Ready Player Two

We met in the one of the worst households I have ever lived in. In an effort to get back to my roots, I had thrown caution to the wind and decided to live with some people after living by myself for the last three or four years. It was both a blessing and a curse. The curse was that within three days of living with strangers, I quickly realized why the hell I like living by myself. Because goddamn it if an adult, who pays taxes and would be drafted in a war against aliens if they ever landed, can’t wash their dishes after they’re done with them. But I’m planning on saving the House of Hell stories for later. I still want to talk about video games. It’s kinda how I met my current girlfriend.

That was the blessing of the House of Hell, because she was one of my roommates.

I had been living in this backwards revival of my youth for about a week and a half, and so far it hadn’t been going all that well. The house was usually in a state of disarray and the kitchen was almost always a disaster. I had met everyone in the house, but hadn’t really spent any time with anyone, except for Kat, who split a bottle of wine with me a few days earlier. One of the housemates, an energetic 19 year old hot idiot by the name of Shay, was planning to get some of us together and have a few drink. Seeing as how I had nothing better to do, I figured this would be a great way to meet everyone in the same setting.

There was seven of us in the house. Three people said no, so there was the four of us hanging out. Shay, Katie, Kathryn, and myself.

Shay – The 19 year old Hot-Mess. The reason the house was always a pigsty. Smoked weed like it was keeping her alive. Thought she was the glue that held the house together. In reality, she was the reason most people stayed in their room. Very free spirited. Would have loud shower sex at 2:00 in the morning with her boyfriend. Always angry at the fact there was never any toilet paper in the washroom. Everyone hid their toilet paper in their room, because Shay would use it and never replace it.

Katie – The 27 year old Addict. Soft spoken with striking red hair, Katie was an incredibly nice young woman who just happened to be a full on alcoholic. I didn’t actually know what the word alcoholic meant until I met Katie. It wasn’t unusual to find her passed out in the hallway at 11 o’clock in the morning, or having the police show up at random times trying to find her. A story a lot more tragic than most.

Kat – The 25 year old woman who didn’t belong in the house. There wasn’t actually anything wrong with her. The only thing I could deduce was she was in the wrong place at the right time. Level headed and about a half inch taller than me. At this point in the story, she was the only person I was talking to on a regular basis and wasn’t a crazy person. Just finished a diploma at SAIT and was looking to go back to Lethbridge and finish a degree in New Media.

So it was the four of us, sitting at the kitchen table, having a few drinks. Katie downed a mickey of vodka in under five minutes, then went to bed almost immediately. Like I said, alcoholic. That left me, Shay, and Kat. They were both wondering about my lack of stuff. I mentioned that I was a minimalist, and that I was in the process of downsizing even more. In fact, the last big thing I was getting rid of was my Super Nintendo and my small collection of games.

“You have a Super Nintendo collection?”

Love is a weird thing. People talk about waves, or ups and downs when it comes to the emotion. My Super Nintendo, even though I was thinking of getting rid of it, represented my youth. It was my skateboards on the wall, my dumb posters on the wall, my hanging out with the crew. And here was this young woman, someone I had only known for a week, and she was flabbergasted that I was even thinking of selling it.

“I’ve got a Super Nintendo collection too! I’ve even got one still in the original box.”

Here’s this smart, funny, beautiful, slightly taller than me blond woman, and she has a Super Nintendo. I’m talking about burying my childhood. I’m talking about murdering the boy inside the man, and this wonderful person, in one weird sentence, is telling me both can exist at once. And she’s got no clue what’s going on inside my head.

Kat, if you were ever wondering why, or when, I fell in love with you, it was over the Super Nintendo collection.

I love video games. It’s how I like to spend my free time when I’m not working, or writing, or learning. When I’m kicking back, I like to do it with a controller in my hand. And this incredibly fantastic person fell into my life and wanted to pick up a controller and shoot zombies in the face with me. (Note: Kat is much better at Left 4 Dead than I ever will be. If we’re ever in a Zombie Apocalypse, Kat’s getting the gun. I’ll be organizing people, or doling out med kits, or something besides shooting zombies in the face).

That night, much to Shay’s chagrin, me and Kat stopped becoming interested the three person party and plugged in the Super Nintendo. We played until three in the morning.

It’s the weird little story about how I met my sweetheart. It wasn’t at a club, or a coffee shop, or the grocery store. It was in a shitty house, at a shitty time in both our lives, and it blossomed over a dumb hunk of grey plastic. I’m hoping later tonight, when we both get back home, we’ll pour a glass of wine, look each other in the eye, and fight over the good controller. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. We could use some recommendations regarding some sweet two-player co-op games. We’re both getting sick of the Borderlands series.

Mr. Charlton – Still Gaming

It was a week before I got the opportunity to sit down with my new computer and play a game on it for longer than five minutes. An entire week, plus a day. I got the new computer, in a number of smaller boxes, on Tuesday March 7th 2017. It wasn’t until Tuesday March 14th 2017, that I got to fire up a game and not just stress test my machine, but actually play for a bit and unwind. One very long week.

12 year old Mr. Charlton would (have tried to) kick my ass for leaving a sweet rig sitting around for a week before playing a game.

Twelve year old Mr. Charlton had a lot less responsibility than thirty-three year old Mr. Charlton. Twelve year old me also had a lot less disposable income than I currently do. But this train of thought led to me thinking about exactly when I started playing games.

The earliest I can remember was playing games over at other people’s houses. I remember heading over to the Spehar’s place when I was five to play with Stef. They had a Nintendo, the old school grey box, and they had a couple of sweet games with it (notably Super Mario 3 and Ducktales). I’m pretty sure that after playing the first time, I sped back home and started begging my parents for a Nintendo.

There was a bit of problem with this. Nintendo Entertainment Systems were goddamn expensive. When they first hit the market, they were retailing for $199. Adjusted for inflation, this was about $450. And those were American dollars, so for a brand new Nintendo, you were looking at a pile of money. My parents didn’t have a pile of money lying around, so I never did get a Nintendo Entertainment System. What we did get, in the winter of 1989, was a Nintendo Gameboy, the handheld version of the console. We also got a couple of games thrown into the mix.

Now, this was an incredibly smart move and a really bad move on my parents part, and this was no fault of theirs. It was great because it was cheaper than a big system and could be taken on long car rides, which was a pretty common occurrence when we were children. It was bad ’cause you COULD take it anywheres, which meant I was bringing it with me on every camping trip we ever went on. It was also bad because unlike the system you could plug into the wall, this little punter used 4 AA batteries, so I’m pretty sure my parent ended up spending more on the Gameboy when you factored in buying piles of batteries every other day. The biggest flaw with the handheld device is that it was a one-man operation. So even though there were three boys, there was only one Gameboy. I’d have to ask my mom, but I’m pretty sure we fought over the stupid thing constantly.

Both my brothers play video games. Heck, even my mom is playing HayDay on her IPad. But I’m pretty sure that out of the family, I’m the only one who’d be called a “gamer”. I was, and still am, a fiend. I’d consider getting a ‘Legend of Zelda’ tattoo. I’ve put a Super Nintendo emulator on basically every electronic device I’ve ever owned. I’ve beaten ‘I Wanna Be the Guy’. I played Cave Story before it was cool. Man, have you even played Cave Story? That’s straight Indie goodness at its finest.

Now I’m starting to build games. This has been on Mr. Charlton’s bucket list for a long, long time. I told myself that 2017 would be the year I at least give it the ol’ college try. So I grabbed a couple of classes from Udemy and I’ve been taking the plunge.

Luckily, I’ve got some skills from a previous life that’s making the process of learning a little easier. A decade of drafting has given me a lot of tools for designing, planning, and executing basically anything you throw at me. I’ve been slowly learning to code for the last couple of years, so when I was tasked to learn a new language, it wasn’t complete gibberish I was learning. I’m using Unity for the game engine and development environment, Blender for the 3D modeling, Visual Studio for the IDE, GIMP and InkScape for the 2D art and textures. There’s only one thing I’m lacking…

Music. Sounds. A video game needs some sort of music to fill the space between your ears. That’s the weakest link in the chain, easily. Even though I’m not a great artist, I can manage. Even though my code is rudimentary, there’s a vibrant community who’s willing to answer questions and help a noob. Even though Blender is still new to me after years of having it installed on my machine, I’m picking it up quicker now that I’m allocating time to learning it. But music?

Look, I consider myself a lousy guitarist and an OK harmonica player. But I don’t know where to begin with making music on my computer. I’ve been given some pretty good advice so far, it’s just that I’m so new I might be asking the wrong questions. So if I’m making music on the old PC here, here’s what I need to know. Ignore these questions if you’re not

  1. What DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is right for me? And when I say right, what I mean is cheap or free. Unity? Free until I make bank with it. Ditto for Visual Studio. Blender, GIMP, and InkScape? All free. I’m going to start out with Audacity, ’cause it’s free. But people keep telling me I’ll have to upgrade eventually. I’m leaning towards Reaper, ’cause it’s cheap and people seem to like it. Keep in mind I’m doing this legit. Don’t fire me a link to a torrent for Fruity Loops.
  2. People, I’ve got no sense when it comes to plugging instruments into a computer. No sense? I might have to steal some of that sense from you. Should I get a keyboard? Or a controller? Can I rock one of these things into my computer via USB? Where can I get some cheap instruments? Where’s the shady guy with a van full of gear that ‘was just left behind in a warehouse’ somewhere? Mr. Charlton is in desperate need of some cheap stolen shit.
  3. All the other programs I’m using make sense to me. Blender is just 3D modeling, and I have a background in that sort of thing. I’m not a great coder, but I know what they’re talking about when they’re asking me to import a library. But this audio shit? Holy Christ on a cracker am I out of my element. I might have to actually sit down with someone and get this sorted out.

So music people, I’m asking you; what the hell are you people doing making music so damn complicated? I don’t need this malarkey. Can’t a guy just hammer on his computer keyboard to make some beeps and bloops for a game? Did you folks make this complicated to pretend like you’re doing actual work? Where’s the MS Paint version of music making?

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. Seriously, I am a fish out of water when it comes to music production. Any advice you wish to solicit would help me out greatly.

p.s.s. I ended up going with Reaper. I’m slowly, slowly learning it. The manual is only 500 pages long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Charlton – Gamer for Life

“Do we have enough tape? This is important. Everybody, even Grandma, games–meaning checkers, cards, if not now, in the past. Show me even freakin’ nun or a hermit who hasn’t done cards or checkers.”

Adam Wood, from ‘King of Kong’

A couple years back, I can’t remember the exact date, a few years ago, but yeah, a few years ago I was sitting on a friend’s couch, and I was playing a game with Jered and Metal Rob. I’m pretty sure I was playing with Rob, and we were playing ‘Gear of War 2’. Now, the two of them had played this game before but I had not, and I was picking up the game about half-way through the story mode. There was a lot of plot I was missing, but the gist of the story was one of the main characters was looking for his wife. Alien/Demons/Monsters/Baddies had taken her, and you and your friend were tasked with finding her.

I’m just going to point out, if you haven’t played this game or don’t play the big ‘Triple A’ games or don’t play games at all, ‘Gears of War 2’ is not a happy game. It’s set in a bleak, grey world, where humanity has it’s back against a wall. The last shred of our civilization battles an unknown horde, one that has emerge from the ground under our feet. Most people have been drafted into the war, essentially becoming ‘Gears’ in this awful machine. It’s a visually stunning game, but it’s not painting a pretty picture. I mean, your gun has a chainsaw on the front of it so you can saw Baddies in half. It’s that kind of game.

So here I am, playing this game with my friend, the two game characters are battling through this horrible underground cavern trying to find a wife, and we hit the game’s climax. You find her. It breaks to a cut scene.

She emerges from her prison cell. She looks exactly like his memories. She come out and passionately embraces our character. But this is an illusion. The game character snaps out of his fantasy, and sees his wife for how she really is. Incredibly malnourished, missing clumps of hair, hollow eyes. She’s completely catatonic. Whatever soul used to inhabit this body has disappeared completely, and there’s now just a shell of human being. The game character is shattered. With no way to help his wife, he can only help her by ending her life. He takes his sidearm, and while holding the husk of what remains of his wife, he puts a bullet in her head.

Pardon my language, but What The Fuck?

People, I put down video games for a year after I played that sequence. A goddamn year. I told people I was giving up the game, forever. This wasn’t a small statement, either. I loved video games. I used to be able to play with my feet. It wasn’t just something I did, it was part of who I was. But after that jarring scene, I thought I was done.

I went back to gaming, but my views on the medium will never be the same. I grew up in the ‘Mortal Kombat’ period of gaming history, when violent video games like ‘Doom’ and ‘Splatterhouse’ and the aforementioned ‘Mortal Kombat’ were taking the arcades and the home by storm. A lot of people thought these games were obscene. For me, there was always this fat, thick line, between the game and my emotions. I couldn’t see how they’d be offensive, because it was so obvious these pixels weren’t stirring any emotions. ‘Gears of War 2’ changed my perspective forever. I mean, kudos for the medium for stirring emotions in me so greatly I couldn’t touch a controller for a year after that. If there was any question in my mind whether video games could be art, this shattered any doubt.

I went from being a die-hard gamer, to quitting cold turkey, back to being a hardcore gamer.

I’d be lying if I said the only reason I gave up gaming was because of this emotional roller coaster ‘Gears of War 2’ put me through. Deep down, somewhere buried in my psyche, was the notion that video games were a waste of time. And they are. They are totally a waste of time. But sitting down and watching a film is a waste of time. Going to an art museum is a waste of time. Cheering for a baseball team is a waste of time. And yet everyone reading this has partaken in time wasting with games or film or sports.

Which brings me to the quote above. Everyone games. Everyone, every once and a while, likes to blow off steam by doing something irrelevant, like playing crib with a deck of cards, or playing ‘Candy Crush’ on their phone. The moment cave people starting losing their teeth was the moment someone decided to collect those teeth, rattle them around in a coconut shell, and then toss them to see how many they could get right side up.

There’s this weird underlying idea in our culture that if you’re not hustling 100% of the time, you’re doing something wrong. That you should feel a little ashamed for kicking back and taking it easy for a bit. Screw that baloney. You know what people aren’t doing when they’re watching sports? They’re not killing people. You know what people going to the movies aren’t getting up to? Definitely not eating babies, that’s for sure. And you know people aren’t doing when they’re playing video games? I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely not trying to create a low-yield nuclear device in the spare room of my apartment.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. If there was only some way of combining work and play into one…

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. I am definitely not building a low-yield nuclear device in the spare room.

p.s.s. I made a game. Click on this link to see it. It’s not my first game (nor is it the most complicated), but it’s the first one I’ve been able to upload to the web.

p.s.s.s. This link is only good for 30 days. When I finally stop  being lazy and build an actual website, I’ll put it up again.

Mr. Charlton Builds a Computer

I received my computer Tuesday and after work, chores, making dinner, and a bunch of tasks needing to be accomplished, I finally had time at about 10:30 pm to sit down and put together a massive box of computer pieces. By 2:00 am Wednesday morning, I finally had the damn thing together and running with an operating system. Ran into a couple snags, though…

  • I bought a CPU fan, thinking the CPU wouldn’t come with a fan. It did. So I have two CPU fans. Now, the extra one I bought is most certainly an upgrade, but Christ, never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine attaching such a massive and ugly piece of hardware to a CPU. It looks like my processor is being molested by a silver monster.
  • I also bought an extra tube of thermal paste. That’s only because I didn’t expect the extra fan to have some. It did. Now I’m capable of attaching a ton of processors to heatsinks and fans. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.
  • I installed the mother board first, which turned out to be a mistake. You see, that crazy monster CPU fan needs to fastened to the BACK of the motherboard as well as the front. I had to take off the sucker and attach this beast of a fan before I could put the motherboard back in.
  • I was going to return the fan, once I realized what a pain in the ass it was. As I was looking up the return policy, I spilled coffee on the instructions for this fan. After a lot of swearing (sorry Kat!), I decided to keep the fan.
  • If you haven’t noticed, basically every problem I had was with this fan. But damn, does it push some heat!
  • Once everything was installed, I went to go install my operating system. Except I didn’t actually buy one. After some digging, I found my old copy of Windows 7. Brand new machine, and it’s running an operating system that’s over 7 years old. I’m off to a great start.

It might seem like two and a half hours is a long time to setup a computer, but remember, this is the first computer I’ve bought in 8 years. I was taking my sweet time, occasionally smelling the cords as I was putting it together. They had that new cord smell. Delicious.

I’ve been slowly adding software to the machine. Slowly. I’ve starting with some basics I use a bunch. Which brings me to a new problem. Because right now I’m satisfied that everything that NEEDS to be installed finally is, and I’m writing this blog at 3:00 pm on Friday. From the time of unboxing to the moment I can finally sit down and feel comfortable using my computer, it has been three days. 2 and a half hours ain’t bad, but 3 days is a goddamn long time to be waiting to use your new toy.

You see, you can’t just start mucking about on the computer the second you have it plugged in. No sir. You have to make sure everything is updated first. You have to update all the drivers for the hardware; the motherboard (you should do this first), the video card, the LAN, the audio. You have to install the latest service pack for Windows. You then have to update Windows. Now you’re going to want to install all the cool software you use on a regular basis; A good internet browser, Skype, Steam, a slew of design program I tell myself I’m going to learn but never do. Once that’s all done, once all of that was setup, I finally installed Skyrim to see how well this computer would run.

It runs at 60 FPS on the highest settings. I mean, it’s a game that’s also 8 years old, but damn, it still looks pretty good.

I’ve been going on such a downloading spree that I had to call my service provider and have them bump me up to their platinum program. If I hadn’t done that, I would still be installing Visual Studio’s 2017 (this program happens to clock in at over 50 Gbs with all the bells at whistles. No joke). I’ve only had this computer for a couple days and I’ve already downloaded well over a hundred gigs of sweet data, and from how it’s going so far, that ain’t going to stop any time soon.

TLDR; Mr. Charlton got a new computer. Mr. Charlton build his new computer. Mr. Charlton is now treating his new machine like a China vase, and refuses to even browse Facebook with it yet. You’ll know the new shiny has worn off when I start downloading crap I shouldn’t be.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. I missed a post ’cause I was enthralled with my new toy. I should be working instead of playing, but I just downloaded Batman: Arkham City and SWEET PEARL it runs at 60 FPS with every damn thing turned on. An old game, but this tells me I can at least play some new games if I choose to.

 

 

Mr. Charlton Buys a Computer

Eight years. Eight years wasn’t always a long time for an appliance. Back in the day, it was common to have one phone in the house, and that was the phone you had for years. You had a washing machine until it broke down, and you’d at least try and get the thing fixed before you bought a new one. And kitchen appliances lasted forever, shucks, they still do. My stand mixer is going to be one of those things I will never get rid of. Mr. Charlton ain’t going back to making bread with his hands like some sort of pedestrian.

Computer’s though, that’s something that gets old quick. Not many people have vintage computers. Besides a couple of strange peripherals, you want the latest and greatest. Not only does the hardware get old, but the software for computers is always getting updated. A computer five years ago running Windows 7 won’t be running the same version of Windows 7  today. The software giant, Microsoft, is constantly tweaking and adding things. New features are usually great, but it bogs down the hardware. Unless you go rogue with an operating system like Linux, it’s something you’ll have to deal with.

For the non-techies reading my blog, think of it like this. If I bought a car tomorrow, stuck it in a garage for a decade, pulled it out, how would the car run? It’d run fine. You might have to lube up some bit here and there, but if the room was sealed, you wouldn’t really have any issues, except it might not have that new car smell anymore. A computer’s a little different. You buy a computer, hide it away, and pull it out ten years later? It’s going to be a pile of crap. We’ll take the car analogy again. You store the car away for a while, pull it out for a test drive after a decade, and you find out the roads are now made of steel coated with a strange lubricant. You can still drive, but you’re going to have to slow your ass down. But hey, you decide to go upgrade your car at the mechanics. Maybe they can help you out. No go. Turns out the new wheels use a way different method of attachment. Your car is no longer any good.

This isn’t a particularly great analogy. The gist is computers get old, and they need to be upgraded if you want to use the latest software. I’ve got a little laptop, an old netbook I call ‘The Pony’, and it’s fine for writing words. But it can’t even handle the internet anymore. That’s what I use the Pony for, though. When I want to write stuff down and I’d rather not be distracted.

Enter ‘The Work Horse’. This was a great machine. I mean, it had a Xeon Intel processor. A Xeon! It had 4 gigs of RAM. Big old 300 GB hard drives, and it was one of those new fangled ‘Raptor’ drives that spun at 10,000 RPMs instead of 7,200. You can’t just stick that Xeon in any old motherboard, though, that baby required the special server motherboard. That board was big, too, and it needed a special computer case that could handle the size. I wasn’t pissing around either, this was going to be a multi-media center, so I needed the separate audio card. To top it off, I had a 260x GeForce Video card. A couple of fans to her the Horse cool. It was a work of art. Eight years ago.

It’s basically being held together with duct tape at this point. I’ve done everything I could to keep her going, but it’s been a long eight years. I can’t part with the old gal, though. She ain’t as fast as she used to be, but she can still carry a load, so I’ll turn her into a little home server, add a couple of old hard drives to her and use her as a little storage unit.

I ain’t a car guy, never really saw the appeal, but I get why other people are. I look at computers the same way. My new machine should be getting here tomorrow, and I’m going to love every second assembling her, but I’ll miss things about the one I’m writing on right now. How it basically heats my little office here, or how it won’t boot up if I have a USB memory stick inserted into it.

Tomorrow, the Work Horse is going to be put to greener pastures. After eight years, it could use a bit of a break.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. After the OS, what should I install first?

p.s.s. I now feel like I used to on Christmas Eve. I might not even go to bed tonight.

 

Mr. Charlton is a Terrible Code Monkey

I was recently working on a project for a friend of mine who’s a software engineer, helping him put together some 3D modeling stuff. Nothing outside of my scope, but it’s been a while since I’ve sent anything to a 3D printer, so there was some stuff I had to relearn. We ran into one major issue after I had built the first model. When we sent it off to the 3D printer, the 3D printer said the model was too small. It was so small, in fact, my model wasn’t even showing up at all.

Now, I’ve been doing this sort of thing for a while. When the printer balked at me, my first reaction wasn’t “What’s wrong with this stupid hunk of garbage”, it was “Okay, let’s  simplify the problem”. Instead of checking the model (which I had spent hours on at this point), I sent a boring 3D cube to the printer. I ran into the same issue. The cube was too small. Huh! This instantly told me my model was probably fine, but the model and the 3D printer weren’t talking to each other correctly. Something was getting lost in translation. So I made the cube 100 times bigger. Success! The cube was being recognized. I made the model 100 times bigger, and the issue disappeared.

I told my friend, the one who contracted me to do this work, about the issue and how I solved it. He told me the process I went through, simplifying the problem then testing it, was the same way a coder would tackle the problem. Little did he know I’ve been teaching myself the ins-and-outs of coding for a while now! The philosophy of working with code is the same as the philosophy of generating 3D models, which is also the same philosophy of dealing with technology and computers in general; Test the easy, big stuff first so you can narrow down the solution. Also, your computer does not respond very well to yelling instructions at it.

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Strangely, it doesn’t respond to hand gestures either.

Coding isn’t something that comes naturally to human beings. Unless the person has some sort of specific autism, coding is a skill everyone will struggle with. Learning how to code and making little programs has taught me an incredibly important skill, one I never got the hang of in grade school, at college, or anywhere before in the workplace. The skill of being miserable at something, and failing over and over again.

I was pretty good at school. I wasn’t an exemplary student, by any stretch of the means, but I didn’t struggle with any subject. There’s never been a time where I was overly challenged. The only challenge I ever faced was of my own doing, as I tended to procrastinate. Any problem can be made difficult if you wait until the absolute last minute to take it on. School and work never really put me in the path of failing. If it was school, I did well if I put the slightest amount of effort in, and work was basically showing up and doing the job.

Enter coding. I started coding, ever so slightly, a couple years ago. I was a lousy coder back then. These days, well, I’m still pretty awful at coding, but I can look at code and make some sort of sense of it. I can make little scripts to automate tasks. The truth is, I’m not sure if I’ll ever actually be good at coding. I think it’ll always be something I struggle with. That okay, though, because there’s few things I’ve found in life to be as enjoyable as solving problems, and a computer, well, that is basically a box full of problems that need to be solved.

The point I’m trying to make here is very few people are naturally good with computers. The rest of us nerds have to work for it. So if you’re trying to teach yourself how to code, there’s a trick that will keep you on track. The trick is learning to be happy with failing, over and over again. A computer doesn’t hand out participation trophies. Having code that is 95 % correct will still return errors. The computer will only recognize code that works. But when you finally do figure it out, there isn’t anything I’ve found that is quite as satisfying.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. Okay, an orgasm can also be satisfying, but anyone can give themselves one of those, so it’s a different kind of satisfying, I guess.

 

Who Would go to WestWorld?

SPOILER ALERT. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE NEW HBO SERIES ‘WESTWORLD’, UNDERSTAND I’M GOING TO BE TALKING ABOUT IT. I MEAN, THAT SHOULD BE PRETTY CLEAR FROM THE TITLE.

Westworld is a new series on HBO. The intellectual property, on the other hand, is a couple decades old. Westworld was originally a movie written and directed by the late Michael Crichton, and it premiered in 1973. In the movie, Westworld is one of three amusements parks that sits alongside Medieval world and Roman world in the near future of 1983. Tourists pay the astronomical price of one thousand dollars to spend a day in the park. The parks are filled with androids, and you can indulge in sexual encounters or a fight to the death. The androids are programmed to be incapable of violence against the tourists. Until, of course, something goes wrong. A computer virus begins to affect the androids, who are now able to maim and kill people.

HBOs series follows roughly the same plot, except there’s a lot more focus on the engineers building and maintaining the world. There’s only Westworld here, and again, the price of admission makes the park available to only the incredibly wealthy. There’s a pretty drastic change in tone, though. Michael Crichton’s Westworld was an amusement park. It was a place where you’d sleep with an android, get into a fake bar room brawl, drink a pile of whisky, and get into a shootout with the park’s antagonist, ‘The Gunslinger’ played by Yul Brynner. The HBO’s version is a lot… darker.

I like dark. I’m a huge fan of black humour. But Westworld in 2066, where the show takes place, doesn’t really seem like an amusement park. First off, the androids are made from flesh and bones. They bleed. They feel pain. And tourists can do whatever they please to these more-human-than-machine androids. Always wanted to scalp a person? Knock yourself out. Want to mow down a large swath of people? We’ve got a storyline just for you. Feel like killing children? Come to Westworld to experience the realest child killing you can do without actually killing a child. It seems more like a place where sociopaths go to live out their wildest desire. At the same time, as monstrous as some of the tourists seem to be, if Westworld was real, it would probably play out more similarly to the online games we have today.

The problem isn’t Westworld. It’s the fact that I can’t rent out the place, by myself, and have an adventure, by myself. This is how I would imagine the scenarios would actually be played out.

Scenario #1: The mysterious Salesperson at the Tack and Trade.

I’ve just gotten to Westworld. I’m wearing a sleek duster, and some killer cowboy boots. My hat is on point. I’m getting a horse at the Tack and Trade, the local store. A burly man with a mean mustache is running the joint. We start to talk, shooting the breeze. He takes me outside and shows me my new horse. It’s a majestic white stallion. We go back inside to square up. He leans over the counter and begins to tell me a story, a story of buried treasure and a map he has in his possession.  I’m intrigued, the plot thickens. All of sudden, another tourist starts shooting. He’s not shooting any of the people, mind you. He’s shooting the horses. He shoots my horse. I go outside, to find my beautiful animal full of holes. The perpetrator, dressed in green neon leather chaps and a pink fuzzy cowboy hat, looks me right in the eyes, and proceeds to teabag the dead horse. He screams “***BLAZE420*** representing 2Short Clan!” He then flips me off and walks away. I have lost the immersion.

Scenario #2: My Hired Gun.

I’ve gone to the next town over, walking there because all the horses in the previous town were shot. On the way over, I met a strange man. He is out in the desert, dying of thirst. I give him a long pull from my canteen. He’s grateful, saying he was left out to die here. I tell him I’m headed to the town close by, but I’m new to these parts and could use a guide. He says hell to that, he won’t be my guide, but my bodyguard. I’ve given him his life back, and now he has a life debt to pay to me. We start walking to the town, only to have a man on a horse chase us down. His horse is silver and has rockets on the side. He screams “They said you’d be dying in the desert!” He hops off his horse, and begins walking toward my new companion. This new threat is not very tall. Instead of running, my bodyguard pulls down his pants, turns around and presents himself to this new man. They proceed to copulate, with the small man screaming “How do you like this, Brian Treverson? How does it feel to be fucked by the great Anthony Sung?”. My bodyguard continues to thank Anthony repeatedly. It’s only later that I find out billionaire Tony Sung paid extra for the privilege of having an android modeled after a bully he dealt with in college.  That android just happened to be the one I rescued. I have lost the immersion.

Scenario #3: The Beautiful Bar Room Stranger.

I make it to town. I decide a stiff drink is in order, so I head to the saloon. Piano music plays a ragtime ditty, and I stand at the bar. A coin is slapped on the bar, and soon I’ve procured a bottle of whiskey. I pour myself a drink, when a lovely young thing saunters up to me. “Mind if I have a taste, Mr…” I once again nod at the bartender, and he brings another glass. “Mr. Charlton,” I say. “The Illustrious Mr. Charlton”. We both take a sip. Her eyes dart around the room. “Mr. Charlton, we’ve found you at last. I’m a United States Marshal, and we’re in desperate need of men like…” she’s interrupted by an incredibly intoxicated man who bursts into the saloon. He belches uncontrollably. He gets up on top of a card table and exclaims to the bar “I’ve been eating nothing but HoHos and packaged noodles for three weeks. Let me show you my collection.” He then drops his drawers and defecates all over the card table. “No Rules!” he says in a singsong voice “NOOOOOO RUUUUULLLLES.” He’s not an android, and the stench is real. I begin to vomit, the smell is too much. I have lost the immersion.

When I first started watching Westworld, I couldn’t imagine what kind of person would go there. When I thought about it for a minute, I realized exactly what kind of person would go there, and that group is not being represented in the show. To anyone with the vision of a future theme park with no rules, just remember one thing; People will take you up on that, and they might start breaking the rules in ways you never imagined.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. Tell me, Anthony Hopkins. You’ve built an incredible world, but how would you keep the trolls out?

p.s.s. You remember Martin Shkreli? Tell me he wouldn’t spend a week in Westworld ruining everyone else’s time.

Mr. Charlton – The Laggard

I sit on both sides of technology. One one hand, I spent my Wednesday evening ranting about how the internet has turned everyone into some sort of huckster. That Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are full of narcissists who are screaming at the top of their lungs to look in their direction. I also know that’s pretty disingenuous coming from a guy who has a website with his name as the address. The irony is not lost on Mr. Charlton. But it’s true that I’m completely clueless when it comes to social media.

On the other hand, I spent my Thursday evening creating procedurally generated terrain in JAVA. I can replace the processor in my computer, even making sure the thermite paste is properly applied. I can create 3D models and have them sent to a 3D printer. I have a number of computers. Two of these computers run Linux. I have, at one point, had a computer with three operating systems on it. Mr. Charlton has spent decades now breaking computers, and I’m at a point where I can safely be trusted with one.

The picture I’m trying to paint is I both love and hate technology. I love computers, but I hate carrying a cell phone around.  I think the internet is a wonderful, fantastic tools for communicating and sharing ideas, but I absolutely loathe Facebook, Instagram, and Google. I think new gadgets are neat, but I’m convinced that if you can’t open a device and fix it, then you don’t actually own it. I should also mention that almost all the technology I own is really old.

Which puts me in the camp of, what Kat has labeled me, the laggards. The late adopters of technology. I’m using an old Galaxy SIII for my phone. Both my little lappy and my tower PC were bought in 2009. I didn’t actually own a cell phone until 2006. The only thing I own that’s even relatively new is a laptop that Kat’s parent gave to me. Either than that, everything I own is crazy old, in terms of tech progress.

The thing is, I don’t actually need my computers and my cell phone to do more than they’re already doing. The only thing I haven’t been able to install on my phone has been Pokemon Go. My computer can’t run the newest and greatest games anymore, but everything I play is pretty old school. My computers are almost exclusively used to write and design stuff, and they do that just fine. Truthfully, I’m saving my pennies right now to upgrade the beast of a tower I have, but I’m in no rush. Until it bursts into flames, the workhorse is still sitting happy besides my desk, churning out the polygons. Why am I so damned adverse to change?

I thought about this long and hard, and it boils down to two things. I hate being pestered, and I’m a minimalist.

Let’s start with being pestered. I don’t actually like having my cell phone on me. Sure, it’s great for emergencies, but I’ll be damned if I can remember the last time there was an emergency that needed my immediate attention. For the most part, it’s an electronic invitation for someone to pester me. And it’s not a human that’s usually being a bother, it’s Facebook, or Twitter, or Pinterest, or maybe it’s…

“Mr. Charlton! Neil DeGrass Tyson just tweeted a picture!”

… look, this is what I’m talking about. Alright, I’m turning the push notifications off. How on God’s green Earth do you…

“Hey! One of your friends just spammed a massive invite to everyone they know on Facebook! Are you able to go to their party taking place 2000 kilometers away from you tonight?”

Goddamnit! How do I turn off every one of these stupid noti….

“Man, someone from Instagram is at the gym. They want you to know they are at the gym. Here is a picture of them at the gym, in gym clothes.”

Turning off the push notifications on my phone wasn’t easy, but I managed to get it done. Still though, I don’t need to be connected to the network at every goddamn second of the day. The way apps are designed, you’d think it these programmers used to be crack dealers. The people who work at places like Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest use various psychological tricks to keep you coming back to their sites. How many times have you checked Facebook today? Five times? Ten? Is it more?

On the minimalist side of things, I’ll put it bluntly. My phone, for me, isn’t a sign of status. I don’t care if you have a better phone than me, or if you have a MacBook Pro, or if your computer has way more RAM than mine (it’s important to point out that most people rarely need over 8 gigs of the stuff. Anything over that is overkill). Some people like to call it ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’. I refer to it as ‘The Biggest Dick Waving Competition in the Universe’. The only time the brand name is important is if I’m working for that brand, and they are paying me to sell it. This rarely happens in my life.

I’ve caved recently, though. I’ve given up the idea that I can succeed as an adult without social media. If this is how the world is going to be, then I have to accept it. So feel free to follow me on twitter @SandyCharlton. Twitter only allows me to use 140 characters, so that might be a problem. Brevity is the soul of wit, and you’re about to find out how witty I’m not.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. LinkedIn is also a weird one for me. It’s like Facebook, except with less ignorance and racism.

p.s.s. I actually don’t have an Instagram account. Those people who are social media savvy, is this something the hip young kids are using?

p.s.s.s. Social Media Savvy is code word for narcissistic sociopath.

Meta Post – Mr. Charlton, Fake Journalist

The last post I wrote blew up over what can be lovingly referred to as “A stupid internet debate.” What started as a harmless post regarding Trump as a lousy candidate quickly turned into a debate regarding Global Warming. I’m not entirely sure how that happened, but like I said, stupid internet debate. I was challenged with finding GIS data regarding global warming. So I started digging.

Now, it really wasn’t all that hard to find a pile of raw data for GIS analysis regarding global warming. It took the sleuthing of about a thirty second Google search to produce data I could throw in a program and start making maps. In fact, the company that makes ArcGIS, the most popular GIS program on the market, has a pdf on modeling maps with climate change in mind. The information is out there, and it’s not hard to find.

But I wanted to go deeper. I wanted to know how this information was gathered. I wanted to talk to experts. I wanted to correspond with people on both sides of the argument. Everyone who chimed in on the stupid internet debate I had going was not an expert. I’m certainly no expert when it comes to climate change. Hell, I’m hardly a drafting expert and I held that position for over a decade.

The only problem with all of this, is that the job I just described, gathering information, corresponding with experts, presenting the information so that it can be understood by non-experts is a job for a journalist, and I’m certainly no expert when it comes to that. So the task I had laid out for me was another hurdle, one that kind of paralyzed me from writing about anything on this blog for the last couple of days. I sat there, writing Harry Potter / Ninja Turtle cross-over slash fiction instead. As fun as it was to have Michelangelo fall in love with Hermione and have Harry bump heads with Leonardo over leadership duties, it certainly wasn’t getting me anywhere.

I did what I always do when I know nothing about something. I got some books and I started doing some research. This means that it’s going to be a bit before I can talk about climate change and do it justice. I have to get a better handle on the science behind the theory. I have to start sending emails and I have to start making phone calls. I’m determined to do the subject justice, and who knows? Maybe I’ll find out that I’ve been blindly following a hoax, and the Earth is perfectly fine and there’s no need for alarm.

Seriously though, who reads books anymore?

Learning from some books! Like old people do!

The topic of climate change is going to be brought up again on this blog again, you can count on that. In the meantime, the Olympics are starting up next week, and it looks like it’s going to be an utter disaster. I’m certainly no expert on the politics involved in the Olympic process, but I know what a train wreck looks like.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. You know what? Harry would be getting along with Raphael so much better because they’re both emotional hotheads, Donatello would be crushing on Hermione ’cause of brain, and Ron would be skateboarding with Mikey and getting into wacky high-jinks. We all know Leo would be ass kissing Dumbledore.

p.s.s GOD! WHY WASN’T IT SO OBVIOUS BEFORE?!?! NOW ALL MY SLASH FICTION IS RUINED!

p.s.s.s. Gonna try out the ol’ alt text thing. Gives people reading it on a computer just that much more of me.

Pokémon – I Promise I’ll Stop Talking About It.

Alright, so in the first Pokémon Go article I wrote, I talked about what it was, who was playing it, and the fact that I ran into a goddamn rattlesnake. Part two explored Pokémon as a cultural phenomenon. I wanted to discuss what made Pokémon popular in the first place. In this third and last installment, I want to talk about the actual game Pokémon Go, and review the game. The question I’m posing, is Pokémon GO actually a good game?

The short answer is no.

Games for mobile platforms, ie your phone, have exploded in the last couple of years. There are actually too many games for both the Android platform and the IOS platform. Thousands and thousands and thousands of games, most being lousy and poorly thought out. When people started making games for phones, companies and programmers saw that there was a large market for apps, and started going to work. We now have a berth of apps for phones, so many that even if you deliver a quality product, there’s little chance of success.

Now, there’s a reason I’m not particularly a fan of games for the phone. A lot of these games are free to download. You don’t have to pay anything to play these games! You would think that’s some sort of bonus, but most of these free games fall under the ‘pay-to-win’ category. The games are often difficult, but if you choose to spend some money, you can gain access to more of the game faster. You can get potions to heal you, or buy more rounds of a puzzle game instead of waiting, or buy upgrades for your little virtual farm.

Mobile game companies have figured out some pretty heavy psychological aspect of human beings while making these games. Video games operate on the same principle as sports, work, hunting, or pretty much anything. Move towards a goal, face a challenge, then succeed or fail. If you succeed, you get a little dose of happy brain chemicals like dopamine, and you turn to face another goal. Score a touchdown, get a dose of dopamine. Complete a task at work, get a dose of dopamine. Your brain rewards you when you achieve victory. The insidious thing about these ‘pay-to-win’ games is video game companies have figured out that the brain still rewards the player with dopamine if you pay to level up instead of achieving it.

Like most people, you probably haven’t dropped any of your hard earned cash on these free games, and most players don’t. There’s a few people that do spend some money of these games, anywhere from $20 to $100 dollars. The companies aren’t interested in those people, or the people who spend zero dollars. The people they’re interested in are what the industry calls ‘Whales’. You see, Whales will spend thousands of dollars on pay-to-win games. These people aren’t playing a game, they’re addicts who are being taken advantage of.

Pokémon Go isn’t as insidious. Yet. You can still buy upgrades to make the game a little easier, but for the most part it’s still pretty balanced. But this game hasn’t even been released in Canada yet, and it’s only a week old, so there’s plenty of time to upgrade the game into something that might target these Whales.

The other issue regarding Pokémon Go, is it requires what us gamers call ‘Grinding’. ‘Grinding’ is the term used to progress your character’s development by continually repeating the same task over and over again. For hours. There’s a difficult boss you can’t beat? Go out and fight low level monsters for hours until your good enough to face the boss. In the new Pokémon Go, in order to evolve your ‘Mons, you have to catch enough of that particular ‘Mon to level it up. And that doesn’t take effort or skill, it just takes time and a lot of walking around. Some people have figured out a work around. In order to fool the game into thinking they are walking about, cheeky gamers have attached their phones to ceiling fans or stationary bikes. The game thinks you’re moving, and rewards you accordingly.

Because of this, Pokémon Go as a game fails for me. I don’t actually have a phone powerful enough to play it, and I’m not going out anytime soon to rectify this. There’s enough good games out there, that you pay for with money, that are fun all the way through, and aren’t confused with chores. Because if you’re attaching your phone to a bike in your living room, and pushing the wheel occasionally with a stick to trick the game into thinking you’re playing, well, how much fun is that exactly?

At the same time, it’s the most downloaded app. Ever. And it’s getting people out and about, getting exercise and meeting other people, even if it’s to talk about Pokémon. So in the scheme of things, even though the game isn’t for me, it wasn’t designed for me. It was made for Pokémon fans, and there’s obviously a lot of them. Who cares if it’s not a great game, it’s a great way to get in shape and meet some people, especially for those who struggle with that already.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. To all game developers; Are you making a game? Or a gimmic?