Ego Section

Oct. 1st, 2012 10:06 am
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Now that I'm back to viewing social media, I checked my FB account. The right hand side has a lot of "people you may know". Decided I should block that with my ad blocker so I don't see it. When selecting the div to block, turns out they named the div "ego_section".

Well, at least they're honest.
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So the Experimonth is over. How was it? Overwhelming is the best way to put it. Never did I think the grip of social media and current news would be so great on my psyche. I have given up other vices before (fast food, soda, alcohol, caffine) and none have been as hard (fyi, caffine was by far the hardest before this).

Actually it was so hard that I'm not sure I'm done with the experiment yet. And while I tried not to, I did cheat a couple times. The pull to want to know how *others* react is pretty great it turns out. Now I know why so many companies want to get into the social realm. As far as addictions go, it's right up there (and socialy accepted).

However, lets start out with what I did not miss. I didn't miss Twitter or Facebook or Google Plus. Many of these quick "what are you doing now?" sites really didn't stick with me. After a few days I didn't miss them or think about them at all.

So what did I miss? Blogs, News sites, and especially forums. Not "forums" like Reddit, as I didn't really miss Reddit, but forums like the drummers forum I frequent or the Packer one or the emulation one. The communities I'm a part of that are niche where other posters "know" me. And while I missed them, I know I'm better off not being on them very often.

The forums that is. It's easy to spend way too much time having "conversations" with people you don't actually know about things that don't really matter. Blogs and news sites are a different story. They are more for consumption, tend to be longer in length and are something that I miss but also don't feel like is a massive waste of time. That's probably because their output is a trickle here and there instead of the flood of other social media.

Before I went on hiatus I had subscribed to a bunch of art and design blogs. Looking at them just now they are filled with so much awesome stuff, that I really feel now like I missed something this month being away. Looking at the normal forums I used to visit...well it's pretty much the same old thing. I don't get the feeling that I missed a lot or that anything major happened in the last month.

Looking at Twitter, FB, G+, et al I sort of feel like I did when I had my first fast food after about 3 months off of it. "What is this shit?!" I don't mean that to disparage anyone, but it really feels like empty calories now. It's weirdly unrecognizable.

So, how have I changed and what am I going to change? I've realized current events are important. Real news of the day is a good thing. I've realized well written blogs/articles about niche things I care about are also important. They keep me up to date on what matters but don't beat me over the head with it 10 times a day.

I've realized day to day posts or memes or random quips while fine on their own, in aggregate are a waste of time. I can think of only a few posts on Twitter, FB, G+, etc from the past year that really wowed me (or that I can remember). I can think of dozens of great blog posts, podcasts, and news articles. Not that everything needs to be of value, but there's a slippery slope here.

So yes I will be watching more football, playing more video games, and reading my RSS feeds. But no, I won't be on the social media websites or forums as regularly as I used to be, if at all. If I've learned one this this month (and it's something I want to continue into October), it's to *slow the fuck down*.

In an interconnected and instant society this turns out to be amazingly hard, espeically if your brain is wired to take everything in. There were several times this month, with a lack of things to do, that I felt like a kid again. Instead of feeling bored, I felt like I could do anything I wanted. That was not something I expected, but it came from a lack of distractions. And I did do a lot because of it. I was more productive in September than I have been in a long time.

This idea, "lack of distractions" is where I want to focus my time and energy moving forward, not just online, but elsewhere as well.
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I've been a web designer for a long time now (15 years) and for some reason I still have issues trying to argue my design points to non-designers. This goes doubly for developers.

I'm not badmouthing developers (or anyone else) by saying that. I think part of it comes from a lack of understanding of the design process, and of design principles and best practices. That's expected, it's not anyone's job to know these things except the designer. But much like politics, when it comes to design everyone has an opinion that they in some way *feel* is right.

There's nothing wrong with this, it's human nature and sometimes it opens up insight into something that otherwise would be missed. But the hard leap for people to make seems to be what feels right for you doesn't necessarily mean it's right for everyone.

Now I used the terms "argue" and "right" when design "arguments" don't tend to be negative (or at least they shouldn't be) and there is much more grey area in design ideas than any one "right" one. But hashing through an idea or counter ideas to many people does feel like an argument, which then makes people feel "wrong" and thus defensive.

It's this defensive reaction during a brainstorming session that is still what I can't quite solve. I get that not everyone works like we did when I was at the Walker where you walk into a room, drop your ego and go at it for a couple hours. Best idea leaves the room and everyone is happy.

That last part, "everyone is happy", is where I want to end up, but I want it to be because we all agree on the best path forward, not because anyone "won" anything. And I'm still at a bit of a loss as to how to do that when many people (perhaps subconsciously) see brainstorming of ideas as Me vs You as opposed to Idea vs Idea.

I mentioned how this is a lot like politics above and perhaps that's the solution to a lot of this. Instead of just assuming that people will understand that this is a battle of ideas instead of a battle of *your* idea, some politicking is probably needed. I'm no longer at the Walker with people who understand the difference, and no amount of me educating them on how I work ever seems to make it any easier.

What's interesting is that the way I might debate with a developer over a design decision is very similar to how they debate with each other over a development decision. Perhaps this is a sure sign of a bad approach off the bat since most developers feel other developers have horrible ideas.

Part of this could be because these debates are about trying to *convince* each other of an approach instead of trying to see how each approach could be successful on its own. That can turn a debate of conflicts into a discussion of best practice.

This, funny enough, tends to make people want to defer to a designer for decisions instead of always trying to butt heads in the arena of ideas. But it's something I need to get better at and many times fail spectacularly at. Since I don't get "reviews" anymore, I need to do more introspection, so I think it's time to have this be my next focus area in the coming year.
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Also, I think we had one of the coolest logos:

I'm going to take this into Illustrator when I get the time and make a vector version of it. I'll post it when it's done.

Looks like after I cataloged all the column clippings I have it's around 180 game reviews. But from the looks of it I'm also missing about 55 weeks worth of columns. I know there were weeks it didn't run (especially towards the end) but I gotta think we missed a couple. Going to check with Rob's folks to see if they have any of the missing pieces.
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So during out house warming party this weekend the topic of the game column I wrote when I was a teenager came up. I then went to get the copy of all my columns from storage to show people. This has been sitting on my desk this week.

I decided to look through them and read a few. Besides the obvious badly written teenage prose, I was surprised by the shear number of games reviewed. There's well over 100, perhaps closer to 150.

Then I had an idea. Chronicle all the reviews for posterity. I then went out and found a good OCR reader and tested it out on some columns. Translated well! So I thought, ok, why not just OCR everything, make PDF's of the actual columns with searchable text and put it all up online?

So tonight I started a spreadsheet that puts every game and date into it. My mom cut out every column we ever wrote and was smart enough to write the dates on the back of all of them. So far there are only two I can't match dates to.

It's funny looking through these as the paper we wrote for probably needed to do a better job at editing. There were two weeks they ran the same game review! There were a few times they put in a 4 1/2 star rating for something (our scale only went up to 4). Simple errors but I found them humorous.

It was also interesting to see that some of what we wrote in hindsight was spot on. For one we talked at length about how Battletoads is one of the hardest games ever made (still is) and how amazing the music in Streets of Rage is (again, still is). Other things, well, we weren't exactly correct on, like how great the Game Gear was over the Gameboy (oops).

I think this is a good project because it's historical, it has to do with games, it's a good site I can build for fun and it's something very few people have ever seen outside of northeast Wisconsin. Should be a fun project.


Sep. 14th, 2012 09:49 am
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One thing I've noticed about social media, it's not particularly hard to give up when you're ignorant of what is going on around you. If I don't know who has what drama, or what the latest news is, there is definitely less of a thought about it at all. Doesn't usually cross my mind.

But when events happen, that's sort of when you want to know more. Like when the Packers won in historic fashion last night, I wanted to see what the opinion columnists and pundits thought. When I got invited to a party, I wanted to see who was going and what people were saying about it.

The problem is, those things lead you down a dark path into the abyss of feeling the need to stay on top of everything. Though this could just be me. I know others who follow a ton of people and only read a couple posts every day. My brain just doesn't work like that unfortunately.


Sep. 11th, 2012 12:29 am
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I suppose I haven't talked much about Jill since the funeral. Tom, her husband, gave a great eulogy and summed up her life well. The things that stick with me, and are very true, were that she was never a person to always give an answer right away. She would wait and think about things before she responded.

I think this is really missing these days. One of the reasons for my "hiatus" is to get away from instant knee-jerk reactions to things, to make assumptions or to always have an answer for everything.

One thing I liked about Tom and Jill's family is that there wasn't much of an assumption about much of anything. They knew what they knew and the rest they didn't pretend to have all the answers on. There is a level of genuine curiosity there that I think some other people, who only react, lack.

I found it refreshing and real. Much more real than those who, when you read between the lines, basically say "be like meeee!!" or "I know everything!!". I of course fall into these same traps too. It's part of why I'm experimenting this month. But the world is much better when people are different and first reactions are ones of curiosity over condemnation.

One other thing that was said about Jill was her passion for sustainable farming. This has always been interesting to me given that there are many rural farmers who just don't really care. I think Tom and Jill are different because they come from a tradition of family farms and they understand the changes that have taken place over the years.

Even their neighbors are into it. One of them sells the only certified organic fertilizer. Sounds odd (and I don't think it's just manure), but he's worked a lot to get it certified. His truck in big letters says "NON-GMO". Many of Tom and Jill's neighbors and friends are into non-GMO, sustainable farming.

One of them was taking about a client of theirs, in the sale the client talked about how his pigs were always sick, and he was spending $10k per month on vets because of it. The guy asked him what he fed the pigs. It was GMO corn. He told him if he switched to non-GMO that would solve the problem but the farmer wanted to hear none of it.

After an hour of convincing, the farmer reluctantly agreed to feed the pigs non-GMO corn. Lo and behold, the pigs got better and the increase in cost of non-GMO corn was offset by the fact that he didn't need to spend $10k on vet fees every month.

This was the typical story of this group and Jill and Tom have had many similar stories in the past. In this way, they actually are experts in their field, because they have the history to back up their case. But they still have the curiosity to see if it's still valid in the face of change.

I knew some of this before we ventured to Roseau, but I learned a ton just being up there. I should add that these aren't some hippies we're talking about. Many of them bragged about how many gun cabinets they had, not just how many guns. They strike me as "live and let live" types, but also have a rich community and history. It's admirable.

As sad as it is that Jill is no longer with us, I'm perhaps more saddened that she is not with that culture any longer. It feels like a dying breed. I'm just glad that it exists at all. It's easy to roll over in the face of progress when things seem easier or "better", but questioning the change is also a healthy bit of skepticism that is needed. Not in the "I know better" sense, but in the curiosity/due diligence sense.

We will miss you Jill.
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One thing Annette's uncle Tom is good at is telling stories. After the funeral we had a nice bonfire at their farm. Tom is a bit of an inventor, having come up with a device to easily show the level of grain bins which has has patented and now sells all over.

What I did not know was that these inventions are from a long line of inventions in his family from both his father and grandfather.

His father made a bunch of stuff, from automated fertilizing equipment, to snow removal tools for ditches, to hovercraft. His biggest invention was basically a Jazzy he created in the 60's. It was the first real thing of its kind to help disabled people around stores and into/out of cars. The pamphlet for it was really bad ass. It was called Lectra-something, I can't remember the 2nd word but I know it started with an L.

His Grandfather, Otis Johnson basically invented the snowmobile. While there is no one person credited with it, Otis built his as a steam engine at the turn of the century. He later heard of a man named Carl Eliason who build a similar device modeled after a toboggan. They got together often to talk about their creations and how to make them better.

Eliason told Otis "you know if I was going to do it all over again, I'd probably start over from scratch and do it like ____". Otis asked if he could attempt to build it and make it work. Eliason told him to go for it, see what he could do.

Otis basically came up with the modern day snowmobile from this work. Now Roseau is a small town and if you didn't know it's also where Polaris is headquartered. And the Polaris guys saw Otis' take on his and Eliason's work and then copied it for their own company.

The history of the snowmobile is a weird and complex one, but it was pretty cool that Annette's uncle's relatives played an integral role in it.
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Just got back from a trip to Roseau to attend the funeral of Annette's aunt Jill. We knew this time would come soon, as Jill has been struggling with cancer. She was fairly young though (50 if I recall).

Normally, funerals don't bother me, but this one did more than most. I think it's because Jill and Tom (her husband) don't have any kids. They live their life much like Annette and I do, and I kept putting myself into Tom's place, which is difficult. I feel bad for Tom, he's such a nice guy.

Roseau is about 10 miles from Canada and reminds me of where I grew up, a small farming community. On the way to Roseau I apparently made a bad decision. Google mapped out 3 different routes to Roseau, and I figured we'd take one up and one back. The one up went right through the Red Lake Reservation.

Now I had heard of issues on that reservation (including the massacre there in 2005). But apparently Google doesn't tell you "you may want to think twice before driving through here". Truth be told, it was a beautiful and scenic drive, as well as uneventful. But it was obvious something wasn't quite right about it.

When we got to Red Lake, it was obviously a very poor area, even for rural standards. But as we started driving around the lake it became sort of surreal. At a certain point there were no more homes. In fact for an entire hour there were no buildings, no other roads, no cell reception, not even any other cars. We drove 60 miles and saw nothing but a windy road with no shoulder and boggy swampland on either side. It was beautiful but a bit disconcerting. I was happy we had fueled up previous to that as anyone on a low tank would kind of be screwed.

About a half hour into the trip through this area Annette asked me why the road signs seemed to beat up when nothing was out here. I said they weren't "beat up" they were just full of bullet holes. Every road sign was basically shot to bits. I thought nothing of it at the time.

Once we got to Roseau and met with the family everyone asked us if we liked the detour we had to make. I said we never had a detour. They said "oh you didn't go through Oklee?" to which I said "no we went through Red Lake". Every single person I mentioned this took looked at me in shock. Many said "Did you bring your gun?" or "Did you have a death wish?".

It seems, on that road we were on, lots of shit goes down. Because of the remote nature, lack of other options of travel, and crime rate, it's been known for people to be road blocked at gun point and have all their stuff stolen, or worse. Even the residents of Roseau know not to go on that road, they travel around the reservation.

It's sad really. Many of the residents of Red Lake moved back there in the last few years when the economy crashed. A majority of them are under 18. Almost half live below the poverty line. Even their casinos do not make money (mainly because of the crime and the lack of outside people wanting to gamble there because of it). It's an overall bad situation.

It's just a little odd to be in a "ghetto" in such a rural setting.

More on the rest of my trip later...
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I've decided to make these posts for the month public, if only so I can refer back to them when the experiment is over. Perhaps that's an experiment in itself.

Mostly spent last night moving all my apps and files over to Mountain Lion (which I'm typing from right now). It's running off my new SSD so it's quite a bit faster at the HD bottleneck.

One crappy thing is for whatever reason apps just don't seem to "work" in ML. I'm guessing because they got rid of Carbon and are now only allowing Objective C. So really any binary that would work on PPC is no longer working. Thus I actually have to use the LJ website to post stuff now. Perhaps that's ok, saves me an app to manage.

I was able to set up a site blocker in Safari that basically is blocking all the normal stuff I would tend to go to. It pulled its weight this morning when I tried to go to Google Plus out of habit. I hadn't even realized I'd clicked the link until I got the No Access message, that's just how programatic those movements are in my mind still.

This morning I had a feeling I haven't had in a while though. Normally I wake up and check email, stocks, twitter, etc, on my phone before I get up. Now I can't do any of that. This starts with a weird feeling of "bah, what do I do now?". As if some small piece of joy was taken from me.

But shortly thereafter I had this feeling like I did as a kid. Since I woke up a little late today, it's summer, and I can't amuse myself with my phone, thoughts shifted to what I could do today. Instead of "bah, what do I do?" I thought "It's a new day, I can do whatever I want!".

That was a common feeling every morning as a kid, especially in summer like it is now. No plans, no direction, no preconceived course, just get up and do whatever tickles your fancy that day. It's a wonderful feeling.