Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I should be so lucky

I'm an incredibly lucky man. Pretty much everyone I know to talk to is also blessed - with a lifestyle that didn't exist even a hundred years ago. Talking a few days ago with a friend, we discussed how human societies for the last few millenia have strived, fought and died aiming for the simple goal of trying to be the very people we are today.

Technologically, this is strongly evident. Even if we begin to take what we have today for granted, there is always something new on the horizon that jolts us out of our perceptions of what is possible - who could have believed even 20 years ago that I would be able to hold a realtime conversation with friends three thousand miles away as though we were in the same room, essentially for free? Who could believe that we would see videos of events on the other side of the world captured by ordinary citisens broadcast minutes later to anyone who cares to watch? Who would have believed that we would be able to look at the roof of our house, see our car in the driveway, all through a computer screen?

All of these things have been imagined by authors, of course. Most science facts are proposed in science fiction well before they occur in reality. That doesn't detract from the fact that we really can do all of the things in the list above - and they're not even strange to contemplate now, they're actually comfortable parts of our lives. Undoubtedly there will be advances in the near and far future that bring more of people's imagination to life, that change our capabilies as humans even further than we have already gone.

When you look outside technology, it seems less obvious, but it's no less stunning just how incredibly good we have it. I can walk to the shops, right now, and buy - well, just about anything. A new TV? no problem. Fruit that isn't even grown in this country? check. A pair of shoes, or the latest movie? Batteries? check, check, check. I have the library of the world's media at my fingertips, the produce from every corner of the world at my whim. We are the ultimate in opportunistic consumers, and we take it completely for granted.

What do we do with this incredible opportunity we have available to us? Do we use our time to good ends? Do we appreciate the fantastic opportunity that the entire rest of human civilisation has killed itself to give us? I can only answer that question for myself, as everyone in this world really is different, and I know there's some pretty solid yes and no answers out there, but stepping away from the black and white, I think this is the thing that defines whether you really are a good person or not.

We have time, love, thought and motion, all in limited quantities. Are you making the best of them? I know i'm not, but i'm beginning to think that if there is a point to our existence, it has to be putting them to the most use you can get out of them. Humanity, from the start till right now, has been about nothing else other than delivering you and me to this time, and giving us just about every conceivable tool, toy and list of instructions that any human before us could have dreamed of.

Time is something you can keep for yourself, or give to someone else. Both are valuable, if you make them - helping a friend decorate, teaching a new skill to your child, Learning a language - these seem like pretty good uses of time to me. Watching the "news" with the same recycled stories about interchangeable celebrities that i've never met, or the 100th in a series of celebrity cook-offs - these are starting to look like bad investments to me. I read a really interesting post about dedicating time to work and time to improve yourself recently, where the author thought that 40 hours working and 20 hours improving your skills was something to strive for, and I have to agree with him. I may disagree about the focus of the 20 hours, but the important lesson, I feel, is that you should be doing something useful with it not wasting it.

Love is free to give, and done the right way it's what makes being a human feel worthwhile. Something special happened to me this April that has made me begin to appreciate the loves in my life, and I can only hope that I give it back to the people who deserve it (and more) as I get older and wiser.

Thought and motion have been discussed endlessly by men and women far brighter than I could ever hope to be, but I like to do them both. I doubt it would hurt for me to put a bit more effort into the motion part of the equation, especially given that I aim to live forever - Maybe it's time to bring out the Wii fit again.

I had intended to write something about how obsessive i'm becoming about my time, and how some other concerns are starting to fade (power, money, celebrity). I had intended to post a diatribe about how most people seem caught up in the rat race, too busy killing themselves and each other stiving for what we've already got - but then, on the face of it, life is too bloody brilliant to waste it worrying about that. I think instead, i'm going to finish this post and go learn something that will make my wife smile. <3 to you all.

Monday, June 8, 2009

There's gold in them thar hills!

Well goodness to betsy. I spend years holding in the words, and the day after I write down what has been in my head, this happens:

Channel 4 intends to put a big fat chunk of their content on the internet, gratis.

Kudos to you, channel 4. I always loved your style.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sailing the digital seas

I have an imaginary friend, who I like to refer to as "my evil twin". Most days, my evil twin is dressed in black, performing evil ninja missions to bring down governments, or carrying vengeance to my imaginary enemies in the form of poisoned blades and curt japanese whispers.

Occasionally, my evil twin discards his ninja costume and instead dons the jaunty garb of a pirate, sailing the digital seas in search of digital ships to digitally plunder. "Arr", he cries, as he digitally stabs upstanding navy members while buckling his swash on the way to another stash of digital booty.

Of course, I'm not referring to real piracy - I'm referring to downloading TV shows and movies. Downloading content from the internet is about as far from real piracy as you can possibly get. For starters, there are no ships involved, unless you count the Pirate Bay logo. There's also no sea. There's also a distinct lack of stabbing, shooting, cannons, flames, wooden legs, parrots and (in these modern times) somali nationals. Last but not least, there's a complete lack of two things - the first is death, and the second is theft.

The concept of piracy is a strong one, with deep fabulous roots. The connotation of theft of tangible goods and murderous actions is a great thing to grasp one's attention. Tales of stealing and murder abound, including many real life examples such as Blackbeard and sir Francis Drake who while being renowned in English history as an explorer and a politician, was also viewed by the Spanish as a privateer, pirate and generally all-round bad guy. I guess your view of his actions depends on which side you're on, and I'd assume the slaves he took and the crewmen of the ships he sank would probably look on him with ill favour.

Watching TV shows on the internet is certainly not piracy in any traditional sense. Certainly, if I were to take the side of content distributors grimly hanging on to a distribution model based on physical movement of tangible goods, I can understand why I'd like to protect that business model by lobbying and P.R. efforts to draw parallels between theft, violent actions and other malicious behaviours and downloading. After all, that's much simpler to do and less scary than adjusting the business model to fit consumer behaviour.

The terrible thing about this stance is that it's simply bad business sense. The most recent independent surveys such as this one and the one referred to in this article suggest that capturing and monetising the audience who download content from the internet is actually the best way to make money - the very people being criticised and castigated are the best consumers.

While I myself would never in a million years think of downloading internet content for my television viewing pleasure, I do occasionally watch over the shoulder of my evil twin, and when I see something I like I have a habit of buying the BluRay. Oddly enough, I tend to not do this with shows that i've never seen before.

If only there was some way for me to watch this content, without annoying adverts, without warnings on the front intimating that I'm a criminal, on my own terms and timetable, on any device that I'd like to view on. If only there was a way, I would reward those content producers with some of my hard earned money.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Needs more polish

For the last 18 years, I've been making computer games. I've been lucky enough to be involved in just about every part of the process, from writing music and sound effects through to designing some pretty cool graphical effects. I've also played a lot of games - in fact, some would say a ridiculous amount of games. I feel comfortable saying - I know a good game.

And a good game needs polish. Every great game i've ever played shines when compared to the alternatives out there. Sometimes this is graphical, sometimes it's a gem of design, sometimes it's the hook behind the game, but there will always be at least one part of the product where you can see the love, time and attention - where someone has bent their back and applied pressure. Taking something rough and refining it until it is gleaming.

It's easy to spot when you look - it will be something that, upon close examination, improves in your estimations. Something you think is good, and then when you dig deeper, realise it's actually brilliant. Something that sparkles at you, drawing your attention in the first place. A good game will have a few of these gems, a great game will be liberally scattered with them.

I try and ensure that my work is polished, and I'm lucky to work for a company where the same is true of most of my colleagues. I've come to expect a certain attention to detail when work is complete; after all, we're in a highly competitive industry and you need to shine to be the best. Recently, I've had a startling revelation.

The rest of the world doesn't work like this. The majority of people are happy to just get by, happy for the fruit of their labours to be just good enough. I've had experiences recently with car salesmen, boiler repairmen, service in restaurants, estate agents; the list is pretty long, but the end result is nearly always some level of disappointment.

I've come to the conclusion that two things are for sure - I need to lower my expectations, and the rest of the world needs more polish.