When we evolve beyond words, that’s when I’m calling life quits.

New old phone! I’ve got a new phone which happens to be my girlfriend’s old phone. Nants ingonyama bagithi baba! I feel like the living embodiment of the recycling Möbius triangle. I now get to acclimate to the idiosyncrasies of a device that my girlfriend has well worn in. Am I excited? Well, that’s not the right word for it, but it’s gonna be a step up (2: The Streets or 4: Miami? I can’t decide).

It’s always an adjustment. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a super smooth transition. No matter how technology progresses, shit seems to get left behind. Maybe in the end though, it’s me who’s getting left behind. My ritual with each subsequent phone upgrade has been to reach back for all of the same apps. It’s very possible that everything I use is outmoded. Of course the apps get upgraded, but there are probably far more efficient ways to do the same thing. They were top of the line back when I got my Samsung Galaxy SII, but that was waaaay back in 2011. The world has evolved in the past six years. What kind of apps am I talking about anyway?

  • GO SMS: I’ve always liked this little texting app. It’s got a bunch of useful functions that I rarely use. You can blacklist numbers, have a private password protected text area (neither of which I’ve needed). The prime function that I’ve always loved was scheduled texts. You can set the date and time and it’ll automatically send the text off then.
  • GO Launcher: It’s basically a super customisable launch screen. I use possibly 2% of the functionality, but now it’s so familiar that I find it hard to operate without it. I could, if I were that inclined, mess around with screen transitions, custom icons, widgets, etc. Instead I keep it so simple I should probably avoid the app altogether.
  • Alarm Clock Plus: Hugely customisable. I like being able to set multiple alarms that trigger at certain times on certain days. The gently rising alarm is a blessing on rough mornings (though the first vibration is normally enough to rouse me). It’s got all kinds of neat features like making you solve a math equation before it’ll turn off. There are a ton of variations on snooze (which I disable. No snooze for me).
  • Swipe Pad: It sets up any number of hot spots around your screen’s periphery. I use the top left hand corner. When you activate these hot spots, a customised menu of apps, etc pops up. The best part is you can activate it no matter what you’re doing. Say you’re scrolling through Facebook, you can activate your hotspot then cut to a notepad. Then say you see something silly, you can switch to camera, all without having to revert to your launch screen. It’s all kinds of neat.
  • 1 Weather: It’s a weather app, no doubt like any other. If you’re going on holiday it’s pretty nifty to be able to create a bunch of zones to check out how the everyday weather is over that side of the world. It sits permanently at the top of your screen to give an indication of temperature and launching the app has a host of useful functions. Forecast, UV index, precipitation levels, sunrise and sunset. It’s often pretty accurate.
  • ES File Explorer: It used to be a handy file directory system. Now in its quest to Swiss army knife directory functions, I feel like it’s become the epitome of bloatware. It has a space saver/analyser, all kinds of subsidiary apps and probably an anti-virus thrown in there. It also may be a virus on its own.
  • Swift Key: GBoard has taken some decent strides in recent years, but it still has nothing on Swift Key. By simply giving up your right to privacy and letting it read your emails/Facebook, etc, it’ll analyse how you write and offer helpful suggestions for your next word. While I spend most of my time in GBoard deleting its predictions of my swyping, Swift Key is accurate and quick. It’s one of the few paid apps I’d say is well worth the money.

So in case you were wondering what apps were the height of fashion and functionality in 2011, I’m happy to have delivered. My Nexus 4 will now feel as good as old.

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I did knot expect to tie that all together.

I’ve been procrastinating about starting this. The Internet has been far too alluring. So to make up for it, I’m gonna let you in on what I’ve been reading. Doesn’t that sound exciting? Sorry, messed up the word order there. Meant to say That doesn’t sound exciting!

Let’s begin.

I watched the trailer for Ready Player One. I enjoyed the book. It was a silly wish fulfilment narrative. The lead characters weren’t terribly well carved out. The whole thing was pandering stacked upon pandering. It was also a lot of fun, and even if it felt like the evocation of something my friends and I used to play called The Anythink Game. The premise was simple, you could be anyone and do anything you could think of. We used to play it on a trampoline. We’d be Transformers one minute and Ninja Turtles the next. I don’t know if we ever played as everyone’s favourite female Street Shark, but that was obviously a missed opportunity. Ready Player One felt in the same spirit and as such, it was a neat world to slip into. If I’d read it at age 13, I can guarantee you it would’ve been my favourite book of all time. I have no idea how Spielberg’s team is legally gonna get a hold of all that copyrighted material, but they’re the real heroes of the film. The scale of the idea makes sense on the big screen and in watching the trailer you can already see how specifically tailored to 3D they’ve made it. A big dumb film perfectly fit for a cheap Tuesday.

I had forgotten how cringeworthy a bunch of it was though.

I bought a new keyboard. I’m so tired of having to write on my phone while in transit. The Swype keyboard sure speeds things up, but it also gets overworked pretty easily. My poor Moto G can’t keep up with my fingers. I’d been considering buying a tablet or laptop, but if a keyboard can fix all my issues, why not go with the simplest solution? I realised the other day how I still haven’t adjusted to Bluetooth as a technology that exists. I’m a curmudgeon who’s already been made technologically obsolete. I was at the park the other day, marvelling at my friend’s rugged and robust bluetooth speaker. In my head, if it’s not hard-wired, it won’t work. I guess I’ve acclimated to the understanding that I often buy technology that’s behind the curve. Since my gear’s never top of the line, I just assume that all technology is as shitty as mine. The last time I bought something cutting edge was my beloved Samsung Galaxy S2. Even when it was dated, it still worked great. Stupid different Canadian networks not working with my pride and joy.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to constantly carrying a heavy work-around everywhere I go.

Lastly, T.J. Miller. I always thought of him as a provocative performance artist in the vein of Father John Misty. If that’s what he’s going for, judging by this interview he overshot the moon and ended up in another galaxy. Ugh, he comes off as a totally snarky, condescending prick. Just an unrepentant asshole. It’s a pity, his live performance at JFL42 2015 stands as one of my all time favourite comedy experiences. Densely interwoven meta commentary that was both flashy and subtle. He’s always walked that line for me, but if he’s trying so hard to present an unlikable persona, I’m fine accepting him as thus. Bummer. I hope he gets hoisted on his own petard and comes back to earth.

By the time he does, I might even have my own Bluetooth keyboard on which to write about it.

Maybe it’ll be after seeing him in Ready Player One.

No man is an I LAN.

Are LAN parties dead? A relic of 56K modems? Left in the dust by Steam’s handy functionality? X-Box Live supplanting the need for proximity co-op gaming? Do we sound the keening bell in lament of fond memories? Of late nights and tired eyes? Of Red Bulls and caffeine pills? Of companionship born out of necessity? All laid to rest at the altar of a new age.

Without sarcasm, I can say that LAN parties were some of the highlights of my teen years. I’d pack my bulky desktop computer and CRT screen into a large rubbermaid and bug my parents for a lift to a friend’s place. Typically their parents would be out of town. While other kids would be conducting Risky Business, we’d get hopped up on sugar and play video games until our eyes bled.

It was the natural evolution of sleep overs, but with added ixnay on the sleeping. You’d maybe catch a couple of hours if you were lucky, optimal downtime to leech video games, movies, music and anime off others. If your computer was gonna be out of use for three hours, why not let yourself recover? Much like sleepovers, LANs offered the optimal outlet for a good D&M (Deep and Meaningful chat) about who you had the hots for, typical teenage gloating and all sorts of angsty shit. Unless a game was in progress, of course.

What games? Whatever was in the nerdcore zeitgeist, in as much as we could all run it. We tended to cater to whoever had the lower spec’d rig (usually me). Starcraft was a common favourite, making sure we evenly divided skill level across teams. A few years later Warcraft 3 was Le Jeu Du Jour. We’d mess around on Heroes 3, Counterstrike (NO FUCKING AWP CAMPERS) or if I begged enough we’d give the much maligned Ricochet a try (I mainly loved the death sound). Star Wars: Jedi Knight was awesome. While we began by tearing apart one another with guns, eventually we learned how much fun it was to go HAM at one another with lightsabers and force push/pull. You could deflect bullets and turn opponents’ attacks back on themselves. Who wouldn’t want to play a recurring game of stop hitting yourself?

Aliens vs Predator 2 was possibly one of the best multiplayer experiences I ever had, primarily because one of my friends Lost His Shit Constantly. We’d play survival mode, in which we started out with one xenomorph and everyone else was human. Whenever you died, you became a xenomorph and hunted down the humans in a pack. Our friend would constantly be in a palpable state of terror, literally screaming and borderline hyperventilating. I think he enjoyed it, though clearly not as much as we did.

As we aged, contraband got folded into the equation. Someone would always have an older brother or lax parent. LAN parties continued to help us unwind, while also resembling very real parties. We’d trade silly Newgrounds videos and obscure internet phenomena. If someone was temporarily absent, we’d go through their computers in search of their hidden porn stash. Or anything else equally incriminating. There was rarely any bullying, but friendly ribbing was a mainstay. Functionally it allowed a bunch of us to spend a large block of time together without having to part ways.

I don’t know what modern experience would emulate LAN parties. Do kids these days hang out with tablets? Does Nintendo Switch fill the void? Or do they get their kicks at their respective homes all playing Overwatch? As an adult, this seems like a hard sell. People enjoy going home to their beds and pets. Friendships seem emotionally closer, but less time intensive. Would people want to spend that long in a basement, huddled around computers? Or does that remind us too much of being at work?

Time will tell as it did in the past.

March 12th 2010. Within the first couple of rows at Vector Arena rocking along to The Pixies. I mean, I was getting into it, but tepidly. According to Setlist.fm they were just finishing up their fourth track, “Manta Ray” from their Complete ‘B’ Sides collection. In short, I didn’t know it so my enthusiasm was more manufactured than authentic. Didn’t matter, I was seeing THE MOTHERFUCKING PIXIES. They finished up, we all clapped and from the stage I heard the opening chords of “Debaser”. Involuntarily, my fist launched straight into the air. Unfortunately, the fist of the dude next to me did too, but at an angle that sped straight for my watch. The strap-holder snapped and my watch fell to the ground. I picked it up, forlorn, then crammed it in my pocket and went back to having a transcendent time at THE MOTHERFUCKING PIXIES. Later in the night my boss pissed on a tree then shook my hands without washing his. Clearly karma was in full force.

I tried fixing the watch. I took it to a jewellery store who glued it all up and put a new pin in. A month or two later the pin fell out. They put another pin in. Then the watch strap-holder cracked again. I wondered whether it was worth repairing again if its destruction was inevitable, or if I should settle for a new watch? I asked a friend of mine. “What about not getting a watch?” He asked. “At this point, having a watch is a fashion decision. You work at a computer. You carry a cellphone with you everywhere. The chances of you not having the time when you need it are relegated to those moments you’re trapped on a desert island and even then you can just whip up a handy dandy sundial.”

He was right. That day I stopped wearing a watch and I’ve never looked back.

The other day my iPod Classic broke. I thought my headphones were buggered, because that’s a thing that happens with alarming regularity. I grumbled and looked for solutions. Friends chipped in with some good ones (like this glorious idea to relieve tension). Then I did the logical thing and tried a different pair of headphones. Once again, my iPod shat the bed. I think that was my third or fourth iPod. It’s the fourth to ultimately die to the same issue. The bloody headphone jack. The right audio channel on my first iPod died. My previous one had issues skipping, pausing and playing through the jack. Then after that was fixed, it suffered the same fate as my first. This most recent one has also faced the same audio channel issue. I could spend $50 to repair it. Now I need to decide what place an iPod has in my life.

The last time I was having this discussion, Spotify wasn’t a viable alternative. If I did skip the iPod for streamable music, I’d be paying $10 a month. Keep in mind I use Spotify at work and home too and enjoy the service. However, I was just about to dump it because I didn’t use it enough. There are alternative services (sadly my beloved Grooveshark is no more) I could use, but not without ads. That’d save me $120+ a year though. Not chump change. Given my shitty phone internet and limited hard drive space, if I went with the phone I’d have to rely on intentionality. I could download a few albums when I was on WiFi and listen to those until I got to another WiFi spot. The iPod on the other hand has an absurdly large catalogue that’s available at a scroll. I can switch it up without having to worry about limited inventory. Spotify does have a huge library, but I’d need to be selective, choosing what I desired for that particular day. The iPod is better for the gym and running, but I’d a) need to pay to get it fixed (with a 6 month guarantee) and remain a two device asshole (looks really dumb on the bus clutching a phone in one hand and scrolling with the other. Hands that is, not cheeks).

Do I stubbornly hold onto something that works, knowing that it’s not a viable option forever? Do I wait until technology catches up (e.g, internet speeds and phone hard drive capacity) to my needs and jump ship then? Or do I thrust my fist blindly into the air knowing that it could hurt in the short term, but work out in the long run?

Guess you’ll have to watch and see…

But they weren’t even giant mechanical spiders? So heartless, but not Loveless.

If my Space Madness was low level yesterday, it became a full blown contagion today. Why? Watch the Skies, my dear friend.

As I said yesterday, Watch the Skies is a full on megagame experience involving 60 or so people in an international (and intergalactic) game of diplomacy, scientific development, espionage, military action and press coverage. Things started slowly and ramped up exponentially.

There was a mass deployment of alien saucers across the world. Some human nations rose to intercept them, but were easily defeated. Then nothing. Total alien silence. Suddenly old nuclear waste began disappearing from the map. The nations were confused. Why were the aliens ridding the world of nuclear material? What could be their objective? Were they here to aid humanity? Or did they have inscrutable plans to doom us all?

A rogue faction rose up, the Humans First contingent. “Why should we trust these extraterrestrials?” They asked. “They may be seeming to help us now, but what will they come for next?” Nobody knew.

Alien missions were conducted across the world with little to no opposition.

The aliens made themselves known in a press conference. They came in peace. Their goal was to rid the world of hazardous nuclear material that spread disease across the world. Furthermore, they had a cure for cancer they were willing to spread across the world. Or at least, to any nations willing to disarm their nuclear warheads. What would the nations do? Accept the alien aid, while losing out on their nuclear capabilities? Could the governments in good conscience deny their people a cure for cancer?

Humans first responded. “Would you really leave yourself defenceless against this menace? If we trust them, what will they do with that trust? Will they offer gifts in one hand while the other holds a knife behind their back?”

Riots broke out across the world. The human race was unsettled. Nations sought to quell these rioters and did so through military force. Bad press came from all sides and the nations’ economies took a hit. They were in turmoil. What would they do?

All the while, Aliens continued mounting successful missions across the globe. Their missions? Unknown.

Most nations took the olive branch offered by the aliens, save Brazil. Brazil ran with Humans First and begun launching a full scale attack on alien troops wherever possible. They were unsuccessful in all of their interceptions. Meanwhile other nations quietly researched their technology and sought to gain stability in their home nations. An Alien base was erected in Turkey.

Russia and the USA united against the Alien base and crushed it completely, gaining valuable alien tech.

Aliens began offering consensual operations to humans, implanting them with alien DNA. Many took them up on their offer. The Aliens gained a seat at the United Nations

Russia decided to launch a nuke at the Alien moon base. Many nations rose to support, while others opposed. Aliens attempted to intercept, but were struck down by a mysterious contagion developed by Russia. Despite a fierce battle on all sides, the warhead was successfully defended. It struck and destroyed the Alien moon base.

Brazilian forces marched on the Alien influenced nation of Venezuela. They successfully destroyed the insurgent army and annexed Venezuela in the name of Humans everywhere. Russia and the UK annexed another nation from Alien influence. The United Nations were in an uproar.

The final battle arrived. Shit went sideways. China built a space ark to leave the planet. Japan joined them and fled the Earth, escaping from all the madness. Russia and Brazil together successfully fired two nukes at the Alien Mars base. However, the base was nothing but an illusion. Their efforts left nuclear craters on the face of Mars.

Aliens appeared all over the map and humans intercepted, casualties on both sides. Outnumbered, many Alien missions succeeded.

With the war over, the true nature of the Alien mission was revealed. Earth had now been greatly infiltrated by Aliens. The result of their missions was slowly infecting as many humans as possible with an infertility treatment. 53% of Earth’s population were now infertile. India somehow escaped unscathed, thanks to their superior medical technology. Nations across the planet were irrevocably shaken, unsure how to adapt to this strange new world. How would the world cope? Only time would tell.

Also apparently Australia was overrun by giant spiders, that they then domesticated and trained for use as transportation. Stuck in the war room as Military Control, so many other subplots escaped my notice. There’s no way I’d be able to describe the sheer scale of insanity going on in that game, but I hope I’ve given some indication.

Once again, blame the Space Madness.

Dear Telltale: Quit playing games with my heart. Also Backstreet may or may not be back, alright?

I’m trying to rush and finish this entry on my way home from the gym. The goal is to get as much time as possible playing vidya games tonight. I’ve got the evening to myself and one of my goals at the moment is to rekindle my love of gaming.

I started the other night, by loading up a year old save file for the Telltale Games Tales from the Borderlands. Like most in the Telltale line, it’s the gaming equivalent of a Choose Your Own Adventure tale. It’s all on rails, with assorted dialogue options depending on how you want to interact with the game’s characters. Some decisions have consequences that could dictate whether or not a beloved character survives or perishes. Telltale do an astounding job putting together the dialogue and plot. They’re refreshingly funny, and emotionally manipulative throughout. I don’t know what kind of heartless sociopath could through the adventure without becoming immensely attached to characters both central and supplementary. The Borderlands universe was an excellent choice for this style of gameplay, considering the original games did a superb job of etching character into every aspect of that would. Everything oozes personality and Tales from the Borderlands both takes and runs with what they’ve been given. One of the best aspects is how they break down the stats at the end of each chapter. You can see how your choices measured up with other players. It’s fascinating to note how your moral compass measures up with fellow players and just how effectively the writers have toyed with everyone’s emotions.

I remember playing Final Fantasy VIII at age 13 and being so enthralled by the story. It felt like I was playing through a book. I related this to my dad, who responded with a generous attempt at empathy of “that’s great. Glad you’re having fun”. He seemed otherwise unconvinced of its merits. As a kid I never could have predicted that gaming would be the most lucrative entertainment product on the planet. Years ago I had this dream of an interactive movie in a cinema. There’d be certain points where the audience would be able to collectively choose the direction the film took. Having several options, the most popular one would decide the outcome. Each showing then would have the chance for one of several endings, with some endings requiring rare audiences choices. It’d possibly even encourage repeat viewings. Maybe there’d be a discount for each subsequent visit.

After getting into these Telltale games, I’m half convinced the the technology is accessible enough to put into practice. There’d be an expensive set up cost, but the reward would be a wonderfully​ organic experience. I mean, considering Twitch Plays Pokémon, the technology to do this online (rather than in a theatre) more than likely already exists, though it likely wouldn’t feel as immersive as it would with the added proximity of inhabiting the same room.

Is someone out there gonna jump on my idea? I’d certainly love to see it come to life. I wonder if I know anyone at Telltale…

Why is it so hard for adult toys to harness the same creativity?

It’s been my long-standing belief that toy design is the coolest. There’s so much that goes into it. First and foremost it’s sociological. How do kids behave? What kind of activities would excite and stimulate them? Can you provoke learning opportunities? Is it possible to make small challenges and tricks inherent to their design so that kids can overcome them and feel mastery? Then there are visual and tactile components, what kinds of colour design can you throw in to make your toy a must have? Do children naturally understand the colour wheel? Or is it possible to invert these supposed rules for a younger audience? How extensively is a new product play-tested with real children? Is it hard finding the balance between something kids would want and parents could see as suitable?

I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS. Is toy design reactive or proactive? Or perhaps a combination of the two? Is there a delineation between those dreamers who imagine novel products into being and those who create within the boundaries of supplied creative briefs? Do designers shelve some designs in the hopes that an apt IP will come along? Are their tiers or hierarchies within the industry? How does one even get into the industry? What education streams lead towards a life in toy design?

I had innumerable awesome toys as a kid. This is no treatise on the state of toys today. I have no idea how toys are these days. I assume they’re just as great as ever, or even more advanced. I’m sure design technology has come a long way. I always thought Transformers were unbelievable. Not only did each toy have multiple forms with which to play, but there was a fun puzzle involved in working between them. I couldn’t believe that a robot could also be a T-Rex or a McDonalds meal. Just trying to conceive how someone’s brain could visualise the conduit between both modes was insane to me. All those twists and turns, clicks and snaps. It was contortion on a robotic level that still had to obey the laws of physics. I loved not only alternating between modes, but playing with different combinations between full transformation. A T-Rex body with a robot’s head, for instance.

I latched onto anything modular (Construx, Capsela, Iron Man, Centurions, Dino Riders, etc), but Lego was on another level. It’s pretty gratifying to see that these days it’s the world’s largest toy manufacturer (no doubt licensing with colossal brands did a wonder for them). Having a toy that encouraged uninhibited creativity (and nailed the advertising to boot) meant there was no wrong way to play. Assembling a cluster of weirdly coloured bricks or a sleek, chic, colour coordinated robot were both viable options. Inevitably (or perhaps because most of my hand-me-down stuff was 80s space Lego) I became Benny every time. Even when I bought new 90s Lego, it was mostly to re-up on cool space stuff (and to obtain those sweet, sweet translucent orange chainsaws for maximum carnage).

Imagine how cool it would be to see kids adoring something you designed. The joy you brought to others on full display. That’s some prime time personal fulfilment. I may have gotten older, but my admiration for toy designers has only grown.