressive rational feats are colored and shaped by our irrational natures, and that our attempts to explain and master the world are always, at some level, an illusion.”

While I may not believe that sentence is totally true, it reminds me that it is far too easy to approach things from a point of already making up our mind.  As a man of faith, and a teacher of faith I believe it is part of my role to be steadfast in that which I believe, to hold tight to that which my God has revealed to me.  Yet that doesn’t mean I should reject things out of hand, it doesn’t mean that the discussion isn’t important, that the conversation isn’t important.  I welcome fantastic scientific discoveries like the team made about the Big Bang theory, even if I have some problems “explaining and mastering” them in connection to my faith.  I’ve always maintained that often the answers aren’t as important as the questions, and the questions aren’t as important as the discussion that goes with it.  The trouble is to have a real conversation about these things, these huge, difficult, challenging issues, we have to be prepared to accept our bias.  Not to necessarily lay it aside, not to necessarily change our mind about things we believe strongly, but to accept that the other side has strong points, and to engage with said points in the fullest way possible.  Religion and those of faith have huge lessons to learn about being able to have conversations about matters that challenge our perspectives on faith, without going on the defensive.  But to be fair so do those that reject faith and religion.  Just as it’s important that I allow men of science to challenge how I think and understand my life as a man of faith, it’s important that those of no faith allow those of faith to challenge them, otherwise who now is the arrogant fundamentalist in the conversation.

It’s unlikely that I’m going to change my views on a large range of subjects.  That doesn’t mean I should stick my fingers in my ears, sing la-la-la and hope they go away.  Instead it means I should engage with such issues, and allow them to challenge me, just as I hope the message that Jesus brought will challenge others.  It doesn’t make me weak, it doesn’t make my faith weak, instead it allows me better care for, disciple and challenge those that struggle with such things.

But Tomlin still totally jumped in Jacoby’s way.

Seasonal

seasonal4

There has been a lot recently pointing to the changes that are going on everywhere. Starting with Spring finally arriving. Flowers that only come up once a year being shown in full glory. In our lives too, getting used to a new scenario on a Sunday. This is not what we have always done. In the news there have been stories that will set the tone of this year apart once again. A flight going missing with a search on a grand scale. A trial for justice to find out what happened to Reeva Steencamp. Massive flooding in the south of England. Things that in ten years time, people will ask ‘Do you remember?’

There are many seasons in our lives too, the moment you wish you could erase for all time, and the one you want to last forever. We can’t be blamed for wanting to buzz quickly past some, and desperately hold on to others. However we do need to accept each for its own time. We cannot bring back, or change an instant from the past. We can try to recreate it, but it will never be the same as that moment that has gone by. Many seasons will impact the rest of our lives, and change our perspectives forever. We can’t stop that from happening either, even if we were to pretend, there will still be consequences for our lives. This is fine as long as we acknowledge that, and know that we are either changed for better or worse depending how we react to things.

Life is not always peachy. Stuff happens. I don’t feel the need to list the ‘stuff’ so feel free to insert it yourself. I don’t want to make blanket statements about how to deal with ‘stuff’ because that doesn’t work. Please realise however that there is a season for everything, there is light at the end of the tunnel. You may not get the outcome you were hoping for, but your circumstances will change due to the nature of life.

In the Bible (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, NLT) it sets out just some of those seasons, ‘A time to plant, harvest, cry, laugh, grieve, dance, tear, mend, be quiet, speak…’ This is just a few things in that list. I think my favourite is: ‘A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.’ This just makes sense to me, because sometimes you can spend a season doing one thing, and then realise that actually it is time to change it back again. We are but human, and we spend a lot of time re-doing things. Fixing things that have broken again, when actually it might just be time to build anew. I’ve often gathered stones from places we’ve visited, but then I realise I have too many stones, and I have to decide which I want to keep, and what to do with the others. The same with my experiences, I want to grow from all of it, good and bad. Be able to look back and say ‘That sucked…’ or ‘That was awesome…’, ‘but it changed me for the better.’

Keep a watch out as the seasons change in your life, and try to embrace the next as best you can. Life is ever changing, and being in a world of stagnation is no good for anyone.

Dealing with (significant pause) interesting people

Personalities are a funny thing, and try as we might we can’t help but get irritated by personalities that are very different from our own.

Sometimes you end up spending a day with someone you don’t usually have to. This can be a good thing, someone you never see but you just click with and are always on the same page with. Like-minded people never seem to be a challenge and the day just zooms by. Other times there are people with er, unconscious habits, or who don’t seem to realise they have stepped over a line…about several hours ago and kept on going. Today I had to do just that, spend time with someone who is a lovely person, but who gets on my nerves. There is that teeth gritting moment when you force yourself not to be sarcastic, bring yourself back from the point of anger and try to behave in a way that you won’t regret.

Well I made it through the day. Then I asked myself, was it enough? Was I actually being cold and distant in my responses. There are not all that many people I don’t get on with, so it comes as a shock when I feel like shouting and telling someone to shut up and listen, as I patiently repeat myself for the third time. When my stress levels rise I know I’m not all that fun to be around. My responses become terse and the other person will not know what button they have pressed to cause this response.

I need to make changes in myself when dealing with people that press my buttons. It can be as simple as asking myself whether it really is a big deal. Does it have to be done to my level of perfection ie ‘correctly’. Well my brain will always say yes, and I’ll have to ask the question again.

I also need to be able to be blunt when I have to, as sometimes I’m so busy dancing around the problem and trying not to be horrible that I don’t ever say what the problem really is. This is not a sign of weakness, this is common sense.

I don’t think that as a person I am very easy to read, and I hide my feelings far too well. This is possibly as a result of spending too many years learning how to read other people. How to spot the signs that you’ve pressed a nerve, how to tell by tone of voice when someone is lying to you. This skill again makes it difficult to get past snap judgements and just get on with someone who is being very irritating.

I know that there are many people who have not liked or understood me when they first met me, but now we are best of friends. It comes from that time investment, especially with people you don’t get on with or understand. Making the effort to know what makes them tick, and then not putting them in situations they can’t deal with. It has taken a while, and it will with each person, to get my head around who they really are and how to encourage them even when they are doing my head in. It is however worth it in the end.

Achievement Unlocked: Redundancy

Maybe because I came a little late into this current generation of console gaming (OK, OK, the last generation of console gaming, I’m a cranky old man that only bought his PS3 a year and a half ago) but I’ve never really got the whole achievement thing, or trophy thing until recently.

It’s been there in the background, especially on Steam for what seems like forever, but I never really noticed it, or cared that much about it.  Why do I need a little box to pop up to tell me that I’ve defeated a boss in Torchlight II, I know that, I just spent the last ten minutes feverishly wearing my clicking-finger to the bone in an attempt to defeat said boss.  I don’t need a little black box with a little picture and a (often) lame attempt at humour to tell me.

Moving even deeper into nostalgia, I remember when you bought a game, you could look at the back of the box, and it’d actually tell you something about the game.  One of the PS3 games I got late last year, the write-up on the back talked more about the fact it came enabled with trophies than it did talking about the actual game.  If your game doesn’t have achievements, Steam doesn’t want to know.  You can imagine the put-upon mother talking to her brat in the video game shop, “How about this one dear, it has all the ultra violence, blood, sexual content, and F-bombs that I understand is suitable for a twelve year old.”  and the reply comes back, “But Mum, it doesn’t matter how culturally sensitive it is to me, if it doesn’t have trophies I don’t care!”  Stinging social commentary aside, it’s a big deal.

I’ve come around though, and more and more, I’ve changed from, “What’s the point of this?”, to my wife reading on the sofa smirking at me, because I’ve just commented in childlike wonder that “I gotta trophy!”  I think it was probably Civilisation V that turned me round on the concept, if for no other reason than checking the achievements was the easiest way to work out which nations I had completed the game using, and what maps I had completed without having a whole pad of scratch paper next to the computer.  And in that sense I’ve begun to see the value of achievements.  I’ve completed that part, and the game has rewarded me for that, now what happens next.

So a couple of hours ago, I got made redundant.  OK, that’s a slightl exaggeration for effect, I actually got made redundant around six weeks ago, today was the last day of my notice period.  I handed in my keys to the church, stole all the paper clips, dropped off the work phone, deleted my email address from the mail server, installed countless back-doors and Trojans into all the church systems, said my goodbyes, and walked home.  Which was when I started thinking about achievements, and strangely enough Bill Goldberg.

When I was growing up Goldberg was my favourite wrestler, the combination of power, and intensity made me mark out every time.  When Invasion hit the speakers, even at home watching in my room, I jumped out of my seat.  There was just something about it that gave fifteen year old me goosebumps.  Now however I’m older, wiser, more mature, and so I totally didn’t jump up and down, and dance around my living room when, after buying the recent Goldberg DVD, putting it on, and hearing the familiar drums of Invasion.  I certainly didn’t join in with the irresistible “Goldberg” chant as it echoed out of my TV’s speakers. No, not at all, I’m far too mature to do that.  The reason Goldberg popped into my mind today, was just the image of him pinning a guy, finishing a match, jumping right back up, and walking backstage, and if anyone tried to get an interview of a comment, more often than not all he would say was “Who’s next.”

My time at KLBC is done, finished, over.  My spiritual clicking-finger is worn to the bone after too many boss fights.  I’ve got my achievement, I’ve finished the match.  But instead of walking to the back and growling out “Who’s next.”  I’m walking forward, admittedly still growling, but growling “What’s next?”

Achievement Unlocked…now how do I get the next one.

Vanity

There are times when I think I am being too vain. I look in the mirror and I stare at myself, and I’m not sure why. I don’t do it because I like looking at myself. I certainly don’t at the moment, as I feel rather more porky than I’d like – then I’m not sure whatever I look like that it would be the same as the image my mind has created for me. In my head I look far better than I actually do, so when I look in the mirror I am greeted with the horrible reality that this is not the case.

I can dress up and look smart, or pretty for an occasion, but for the most part I don’t tend to bother. I know that during the day I am going to get messy, so why wear something that will only get ruined? I know that I don’t dress for people to look at me and then look again. So why do I still feel like I am being vain? Something of the perfectionist in me seems to be playing a part. When I am in front of the mirror I can be as vain as I like. I can hide the parts of me I don’t want to see, and focus on seeing the rest. I know I can look good if I want to (now I sound arrogant or delusional).

There are other people who take vanity to extremes, I know that. I don’t even put make-up on most of the time. This doesn’t make me feel any less bad that I am judging myself on my appearance. My self-worth should not come from how I look in the mirror, or how far my reflection is from my ideal self. I will get older, there will be lines at some point. That’s life. I am as I am, from moment to moment. I need to be able to see myself with clarity and not self-loathing, to view myself as I really am and not create a fantasy me that will never exist.

I do sometimes see other people who must put a lot of time into their appearance, and then I think of how much sleep I’d miss if I were to start the day looking at my very best. I quickly decide it is not worth the hassle. So perhaps I’m not as vain as I thought, though I need to make sure I don’t become my appearance, but it just stays a part of me.

Insanity breeds…Creativity?

So I think I have a problem.

I can identify exactly when it started, and exactly when it escalated, and I’m not sure I know what to do about it.  It started just before Christmas, and it escalated late last week.

Every year at Christmas for the past goodness knows how long we’ve done a Carol Service at the Church, which we’ve invited the local schools to, and various other community people/organisations etc.  For the last five or six years, it’s been my role, my job, to stand up at the end of the evening, and do a five-ten minute talk.  I have used this as my once a year opportunity to be funny, or at least to try to be funny.

Five minutes is not a long time for me. Usually if I’m speaking on a Sunday morning I have about three hours worth of stuff that then has to be condensed down into thirty odd minutes.  To condense things down into five minutes is a much more complex task, especially when being aware that you have a large group of people, most of whom aren’t accustomed to listening to a guy speaking, and also the difficulty of me trying to be funny.

So I did what I usually do in these circumstances, pick a theme, and write some jokes.  Then once I’ve got a huge amount of jokes, I viciously cull them based on the following rules:

  1. Do I think it’s hilarious? If Yes: Cut it, no one else will even find it even slightly funny.
  2. Does it make reference to certain geek culture icons, concepts or jokes? If Yes: Cut it, no one will get the reference.
  3. Is is self-deprecating? If Yes: It stays, people enjoy laughing at me for some reason.
  4. Will my wife subject me to physical pain after the service for telling the joke? If Yes: reluctantly cut it, it’s probably incredibly funny, but not worth the pain.
  5. Does it reference Justin Hawkins, or the Darkness? If Yes: It stays, no matter what, no matter what other rules it breaks, IT STAYS.

Usually this process is one of me wandering around my living room talking to myself.  It’s how I tend to prepare for most things, I mutter under my breath as I wander around, waving my arms about.  Some people who’ve watched me talk might comment that it’s not all that dissimilar to the way I preach.  However the problem I often have is that I tend to start to forget what I’ve done, what I’ve liked, the turn of phrase, the pauses.  So this year I tried something different.

Now I hate the sound of my voice when it’s been recorded, but over the years I’ve managed to protect myself from the instant self-loathing that is triggered by hearing myself enough to use it as a tool, albeit one that isn’t used all that often.  So on a whim, a spur of the moment, I decided that I would record my random mutterings, so that I could go back, and cull the very best bits of those mutterings at a later date, and get the very best of all I’ve done.  That decided it was the work of a moment to find my tablet (Tablet PC, not tablets, however relevant that might have been) find a voice recording app, set it up, hit record, and start to mutter.

It utterly shocked me, just how useful it was.  I type pretty fast, but I don’t think all that well sitting behind a computer screen typing.  If I scribbled it on paper no-one, including me would ever be able to read it again.  This gave me a way to get my thoughts recorded, literally, while still allowing me to do what I need to do to let the thought process flow, to let my creativity flow.

Over the last couple of months I’ve tried it for a few other things, and apart from feeling really odd at points, and apart from wondering just what our downstairs neighbour thinks of us (although I think that ship sailed as soon as we started having small group at our house) it’s always been incredibly helpful, and worth the time to do it.

Then last week it escalated.  For the last couple of weeks some thoughts have been percolating in my mind, I’ve been brewing up a couple of different ideas, what’s more whilst they felt like very different ideas to start with I’m increasingly realising that in fact they are just two different aspects of the same idea.  I’ve been here before, a big idea, something that forms in my mind, something I know I can achieve, something I know I can make awesome, something I’ve rushed into starting before I’ve really understood what it was, something that’s stopped, and never started again, and I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again.

My wife asked me, I’m not sure if facetiously or not, whether part of my job search was going to involve sending a chapter/excerpt from my book to publishers.  My instant response was “Nope”, then she had the gall to ask why?  My first response was that “It wasn’t good enough.” and while I still stand by that response, it was a little flippant of me, so I repented and explained why it wasn’t good enough.

Telling people that I’ve got an idea, that I’m working on something is always the hardest thing for me to do. I guess like a painter who doesn’t want someone to see their work until they’re finished, I want to be happy with something before someone else sees it, because once someone else sees it or knows about it, it’s real, it exists, I’ll get asked how far along am I with it.  So it took great effort, and in fact I tried to do it subtly last night, to tell Rowena the other part of the reason for me not sending a chapter of my book to a publisher, is that I’m writing something new, something better, something special.

Bernard Cornwall in the preface to the second or third edition of Sharpe’s Eagle, wrote that this book was the only book he had written that he had never gone back and read…because he didn’t dare to.  He didn’t want to see it, and think about how terrible it was, how many mistakes he made. He knew if he went back to read it, that he would hate it.  I understand that, I have gone back to read my book, and I do hate it, I can see how terrible it is, and I can see the mistakes I’ve made, but instead of feeling bad about myself it’s driven me on to not make those same mistakes.

So here’s the thing, for the last week or so, I’ve been wandering around my living room talking to myself.  My faithful tablet has recorded all my thoughts, ready for me to come back to.  Something is brewing, I’m not entirely sure I know what it looks like yet, I don’t know what it will feel like yet, but I do know this.  This time, before anything goes down on paper, before anything is written, I’m going to allow the creative process to take it’s time.  If that means I end up with fifty hours of me babbling to myself to work through (I already have about four hours) so be it.

I’m pretty excited about it already, even if my internal editor is laughing hilariously, and thinking I’m going insane at the sight of me wandering around my living room talking about these things to my tablet.  Well as much as I enjoy his presence usually he can bite me. If sounding a little crazy, if acting a little crazy gets it done…just call me crazy, all the best people were.  I might have a problem, and it might be escalating, the trouble is I was lying before when I said I didn’t know what to do about it, I do.  I should run with it, this is the best bit about being a Christian, I believe that God made me who I am, so it’s his fault if he made me do my best work when everyone around me thinks I’m going nuts!  There’s a timing thing going on, so if this is the way it works for me, then just call me crazy!