Last night my father passed away at 82 years old, his loving wife of over 30 years by his side.
My father is a large part of the person that I am today. I can vividly remember, at the tender age of 4 or 5, when he sat me down in front of a computer that he was assembling. Parts were strewn across the dining room table, much to the chagrin of my mother. He placed a cable in my hand and showed me where to connect it, my tiny hands managing to force it in backwards. He then showed me the correct way to do it before I got distracted and ran off to the next thing that caught my attention. The seed was planted however and thus began my life long obsession with technology.
As a father he was always one to lead by example, not by words. My never-quite-finished childhood home out in Wamboin being a great testament to this, the vast majority of it being built or modified by his hands. Once we were old enough to swing a hammer accurately though it was his vision that was realised through our work. The decks, pergolas and numerous sheds that dot our property all built by the family together under his careful eye. It was him who gave me a love of building things, both physical and programmatic.
Like many of his generation he came from not much at all. “Too young for WW2 and too old for Vietnam” (as he would say) he avoided serving in any wars and pursued a career in Radio Engineering, earning his degree from the University of Melbourne. Before he met my mother he did installations of audio systems at numerous places, including the courts at Canberra and ANU’s Llewellyn Hall. Soon after marrying my mother however they started a small business called Electronic Components, essentially a competitor to Dick Smith Electronics. They were so involved in the local business community that even 20 years later, when I went to work at DSE, customers would recognise me as Max’s son. Unfortunately the business eventually shut down but Dad would continue to use it on the side as Pamax Industries.
It was after then he began his career as a teacher at TAFE. He began by teaching networking and general computer topics but eventually branched out into renewable energy. Again he was a pillar of his community, training so many of Canberra’s IT staff that even for a decade after he finished up teaching I would still run into people who had been trained by him. My name then brought with it a lot of prestige, something I worked incredibly hard to maintain. Now I feel I am my own man, but there’s no mistaking the shoulders upon which I have stood.
After retiring at the ripe old age of 75 he barely slowed down, turning his focus to projects around the house and (much to my mother’s dismay) eBay. Our house is littered with his projects ranging from numerous bonsais, dozens of LED lights, weather stations and numerous types of electronic gizmos and gadgets. He once again took up his hobby of photography and his canvas prints now adorn the walls of my childhood home. Together with my mother they traveled abroad, my mother finally getting her passport to visit a place outside of Australia. They toyed with the idea of becoming grey nomads but figured they’d much prefer to stay in nice hotels. This isn’t surprising considering they probably had enough of caravans, having lived in one for years while they were building our home.
He is survived by his wife, 3 sons and 1 daughter.
Godspeed you great pillock.
Early on in my career I stumbled upon what was, to me, an astonishing fact: there was little correlation between work performance and the rewards that came from it. I could bust my hump and be the top of the metrics (I was working in a call center at the time) or I could simply meet my KPIs without breaking too much of a sweat. The end result? Nearly identical in both cases so my work habits tended very quickly towards doing only what was required of me nothing more. This further evolved later in my career into only doing the work that would get noticed as doing anything else would prove of little benefit to me. Indeed I came to realise that being a stellar performer is often not worth it, even if you’re capable of doing it.
Research into this area has shown that being a high performer is a thankless task. When presented with two potential employees to assign work to, one with low self control and the other with higher, people will more often than not assign more work to the person with higher self control. In the real world this means that a high performer will be assigned more work and the low performer less. However rarely does this correlate to how each of those workers is rewarded for their performance, meaning that high performers are essentially doing more work for the same reward. Thus there is an active disincentive for anyone to be perceived as a high performer, lest they unnecessarily burden themselves.
Indeed I found as much throughout my career. Being able to take care of your assigned tasks in less time than others often meant I’d be left looking for other tasks to occupy my time. Quite often this would result in being assigned busy work that didn’t need to be done and, even if it was done well, would go completely unnoticed. Thus I resigned myself to doing the work I needed to do and not seeking out anything beyond that, allowing me more time to dedicate to tasks that I felt warranted it. This then translated into me always having time to help out others when they needed me whilst not burdening me with pointless work that wouldn’t get noticed.
In my current employment however I have found that there is tangible benefit to demonstrating my skill. Instead of simply assigning me more work I’m instead presented with opportunities that might not be available to everyone else. Such challenges are often interesting and potentially career making, providing an incentive to work harder to show that I’m capable of completing them. It’s this kind of recognition which I feel is the best way to encourage your best performers to keep doing what they’re doing and to motivate others to do the same.
We’ve all watched ants go about their business. They scurry along the ground or up walls, busying themselves with transporting all sorts of things back to their nest. Every so often though you’ll see them stop and begin cleaning themselves, rubbing their antennae vigorously for quite a while before they continue the task at hand. If you’re like me you thought that was a pretty simple thing, all animals need to keep themselves clean, but that simple process belies some incredible evolutionary adaptations that ants have. Indeed as the video shows these adaptations are so advanced that replicating them could provide some benefits for the semiconductor industry.
This translation of evolutionary adaptations being translated to technical applications is called biomimicry and has played a pivotal role in technological development for quite a while. Some of the most notable examples include the development of velcro which takes inspiration from the hooks present on burs which allowed them to attach to an animal’s fur in order to spread their seed over a greater distance. The combo that the ants have could prove useful for semiconductors which are very susceptible to contamination, with other potential applications at the micro scale that require similar filtration and cleaning.
Isn’t it amazing what millions of years of evolution can come up with!
Whilst I haven’t had a real programming job in the better part of a decade I have continued coding in my spare time for various reasons. Initially it was just a means to an end, making my life as an IT admin easier, however it quickly grew past that as I aspired to be one of those startup founders Techcrunch idolizes. Once I got over that my programming exploits took on a more personal approach, the programs I built mostly for my own interest or fixing a problem. I recently dove back into one of my code bases (after having a brainwave of how it could have been done better) and, seeing nothing salvageable, decided to have a crack at it again. This time around however, with far less time on my hands to dedicate to it, I started looking for quicker ways of doing things. It was then I realised that for all the years I’ve been coding I had been suffering from Not Invented Here syndrome and that was likely why I found making progress so hard.
The notion behind Not Invented Here is that using external solutions, like in the case of programming things like frameworks or libraries, to solve your problems isn’t ideal. The reasoning that drives this is wide and varied but it often comes down to trust, not wanting to depend on others or the idea that solutions you create yourself are better. For the most part it’s a total fallacy as any one programmer cannot claim to the be the expert in all fields and using third party solutions is common practice worldwide. However, like I found, it can manifest itself in all sorts of subtle ways and it’s only after taking a step back that you can see its effects.
I have often steered clear of many frameworks and libraries mostly because I felt the learning curve for them would be far too steep. Indeed when I’ve looked at other people’s code that makes use of them I often couldn’t make sense of them due to the additional code libraries they had made use of and resided myself to recoding them from scratch. Sometimes I’d do a rudimentary search for something to see if there was an easy answer to my problem but often I’d just wrangle the native libraries into doing what I wanted. The end result of this was code that, whilst functional, was far more verbose than it needed to be. Then when I went back to look at it I found myself wondering why I did things in this way, and decided there had to be a better way.
Fast forward to today and the new version of the application I’ve been working on makes use of numerous frameworks that have made my progress so much faster. Whilst there’s a little bloat from some frameworks, I’m looking at you Google APIs, it’s in the form of dlls and not code I have to maintain. Indeed much of the code that I had to create for handling edge cases and other grubby tasks is now handled much better by code written by people far more experienced with the problem space than I will ever be. Thus I’ve spent far less time troubleshooting my own work and a lot more time making progress.
I have to attribute part of this to the NuGet package management system in Visual Studio which downloads, installs and resolves all dependencies for any framework you want to install. In the past such tasks would fall to the developer and would often mean chasing down various binaries, making sure you had the right versions and repeating the whole process when a new version was released. NuGet broke down that barrier, enabling me to experiment with various frameworks to meet my end goals. I know similar things to this have existed in the past however I really only begun to appreciate them recently.
There’s still a learning curve when adopting a framework, and indeed your choice of framework will mean some design decisions are made for you. However in the short time I’ve been working with things like HtmlAgilityPack and Json.NET have shown me that the time invested in learning them is far smaller than trying to do what they do myself. I’m sure this seems obvious to seasoned programmers out there but for me, who was working with the mentality that I just needed to get things done, it never occurred to me that my approach was completely wrong.
I guess where I’m going with all this is that should you find yourself attempting to solve a problem the first thing you need to do is see if its been solved by someone else first. Chances are they’ve gone through the pain you’re about to put yourself through and can save you from it. Sure you might not understand fully how they did it and they might not do it the way you wanted to but those things mean little if they save you time and emotional capital. I know for myself if I had to redo everything I did previously I would be no where near where I am today and likely would get no further.
I don’t think I’m alone in feeling an almost irrational hatred towards clickbait headlines. It’s not the headlines themselves, per se, more the fact that they exist solely to trick you into clicking through by attempting to trigger your desire for closure rather than a genuine interest in the content. Indeed after being blasted with these headlines for years now I’ve found myself being turned off by the headlines, sometimes even stopping me from reading things that I would have otherwise been interested in. This got me thinking: have we reached the point of diminishing returns for clickbait? As it turns out this might be true but there’s not exactly a lot to go on in terms of research in this field.
You don’t have to go far to find numerous articles which deride and lament the use of clickbait but they have existed since it first began its rise to infamy all those years ago. Certainly there’s a subsection of society which doesn’t appreciate the lowest common denominator style writing which clickbait headlines imply but you get that with almost any new trend, so the question then becomes one of magnitude of the resistance. In order to answer the question of whether or not we’ve reached peak clickbait I did my usual search through various sources but found myself coming up blank, even when I narrowed my view to scholarly sources only. The best I could find was this subject line report from ReturnPath which, whilst it provides some interesting insights, doesn’t speak to the larger question of whether or not we’re starting to get fed up with clickbait as a thing.
Essentially the report states that, for email subject headlines, clickbait style headlines are far less effective than they are on other mediums. Certainly in my experience this is somewhat true, clickbait in my inbox is far less likely to prompt me to click, however it’s a single data point in an area that should be flooded with data. This could be because that data is being held by those who are profiting from it and, by that token, since the main offenders are still engaging in such behaviour you’d hazard a guess that it’s still working from them. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s effectiveness isn’t waning but unless Buzzfeed or another clickbait site decides to open the doors to researchers we likely won’t have an answer for some time.
I must admit that this search was somewhat aspirational in nature; I wanted, nay hoped, that there’d be evidence that clickbait’s demise was just over the horizon. As it turns out while there are rumblings of discontent with the trend there’s very little evidence to suggest it will be going away anytime soon. Hopefully though more companies take a stance ala Facebook’s pushing these kinds of titles further down the chain in favour of more genuine headlines that rely on genuine interest rather than novelty or emotional responses. For now though we’ll just need to keep applying our own filters to content of this nature.
Although I must admit whatever that one weird secret a stay at home mum has does sound rather intriguing… 😉
Well it happened: I turned 30.
As someone who keeps company about a year older than himself it was interesting to see my friends’ reactions to hitting their third decade, most of them dreading it with all their being. I think the reason for this is that from that moment on you’re no longer in your twenties and, as such, are shouldered with the burden of expectations of being a mature adult. That’s not something my generation will typically accept gracefully although, honestly, I’d hazard a guess that no generation before has either. Regardless of how you feel about the date though it is a time to pause and reflect on the time you’ve had and the path laid out before you.
I’ve enjoyed quite a lot of success in my life thanks to a combination of determination, support and a healthy dose of luck. If you had told me I’d be in this position 10 years ago I would’ve told you that was obvious (ah, the naivete of youth) but honestly I had tracked out a completely different path for myself then, confident that I had control over every single nuance of my life. That, of course, turned out to be impossible and instead I have made the best of the situation I’ve found myself in. Now instead of attempting to meticulously plan my life out 10 years ahead I instead find myself focusing on the here and now, taking every step I can towards my goals without constraining myself to a set timeframe.
Which brings me to the pertinent point of this post: the goal.
I had an informal, let’s call it a goal, with a mate of mine that we made back in college that we’d both make our first million by the time we were 30. It seemed like a pretty reasonable goal, we had about 12 years at the time to make it which averaged out to something like $83,000/year. He was already on the way to achieving that, having been peddling computer gear and other things through the then nascent eBay, but I was intent on making it by rocketing up the corporate ladder to find myself in a position to earn it directly. Interestingly enough we’ve both progressed our careers along those paths as he’s had several business ventures over the years whilst I’ve spent the majority of mine climbing the corporate structures of Canberra IT.
Now the juicy part: did either of us make it? I can’t speak for Vince (although he did say it changed month by month when I mentioned it in a blog post almost 5 years ago, gosh the time went fast) but for me the answer is a little complicated: yes if you’ll allow me a technicality and no if you won’t. The technicality lies within the capital that I have control over which is well over the threshold however I cannot strictly lay claim to that, the bank still holds an interest in that capital in the form of mortgages. If I was to realise everything I’d probably be closer to halfway to my first million rather than over it which many would argue is the more true figure. Suffice to say I err on the side of the technicality because whilst I might not have a bank balance that says $1 million I do make returns as if I have it and have used that capital as real money in the past.
In all honesty though that’s taken a back seat to my primary goal of just doing the things that I love the most. I made the move to Dell almost 2 years ago now and honestly couldn’t be happier as they’ve allowed me to do things that I never had the chance to before. I’ve literally travelled the world for my work and my blog, something that I had always dreamed of doing but never thought I’d realise. In the last 3 years I’ve played over 150 different games, greatly expanding my gaming world and revelling in the review process. I’ve married my college sweetheart and seen her pursue a career of her own passion which has made both her and myself incredibly happy. Money is all well and good but it’d be nothing without the amazing things that have happened despite it.
It’s strange to think that, even though I’ve been living for 30 years now, the vast majority of my life is still likely ahead of me. I may not be the crazy youth that I once was, the one who thought being the CEO of multi-national company was possible in a sub-10 year timeframe, but I still believe that great things lie ahead. Experience has taught me that those things won’t come my way on their own however and should I aspire to more I’ll have to bust my butt to make it there. It is satisfying to know that the only thing standing between me and my ultimate goals is effort and time rather than whatever nebulous concept I had in my head all those years ago.
Suffice to say 30 doesn’t feel like the doom and gloom it was made out to be 😉
The rather unfortunate view that’s been ascribed to the gaming community of late is that we’re filled with people who love nothing more than to make other people’s lives hell. As I and many others will attest to this is most certainly not the case in the wider community however like other groups with extremist members it’s all too easy to tar us all with the same brush. Still like those other groups simply putting distance between us and them doesn’t seem to be enough and we’re routinely called upon to fix the issue. The problem, as I see it, is that we really have no mechanisms at our disposal to deal with such toxic members of our community, especially in a world where there are no barriers to communication.
The Internet has always been a conduit for voices that would otherwise not have been heard, for better or for worse. Any mildly public figure has likely received an undue amount of unwanted attention, from the mildly inconvenient to the down right hateful. It used to be considered par for the course with stardom on the Internet as it was guaranteed whatever you were doing would piss someone off on the other side of the globe, triggering a tirade which no other communication medium in the past would support. However recent events are escalating beyond the point of simple words which boggles my mind as to who would think such behaviour would be acceptable. It’s far beyond the point of harmless fun, this is the stuff people should be going to jail for.
We, as the quiet majority of the gaming community, are honestly powerless to stop people from committing acts like this. Within the games we play there are often mechanisms we use to deal with toxic members of the community but in the wider world (which lacks such controls) as a group have no real method to contain, control or punish these kind of people. We can distance ourselves, shame those who misrepresent us and possibly even get companies on our side but if someone wants to do something deplorable, like they have been doing as of late, we’re unable to act until it’s far too late.
TotalBiscuit posed the idea that we, as the moderate majority, should “freeze out” these individuals so that the greater conversation can be maintained without the hate that’s come along with it. Whilst I agree with the idea in principle I fail to see what mechanism we have at our disposal to enact such a course of action. It’s not like I have an answer to this, indeed I’m keen to hear everyone’s ideas on just what we can do in this situation, but if the idea was so simple to execute then we would’ve done it long before anyone had the opportunity to taint the gamer moniker with their extremist bullshit. The titles, hashtags and whatever else has came out of these recent events might not be irrevocably tainted but the solution for cleansing them is still a problem that has yet to reveal itself to us.
I guess what I’m getting at is if we want to have this conversation whilst dealing with the shit that seems to have hung itself onto the cause we, as a community, have to figure out what we need to do to deal with it. Sure, there are dozens of soundbite ideas out there that sound great in principle, but until someone shows me an execution that is even the least bit effective I’m still at loss as to what we can do. I think there are some great conversations here, including those on feminism, journalistic ethics and games as an inclusive medium, however they’re all clouded by hate and generalisations, their arguments lost in a sea of vitriol and bullshit. This isn’t a problem that’s unique to our particular patch either so once we start to find some ideas that work then, hopefully, debates on the Internet can be had without anyone getting a SWAT team showing up at their door.
If you’ve ever spent a decent amount of time playing a MMORPG chances are you’ve come up against the terror that is the Random Number Generator (RNG). No matter how many times you run a dungeon to get that one item to complete your set or kill that particular mob to get that item you need to complete that quest it just never seems to happen. However, sometimes, everything seems to go your way and all your Christmases seem to come at once and the game has you in its grasp again. Whilst RNGesus might be a cruel god to many he’s the reason that many of us keep coming back and now there’s solid science to prove it.
It’s long been known that random rewards are seen as more rewarding than those that are given consistently. Many online games, notably those on social networks, have tapped into that mechanic in order to keep users engaged far longer than they would have otherwise. Interestingly though this seems to run contrary to what many players will tell you, often saying that they’d prefer a guaranteed reward after a certain amount effort or time committed. As someone who’s played through a rather large number of games that utilize both mechanics I can tell you that both types of systems will keep me returning however nothing beats the rush of finding a really good item from the hands of RNGesus.
Indeed my experience seems to line up with the recent study published by the University of Chicago which shows that people are more motivated by random rewards than they are by consistent ones. It sounds quite counter-intuitive when you think about it, I mean who would take a random reward over a guaranteed one, but the effect remains consistent across the multiple experiments that they conducted. Whilst the mechanism of what triggers this isn’t exactly known it’s speculated that randomness leads to excitement, much like the the infinitesimally small odds of winning the lottery are irrelevant to the enjoyment some people derive from playing it.
However the will of RNGesus needs to be given a guiding hand sometimes to ensure that he’s not an entirely cruel god. Destiny’s original loot system was a pretty good example of this as you could be bless with a great drop only to have the reveal turn it into something much less than what you’d expect it to be. Things like this can easily turn people off games (and indeed I think this is partly responsible for the middling reviews it received at launch) so there needs to be a balance struck so players don’t feel hard done by.
I’d be very interested to see the effect of random rewards that eventually become guaranteed (I.E. pseudo-random rewards). World of Warcraft implemented a system like this for quest drops a couple years ago and it was received quite well. This went hand in hand with their guaranteed reward systems (tokens/valor/etc.) which have also been met with praise. Indeed I believe the mix of these two systems, random rewards with guaranteed systems on the side, seems to be the best mix in order to keep players coming back. I definitely know I feel more motivated to play when I’m closer to a guaranteed reward which can, in turn, lead to more random ones.
It’s always interesting to investigate these non-intuitive behaviours as it can give us insight into why we humans act in seemingly irrational ways when it comes to certain things. We all know we’re not strict rational actors, nor are we perfect logic machines, but counter-intuitive behaviour is still quite a perplexing field of study. At least we’ve got definitive proof now that random rewards are both more rewarding and more motivating than their consistent brethren although how that knowledge will help the world is an exercise I’ll leave up to the reader.
I wouldn’t exactly consider myself a jet setter but the amount of flying I’ve done compared to my parents is nothing short of astonishing. Indeed on average I’ll fly multiple times within Australia within a given year and often I’ll go overseas at least once per year. I’m pretty sure that I’m not an atypical traveller either especially considering how comparatively cheap air travel is these days. This had always made me wonder just how much the world flies on a daily basis, especially in more populated areas like the USA or Europe. As it turns out we fly a lot and a simulation of all the flights that happen around the world in 24 hours is nothing short of astonishing:
What I love about this simulation is how parts of the world seem to wake up as the sun passes over them. There seems to be constant ebbs and flows of air traffic at pretty much all times around the world, especially between the larger hubs, however as the sun crosses past Europe and the USA you can see the air traffic ramp up considerably, blotting out the content in a sea of yellow dots. There also seems to be some places in the world that are strangely devoid of air traffic with barely a handful of dots crossing their borders.
To me this video showcases just how safe travel is. In a single day there a thousands of flights, many of them over tens of thousands of kilometers, and in any one year we only have a handful of serious incidents. That should be hardly surprising considering just how advanced modern aircraft are although I always feel it bears repeating whenever anyone questions the safety of air travel. Realistically it’s probably the safest way to get yourself across the globe and, if you get on the right aircraft, it can be one of the most pleasurable.
Now I just have to find out how to get cheap business class seats on the A380.
It’s no secret that the digital age has brought on a lot of headaches for content producers and rights holders alike. Where once their traditional business models served them well they have struggled to migrate them to a world where the traditional barriers no longer existed and customers began demanding more from them. Where this demand wasn’t met by legitimate means many turned towards other methods, many of which provided a better service and higher quality product than they’d otherwise have access to. In all honesty it should have come as no surprise to us as this trend has been going on for some 100 years with the rights holders always being brought kicking and screaming into the modern age. However there are signs that they might finally be starting to get it, even if that isn’t directly translating into the product they’re willing to offer us.
There’s been a few examples of executives from some high end content producers, like HBO for example, who’ve gone on record saying that piracy isn’t a big concern for them anymore. Indeed many of them are now starting to see piracy as an ancillary marketing tool and indeed there’s been a couple studies that have shown the biggest pirates are among the ones who spend the most on the products they pirate. Unfortunately whilst they might have a positive outlook on what piracy does to them they don’t seem to be warming to the idea of addressing it directly such as providing a service that out-competes the pirates. This is especially true for countries like Australia which are bereft of good, legitimate options which, unsurprisingly, leads to us being some of the filthiest content pirates in the world.
It does seem that this sentiment from some content executives isn’t just hollow rhetoric either as there seems to be tangible flow on effects that I honestly didn’t expect. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the primary body responsible for pursuing litigation against users who’ve infringed on their member’s copyrights, has recently reported a huge downfall in revenue. Primarily this comes from a decline in membership fees which is a direct result of rights holders no longer wanting to continue their membership with them. Much of their spend has decreased as well with their legal budget declining sharply over the past couple years. I haven’t seen anything stating similar outcomes for the other content associations but I’d assume it’s a very similar picture which is good news for both legitimate and illegitimate consumers of content.
The next step that the rights holders take from here though is what will ultimately determine whether or not they will be able to compete in today’s market. It’s one thing to stop wasting your money on pursuing small cases of copyright infringement here or there and another thing completely to revamp your business model in order to compete against those who are peddling your product illegitimately. For now that second piece of the puzzle is still missing and until the rights holders take a page out of Valve’s book their piracy problems aren’t going to go anywhere. They might not care so much about it now but it won’t take long until some little upstart comes and eats their lunch.