Friday, November 26, 2010

42..... or Whatever is on Youtube.

The answer is, of course, not 42...but the question is the same. The Earth is simply a large depository for information, biological, technological, cultural. Data locked in cellular sequences, in processes of water, air, soil. Information streaming down wires and fiber optic cables racing underseas and through the air to orbiting satellites. We are bombarded with this information on a daily basis, and it is wondrous how we process it all, consciously or subconsciously. And we learn. It's what the human mind does. Learn. Connecting synapses and brain chemicals to formulate ideas, theories. It's how we move forward.

The sad part is, however, that as individuals making those connections in our minds, we will, at some point, cease to exist. It is our responsibility, therefore, to pass on those connections to others while we still have time to do so. We all become teachers, at that point, whether it be actively educating youth, or simply living out our lives in the view of others who will learn as they observe.

Who is writing this all down? Who has a journal for which the data of mankind can be transmitted to future generations? We have been exceedingly fortunate that past scholars have done so, or else we might still be in the dark ages. And what without the Rosetta Stone, all the ancient hieroglyphics of Egypt would still just be pictures, instead of instructions on how to build the StarGate (no? oh...). And when the last elders of native tribes of the Pacific Ocean pass away, and their languages fade away into time, who will know them (try looking up the meanings behind Deep Forrest songs)?

On a more personal level, we sorted out family photos a while ago, and faces of strangers looked out at us through the pictures. We did not know them. We don't know about their lives, what they did in their spare time, about their joys and sorrows. We never asked them, and so the faces will remain strangers forever. We lose so much when the elders of our community pass on. The old ways of doing things, before all this technology burst onto the scene, they might remain lost forever. My grandmother talked about using White Gasoline to help soothe the itching from Poison Ivy (or Sumac, as my brother had). I had no idea what that was, so I had to look it up on the Internet. And sure enough, that was suggested, although too much of the stuff is just as bad as the Poison.

Which brings me to the Internet. We have at our disposal a depository where we can record and preserve all of mankind's knowledge, at least until someone fires an electromagnetic pulse and destroys the Internet and all electronic data on the planet, rendering e-readers and ATMs and everything useless (which is why I shall keep my bookshelves of stuff, even if I get an e-reader in the future. And books won't break and cost $150 to replace if you drop them and don't have a warranty.). But I digress. A depository for all of mankind's knowledge. And how essential it is now, in this time.

An example. Last week my mother pointed out to me (for the umpteenth time) that the light switch on the kitchen wall was loose, and the light wouldn't always come on, and why don't you replace the switch? So I went to Ace Hardware and purchased a switch and came home, took off the cover, and looked at the wires in wonderment. I didn't know how to do even the most simple electronic repair in my house. Why? Because I didn't have anyone to teach me these things. We live in a society today where far too many fathers are absent, for whatever reasons, and most children are growing up not knowing how to accomplish even the simplest of tasks. Computers, why, they can repair those with the greatest of ease. But if the compressor gets clogged in the Air Conditioner downstairs, how are they to know to get Chlorine tablets to clean out the mold inside the pipes? How will they know how to tie a tie? There are books in the general reference section of Borders that list such things. Things that would have been transmitted orally in past times between parent and child, now has to be found out through bookstores and websites.

And thank goodness for it. Not knowing what to do, I went online and found many websites showing directions on how to replace a light switch. More importantly, and this is what I really want to talk about, how vitally important Youtube is to today's youth. I easily found a video that showed the difference between the switch I had and the one I needed (I need one with a three-way switch), and exactly how to replace it. I now have a perfectly working kitchen light. Youtube is essential as a replacement for the wisdom of our fathers and mothers when they are not around to teach us the basics in life. Without it, I wouldn't know how to make the bread recipe Andrew gave to me.

So amongst the cute kitty videos and the music tracks and the countless shots of teenagers falling off of walls for a laugh, there are actual uses for Youtube. It is how we communicate with the future, with the people that may never know what we have learned. Let us maintain this depository we call the Internet, somehow, so that, centuries from now, people that find our civilization in the ruins of this planet, will see how we actually live, how we make bread, how we turn on a light.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Obligatory Thanksgiving Post III

Jeep ran a truly awesome advertisement in some of the magazines this year, and on TV. The slogan was, "The things we make, make us." You can see the ad here. Whatever job we have, it is our responsibility to produce whatever we can to make our lives better. In my case, it's bringing books to the attention of readers that may find a new author, a new love of reading. But there are others who actually create things with their hands, with iron, or wood, or a pen and paper, or even a computer. Like this blog, in a way. So, to quote Ayn Rand:
Thanksgiving is a typically American holiday. In spite of its religious form (giving thanks to God for a good harvest), its essential, secular meaning is a celebration of successful production. It is a producers’ holiday. The lavish meal is a symbol of the fact that abundant consumption is the result and reward of production. Abundance is (or was and ought to be) America’s pride...

You see the idea I want to convey. I have to put in the religious meaning as well, for giving thanks to God is indiscernible from the feast of abundance. God blesses our country to be one of producers, of people that create and make, and we do so, in copious abundance, from which we enjoy the fruits of His love, and the fruits of our labor. So the large meals of extravagant food means to exalt His glory, as well as to exalt the human drive to push ever forward, to construct, to build upon the foundations that our ancestors gave us.

As far as being thankful... sometimes it's not reality that you can be thankful, but rather the places to escape when real life gets too hard. From the books I've read to the video games I've played. Immersing myself in Hyrule, for instance, or in Miyuki Miyabe's Brave Story, which I am reading now. Or watching the endless games of football on television, to see unbridled acts of athleticism. I'm also grateful for those people I work with who allow my mind to take a breather away from the thoughts of real life. I am thankful that I've seen the way a store should run, by someone who actively participates in the lives of his employees and encourages them to reach and surpass their goals. I've never enjoyed going to work as much as I have this past year (for most of it...)

I'm thankful for those people, for the blog onto which I write my thoughts, and the worlds I can explore whenever I'm asleep, or when I'm awake.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Anyone got a Pet Octorok?

I'll just bet if you're reading this, you've experienced this... You're trying to find your backup emergency key underneath the rock in your front yard, and, upon lifting the rock up, you hear, from out of the heavens, "do do do do do do do." Or, seeing a towering stack of boxes in the back room of your local Borders, you are tempted to grab a Sharpie and make them into blocks of bricks, and that maybe, just maybe, there's a mushroom in one of them. I've even walked down the back corridors of Stonecrest mall, getting the mail, and imagined where I would put down trip mines, or where the blood sucking aliens are going to drop at me from the ceiling.
It's the blurring of fantasy and reality (something I know a lot about. And it's an experience that few older than me would understand, that this world is so much like a video game, or perhaps it's the other way around. No matter.

There was a plumber that came out to redo the pipes underneath the Cafe sink, and he had a mustache and an Italian accent... he could have been Mario. And only my brother, who is much better than Tetris than me, can pack everything into an SUV from one of our vacations, and still have plenty of room to spare.

I've talked about Escapism a lot in these blogs, because it's something that we've all learned to do. We are comfortable on the Enterprise, with Picard at the helm, because it is a safe place for us, and we continuously return to Middle Earth or Pern or Narnia, because those are the worlds, in literature, that we could actually live in, so vivid are the details of the imaginary universes created in those books. The same thing goes for Video Games. Our generation is very little different from the ones before, only the media has changed. My dad used to take books from the library in Bethany, Oklahoma, and read by the hour, locked in his room. They were westerns, or sci-fi, or fantasy... each worlds different from our own.

And while books are still a very economical way of escaping into another world, video games have become yet another source of other-worldliness. I have lived most of the time when video games have been affordable for everyone, and I've seen the worlds come and go, from simple pixels to lifelike representations of people, where even the hairs are discernible on the screen.

There is a book just released (which you can get at Borders), 1001 Video Games you Must Play before you Die. Looking through it shows just how far we've come in such a short amount of time. I remember with my Commodore 64 how advanced it was if the computer spoke even the most rudimentary words through the small speaker. Now having the characters not speak is questioned. And the worlds people have created, with enemies and power ups and everything....even creating a mythos around a character, a world, so that the complexity rivals that of any master author.

And while I will never be able to play all 1001 games (nor would I want to), I will go again and again to the world of Hyrule, and clothe myself in the green garments of Link, and wield the Master Sword and the Hylian Shield. And every time I find the Magic Flute, especially after beating the Fifth Dungeon, that sense of accomplishment will fill my soul, as if I had painted a masterpiece, or slain a dragon. For the Legend Of Zelda has few equals, and the world they have created around Link, Zelda, and Gannon, is one I would live in any day, if given the chance. I am playing LOZ: Twilight Princess right now, and it is a veritable greatest hits album of all the magical things that have been created in each of the other games. Magnificent!!

I understand the addictiveness of games like World of Warcraft, with the Multi-player economy and the vast expanses of worlds to explore. But I'd rather be alone. I'd rather walk the plains of some imaginary world myself, instead of having 3 million other people sharing my journey. And yet, every time I finish a single-player game, like Windwaker, or Ocarina of Time, I almost can't finish the game, because after that, well, it's like closing the pages on a book, knowing that the world is closed off to you, because the actions are finished. It is the platform's main weakness, because you can never actually let the game go on forever like you can WOW. They've made the game profitable for everyone, and so it has to be multiplayer.

What I would propose is what I call a SPORPG. Single Player Oriented Role Playing Game. Lets use Hyrule for an example. The game would drop you into a world such as Ocarina, with a very slow, deliberate build of characters, with the mythos of a fully developed fantasy novel. [A day passes in between one sentence and the next] Of course, now that I have had a night to look up things on the internet, I see there already is a term called SPORPG, which is basically what I'm talking about. But in most instances I came across it, it was used as a derogatory one, as if insulting WoW, for instance. It is as if playing by yourself is actually a bad thing. In all my watchings of people play MMORPGs, I've never seen anyone interact with their surroundings, fall in love with the land they are in. This is what intrigued me most about Fable, that you could value the friendship of some NPCs, and develop relationships. In the game, you could even be married. The issue I have with the Zelda games and with Fable is that, when the game ends, it is over. You could start at the beginning, but that would be it. There would be no continuing beyond a certain point. I want the game to last forever, with no end to the adventures to undertake or people to interact with. And there needs be no end to it, as computer technology has progressed to the point where a game can be continuously coded and programmed even as people play it. There are always new lands to be discovered, new enemies to take on, new treasures to find. In Hyrule's instance, the game, namely, to find X princesses or find X pieces of the Triforce, it is not necessary for every temple or dungeon to contain a part of the main plot. There can be sub-plots and meanderings that would lead you to any number of different places. Link already has a home in Twilight Princess, so it would be easy to make that a point of return, where things could be bought, kept, traded, interacted with, while the adventures were continuing. It is simply not enough to have a house that you only go to once or twice, to get the hearts out of the pots or get the 50 rupies in the chest.

Of course, I'm aware that there has to be some profit in it for the programmers. I would be willing to pay a monthly or semi-monthly fee to have the game continue. And if the new platforms come along, a simple uploading of ones profile into the new version of the game (which would allow for more interactions between the characters) would be simple using the now common online databases. It would be simple, affordable, and profitable for those who made it. If this were made, I could still be playing Fable today.

The only game I have ever found where this is true is in the open source game Dink Smallwood. Of course, the name is a parody on so many fantasy names, and the game is as well, but the open source allowed game novices to create their own worlds with their own plot lines. Most developed parts were increasingly difficult, but the idea was superb. Create a world that could be developed and played by everyone, but not all at once, but singly, as a single hero would.

Thankfully, adaptations of games like Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda are made all the time, and so, while the lands and the mythos are different, at least there is some world to be escaping into most of the time, and most are affordable for the older platforms. I say, give me Hyrule any day, and I'll travel down the Hero's path over and over again, if not in the real world, then in a created one.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Death of Myspace... or things not said in 140 characters.

Myspace's revamped website, and their obvious downsizing of blogs as an important part of each profile, will draw to an end my using of myspace as a place where I post blogs. Fortunately, I have all of them printed out in notebooks, as well as at my blogspot website:

Also, while I will answer any mail sent to me through myspace, I no longer find it necessary to keep an active participation in their website, as Facebook has consistently become the place for social networking. Although, like myspace, they seem to find little need for blogging, and have eliminated the RSS feed function in sharing pages.

It seems that the world is now communicating through text boxes of 140 characters or less.... Twitter has fundamentally changed the way people communicate with each other, and, as Neil Postman has said, "The Medium is the Message." We cannot hope to form intelligent ideas if we have to think in 140 character sets. It just won't work that way. That, along with the visual/oral media through Youtube and other sites, makes everything instant, without the need to think before the words come rolling out. It's ironic, in this era where there is more information than ever spewed out of every media, that more and more of it is utterly meaningless. In every hour of a 24 hour news channel, there might be 2 points of news that have not been repeated over and over again the whole day. In every tweet, they virtually say nothing save that X,Y,and Z celebrity is going to this beach or that gym.

How many people will live their whole lives and never make the synaptic connections to form an original thought? And, how many people, if they've made that connection, will have the medium necessary to communicate that thought to the world. And of course, how many people, given the ability to think and the desire to communicate... will anyone listen? Does anyone read the blogs that I write? I've had this thought before. And then... do I care? It is enough that I have the need to communicate, it is up to others to comprehend. As bloggers, as communicators in this Internet age, we sit in front of little boxes and fling our thoughts out to the data streams and hope that others will find them and take those thoughts with them. We must continue to forward the frontiers of human thought, so that more boundaries will be crossed, more unknowns will become known, more ideas will be transmitted to those who are just beginning to think, so that we will all not just be reinventing wheels.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Football: Like Rain on your Wedding Day...

San Francisco gets to enjoy the hullabaloo of being a National Champion city, with the Giants winning the World Series. Something they've not done since the last time the 49er's won the Super Bowl. I loved the status message that one of my friends posted, who lives in the area, that the city of cupcake and wine shops proves it can be one step away from being Detroit (who has problems with crowd control whenever the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup.) I thought it funny. Anyway...

It's the irony of sports that caught my attention, especially those involving Football, although it can be other sports as well. Take for instance, a couple of years ago when the Celtics won the NBA Title Game. Earlier that playoff season (and it's amazing that their playoff season can last almost as long as the season itself), the Celtics were taken down to the wire by the Atlanta Hawks, who were finally defeated in Game 7. But to us, it was good that the Celtics won the Title that year because the Hawks had been much more competitive than the Lakers had, who they beat in 6 games. It's not so much losing in the playoffs that hurts, but rather who you lost too. The Braves this year feel better having been beaten by the Giants, who won the World Series, than the Yankees, who were beaten by the Rangers. Course, there's always more complexities when we talk about the Yankees in baseball than almost any other team.

And this is true in almost every sport, except, and this is noticeable, in College Football, where there is no playoff system, but rather an opinionated ranking system where, usually, someone is left out, and angry. And that's okay. When talking about sporting events, there is nothing that will bring up such ire and support as the current Bowl system for College Football. The BCS. Even just saying the name will evoke visceral responses from people. Whole books have been written on the subject. And yet it still brings the excitement of watching every football game on TV every Saturday (and now most weekdays) until the end of the season. The reasonings, I found, are most interesting.

In a Playoff system, while each game played effects the win-loss record of the team, the games themselves, while entertaining, aren't really all that important. Why should I care if the Kansas Basketball gets beaten by Po Dunk U at the beginning of the season. They're still going to get to the Tournament, and more than likely get to the Final 4. But if Kansas gets beaten by, say, South Dakota State, in Football... that's it. It's done. Over. See ya later! Every game is extremely important to the overall postseason hopes of the school. Especially when it comes to the BCS and the National Championship. You've heard this all before, I know. But all this importance on each and every game has much more impact on the mighty dollar than perhaps any other sport.

Take, for instance, the much talked about match up between Boise State and Virginia Tech early this season. I could have cared less, having come from Oklahoma (well, now, I'm actually biased, since Oklahoma got killed by Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl some years ago...), the game really didn't matter that much to me, or wouldn't have, if the NCAA FBS system were playoff based. The actual importance of that game made the whole country watch. Virginia Tech fans sprouted up all over the country, because there were a great many schools across the nation that wanted to see Boise State lose. It didn't happen. But what happened the next week was just as satisfying, but in a totally different scenario. The next Saturday, VaTech played FCS (1-AA) team James Madison. And lost!! That did as much to hurt Boise state in the rankings as a loss the week before. A game that would make no difference to anyone normally suddenly became the talk of the sports world, all because there are no playoffs in college football.

So there is a monetary benefit to everyone by not having playoffs in college football, but rather this totally opinionated, totally biased method of picking teams. And the other sports have something similar, something to make us all watch every single game and be enthralled by the physical acts of the players. Fantasy Football. My brother is quite good in his fantasy football games, and it makes him watch games he wouldn't normally just to see how his players perform on the field. This is why fantasy football is such a ginormous business, with hundreds of magazines, TV shows, websites...etc... all covering this cyber-based past time. As for me, myself, I would rather just watch the games for what they are, to see the performances of athletes at the peak of human endurance and fitness. And to see the violence, the brutal clashing of players as their anger, and ours along with it, is transferred from padding to padding. They are our gladiators, our Roman Adonises (that, coincidentally, are either built like an Adonis or just the opposite, fat walls of meat that protects the ball.), our heroes in a battle (war metaphor again) in which there is no death, but maybe some injuries, but that's it. And I'll watch every game I can, and prepare for the days of spring when we must wait for months until the great game of Football, and the controversy, will begin again.