Software Tribalism

Growing up, I did lyrics projection at my church. While I’m sure most of you are familiar with PowerPoint, there’s actually a cottage industry of software expressly catering to churches. Songshow Plus was one of the more popular titles for the task, with EasyWorship having its fans. Songbase and Sunday Plus had their niche fans, and it wasn’t long before ProPresenter gave everyone a run for their money.

But my allegiance was with Mediashout. It was an absolutely fantastic piece of software all around – easy to pick up for runners, while having plenty of buttons and knobs for people like me who enjoyed customizing scripts and slides to perfection. I started on version 2.5, then 3 was a massive improvement, and even 3.5 was a model service pack. The v4 interface took a little time to grow on me, but it ultimately was the peak. V5 regressed a bit with its removal of text labels and less-customizable layout, while v6 and v7 were total overhauls that seemed to focus on users of PowerPoint and ProPresenter at the expense of seasoned Mediashout veterans like myself. Seeing three consecutive regressions in usability, I decided to reach out and ask if I could buy a license for an older version. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that it didn’t go well. I have fond memories of the glory days of Mediashout, but my inability to procure the good version has left me in a strange state of mind.

I should have no problem getting a copy of ProPresenter. But I can’t bring myself to do it. I got in countless forum battles with the ProPresenter users back in the day; getting a license is the ultimate admission of defeat…besides, if I wanted their Fisher Price UI centered around simplicity instead of raw power, that’s what my complaint is with the current version of Mediashout is, right? So, why wouldn’t I just get Mediashout?

I could get Songbase…it’s ancient, but that means it’s tightly coded and super stable, no doubt…right? Songshow is still solid and keeps its super powerful UI that still has a few niche functions Mediashout never got, so I should get that one! If I’m going to give up on Mediashout, shouldn’t I do so using a program that I would consider to be better?

Or…or…or…let’s take a bunch of steps back and ask some more fundamental questions…for example, why do I even care? I haven’t been in charge of projecting lyrics in nearly a decade. I don’t project lyrics personally…or much of anything else, for that matter. I don’t get up in front of audiences to give keynote addresses, and the handful I’ve done over the past five years, I’ve been served just fine with PowerPoint. …and even if I found myself in a scenario where I was going to do lyrics projection or even a video-centric presentation, the free, open source, cross-platform OpenLP is rock solid, effective, free, and wasn’t even close to being an option back in the year 2000 when i started.

There is clearly no reason whatsoever for me to consider buying or using any of these things…but I find myself loyal to Mediashout for no rational reason, nor for my own benefit, nor for the benefit of anyone around me. That’s not the sort of loyalty worth having. That’s not the sort of loyalty worth retaining. And it’s certainly not the sort of loyalty worth spending money to validate. It is tribalism. I am, apparently, from the tribe of Mediashout….and if there has ever been a sentence warranting introspection, it’s that one. It’s so depressing, it’s comical that I let my affinity for a software program I haven’t used in a decade live rent free in my head like this.

I’m leaving that tribe. If you’re in a tribe of some kind, make sure it’s a tribe you really want to be in.I’ll tell you this much: my tribe won’t miss me.

Emoting Over Garbage

A truck full of old computer parts is going to the scrapyard tomorrow morning…and I didn’t quite cry, but I definitely felt sad.

Not over everything, of course. A drawer full of ten-year-old access points most certainly wasn’t worth the space it was taking. An XP-era desktop who already lived a second life as a router had no future as anything but a doorstop. A computer chassis intended for a rack mount would have been great to hold onto if I had a rack to put it in, but it’s just taking up space right now. Over a dozen random routers and switches are finally freeing up their shelves. Defective hard disks, decade-old motherboards, a drawer full of unused power and RCA cables are all headed for the dump, and I couldn’t be happier.

It’s the other things that make me sad. More to the point, it’s what they represent.

I’m 35, and the odds are good that I won’t be celebrating my 37th birthday in this apartment. Over the years, I’ve accumulated projects I’ve never gotten to. There’s a touch screen computer that’s a bit slow for regular use, but would be fantastic for a wall-mounted home automation controller. I got rid of every aftermarket car stereo I’d ever owned. Firewire cables were a staple of my college years, as I captured video from mini-DV camcorders. My last two laptops haven’t had FireWire connectors, and I haven’t shot a video on those camcorders in nearly a decade. My first TV tuner card that invoked years of having a custom-built cable box is no longer usable; it found its way in the pile. The first hard drive I added to an HP tower I got on clearance when I worked at Staples to make my first NAS is in that pile. A DVD player I used to play a DVD at a party I DJ’d many years ago went in the pile, causing me to realize that, in all likelihood, I’ll never play a DVD at an event again. The real difficulty, however, is the realization that I’ve got a number of these scrapyard and garbage runs ahead…and they’re not going to get easier.

I figure that by time I move out, I will have to essentially embrace my inner Thanos – half of everything I own will have to be donated, recycled, given away, or thrown out. I can’t take it with me. I’ll probably have to get rid of my custom-made DJ console that got me through many great years. Can I part with the Adobe Premiere keyboard that hasn’t worked on the last five computers I’ve owned, but I still remember the day my mom and dad bought it for me when I was 17? How about the Stanton CD Player, something else I haven’t DJ’d with in years, but was the only piece of DJ equipment my mother ever purchased for me as a gift? Alternatively, do I keep it forever?

I know this is the beginning of me preparing for the next chapter in my life. I’m not ready for it. I know that this is how life works, and I know that trying to pretend that I can hold on to the best of my teens and twenties by keeping clothes I don’t wear and CDs I don’t use is irrational and illogical. I know it’s all “just stuff”, and that “not getting to do everything I wanted to do by now” is just a fact of life, for everyone, at every stage in life…but maybe that’s really the underlying problem: the fact that the next stage in life is a total unknown.

Every time I think about the next stage in life, it scares me…because I have no idea what it is…like, not even a little bit. After grade school, there was college. After college was ‘getting started in a career’. Now…I kinda don’t know how I feel about any of the ‘usual courses’. I don’t want to climb the corporate ladder at some Fortune 500 company, I don’t want to be a parent, I don’t want to move to a different state or country, and I don’t want to save up for a boat. But I also feel poignantly aware that at some point, life is going to happen to me. I won’t be able to wake up and just worry about the computers I have to fix tomorrow. I’ve been telling myself I’m going to practice DJing more, but that keeps not-happening, and even if I put all my free time into my turntables, it’s not a viable career field for me anymore. Defining myself by my career in general isn’t exactly a winning proposition, either.

Clearing out several hundred pounds of scrap is most definitely a step in the right direction. I know it’s good for me. I just have so much trouble being able to deal with being an adult in this context, and it makes me so incredibly scared to have such a total lack of clarity. Emptying my closets just reinforced that reality to me.

But…maybe there’s hope. I’ve done this before. I know I have. The hard drive I threw out today? Its host computer was thrown out years ago, as was the one after that – my first true NAS. I remember getting rid of the Nissan Xterra I had before my current car, and the Volvo before that. I worried that getting a sedan would make it difficult to transport my DJ gear, and while there were one or two logistical issues, the 160,000 miles I’ve driven in it have saved me so much in gas, the car paid for itself. I said goodbye to some old friends. I said hello to some new ones. I said goodbye to a very good boss. I said hello to another very good boss. Today, I said goodbye to some old computer components, and one day, I’ll be saying goodbye to this apartment.

 

This…this must be how faith is built: having no idea where I will be spending my 37th birthday, or how, or with whom…but believing that I will be in a place I call home, and with people I care about. Because really, when I get down to it, I realize that my mental image of an epic 37th birthday for me doesn’t involve me being surrounded by antiquated hard disks or car stereos. 

Stuck

I was scrolling through today’s Instagram stories from the handful of people I follow. Nothing surprising; my hairstylist friends posted hair styles, half of them posted photos of their kids, the one getting married posted a photo with her fiancee, my politically-oriented friends posted their political memes, and my DJ friends posted their decks and their crowds.

What struck me, however, was how basically everyone had some sort of effect. There was glitter, there were song lyrics, there were animated stickers and skin smoothing makeup filters. I’ve never used any of these. Part of the reason is that many of these functions are only available on the “stories” interface. I’ve already established that I have trouble with transient photo taking…as far as I’m concerned, if it’s worth photographing, it’s worth keeping the photo for longer than a day.

But that’s what hit me: how few photo-deserving things I do anymore. There are eleven photos between my most recent one and the one I posted from Bermuda nearly two years ago. Only a dozen more before the first photo of my most recent Origin laptop; itself nearly four years old.

Now, I’m not saying that one’s life should be defined by one’s Instagram…far from it. I’m not saying that I’m basing any level of my happiness with my life on a comparison with people who have more photos. Some people have lifestyles that naturally lend themselves to photographing, and I’m happy for them. No, the point of this blog post is me lamenting the fact that I’ve never used the fun toys in Instagram or Snapchat because I’ve never been there. I’ve never been in the sort of situation where I felt like the situation justified trying those things out.

There are a handful of photos on my Instagram that have been edited, but that’s from when photo editing on Instagram was limited to a handful of color filters (“Valencia”, anyone?), while more elaborate effects remained the purview of Pixlr and PicSay. Perhaps this is the result of spending my adolescence in an era when cameras, computers, and sharing solutions were three different things. Maybe I can place the blame on the applications who limit these functions. Maybe I can split the difference and chalk it up to these features catering to those who perceive transient photo sharing as a hobby in itself, while I’m still hopelessly stuck viewing photography as documentation.

Perhaps, instead, the issue isn’t technical. Maybe I don’t post Snaps on Snapchat or Stories on Facebook or Instagram because I feel a need to be sufficiently entertaining to my followers, as if I am tasked with being entertaining for my dozen friends on Snapchat or 130ish Instagram followers, failing if I make merely a “meh” post. I can simultaneously have the awareness that “likes” aren’t reflective of social acceptance and also remember feeling negative emotions when I tried the “ask me a question” box and got zero responses. My noggin is aware that there are zero instances where Instagram is a positive basis for anything, yet “lizard brain” seems to distort all of it.

As I sit at an airport right now, waiting for a passenger to arrive, I wonder what would happen if I made the most random transient photos – Wiz Kalifah thumping over a photo of the tarmac and concrete barricades, maybe a close-up of the carpet I vacuumed today with an animated sticker, or a mirror selfie that focuses on my hand holding up a towel with ooglie eyes until I can fool the facial recognition to let me make the towel look like a sheep. Maybe this is the way to handle the lizard brain – intentionally mess with people’s stories until they either get the joke or unfollow me, rinse and repeat until lizard brain figures out that the entire point of such an exercise is self-awareness, rather than self-centeredness.

Everyplate: What I like and what I don’t

About two months ago, a Facebook friend said they had a voucher to get a free box from EveryPlate. I took him up on it, and I’ve stuck with it thus far. Every Friday, I get a box with enough ingredients to make three different meals, with approximately two servings per meal. I pay about $38 per box, shipped.

It’s important to know what one is paying for, and what one isn’t. If you’re looking at it as a replacement for grocery shopping or grocery deliveries…yeah, you’re going to be unhappy, because there is maybe $12 in groceries each box. By that metric, it’s definitely overpriced and you won’t be happy. If you’re looking for something that’s one step above TV Dinners, where the instructions are “throw this half in a pot, wait ten minutes, throw that half into the pot, wait two minutes and eat”, yeah, you’re not going to like it, either. You’ll still be washing and peeling, dicing and mixing: vegetables are delivered whole. So, with those disclaimers in mind, here’s what I like, and what I don’t…

Like: New Recipes.

I’ve been cooking for quite some time, and while I can do a good amount of cooking, I like being exposed to new recipes. I’ve got a folder full of things I’ve saved from Facebook that seem amazing, but I’ve never tried them. I haven’t loved, ehm, every plate, but being exposed to different food combinations is already a positive experience. The fact that I have a box full of stuff that will spoil if I don’t cook them gives me a reason to prioritize cooking them.

Dislike: Recipes are a bit confusing.

This may well be a personal preference, but I am not a fan of how the recipes are written. Now, to be fair, after doing a few, I see that they are indeed written to optimize for all components of the meal to be finished cooking at the same time. This is very understandable as an outcome, but the process ends up being very confusing. This makes it difficult to assess what things to substitute.

For example, one recipe had me preheating my oven to 425F…to toast two rolls. I could have done this in the toaster oven, but it wasn’t clear until three steps later that that’s all I was doing.

In another scenario, a single step involved mixing two separate things in two separate bowls…but the fact that it was two bowls was super unclear until several steps later when only a subset of the ingredients was referenced.

Overall, the recipes are clearly written in such a way that they fit in a very specific amount of space, as the recipe cards are attractively designed and obviously intended to be kept. I can appreciate wanting an attractive layout, but the number of times I had to read the same paragraph four times to figure out all six actions in that single ‘step’ is the sort of thing that makes it clear that EveryPlate optimizes for form over function.

Like: Variety

EveryPlate gives me the ability to order three new recipes every week. I can re-order things I’ve had already if I want, but the ability to try new things is part of the draw. While there are premium ‘plates’ that have more expensive cuts of beef or some such, there are always enough bundled options to ensure that my box always has something new.

Dislike: Portion Sizes

I’m one dude. This works out well, because I can almost finish both servings of a meal by myself. Some have this issue more egregious than others; some I’ve genuinely had to come back to in order to finish everything, others I’ve eaten something else after I’ve eaten all the EvetyPlate things. Perhaps it’s a bit healthier to eat a bit less each meal, and that’s fine…but I feel like there’s a happy medium between what EveryPlate ships and “the appetizers at Applebee’s which are two meals by themselves”.

Like: What Ships

The boxes come with insulating wrap and three ice packs, all of which are reusable. If you have a cat, I am certain the box is the perfect size for your cat. I’ve had the box sit outside for six hours and the ice is still solid. It’s a well done shipping solution.

Likewise, the produce is always fresh. Every pepper is clean, every tomato is perfectly red. Meat and poultry is shipped in thick, vacuum-packed plastic. It lasts for days in the refrigerator, and is always cleaned beforehand.

Dislike: Sometimes…What Ships

If you grew up in a similar household to me, you know that garlic is measured with your heart, not your measuring cup. If two recipes call for half a bulb of garlic, I get one bulb of garlic. My dude…first off, not every clove is fit to cut and chop; you can’t assume that. Second, if a recipe calls for three cloves of finely chopped garlic, it needs five. I have run out of garlic every single time I get a box. It’s cheap, but if you’re going to be that way about it, at least give me the option to add an extra bulb the way I can add extra chicken.

One recipe I had gave me the option to pickle an onion using lime juice. This seemed interesting, but I got a single, tiny lime whose juice could barely wet the bottom of the bowl. I made it work, but again, I feel like a second lime could have been helpful since not every lime juices the same.

Like I said in the beginning, it’s maybe $12 in groceries. I feel like ‘just a bit extra’ would make me feel far happier with what I receive every Friday.

Like: Habits

This certainly isn’t the sort of thing that EveryPlate explicitly sells, but EveryPlate has given me motivation to cook instead of grabbing Chipotle on the way home. Even assuming I eat both ‘servings’ and the amount ends up being $12/meal, it’s not out of line with what a barbacoa bowl ends up costing. I have done other shopping in terms of making things a bit differently than I used to, and recognize more things I can potentially make. This is helping me improve some overall habits I’ve had for some time.

Dislike: Dishes

Many of the things I cook are optimized for a single pan, a cutting board, and maybe three utensils. I hate dishes. EveryPlate meals seem to assume I have a dishwasher, apparently. It’s common for a meal to involve a frying pan, a pot, a baking pan, a cutting board, two bowls, and five utensils, in addition to the actual forks and plates used for consumption. There’s a sink full of dishes after I finish, and it’d be far easier to not-mind them if the recipes had time for simmering or something similar where I could wash dishes in between…but alas, they do not.

So, that’s my summary of being an EveryPlate subscriber. Will I keep it for now? Yeah, probably. Will I keep it for a year? Ehhh…jury’s out. We’ll see.

Parenting

Tonight, I had trouble sleeping. Partially because I had four cups of coffee today, the most recent was around 9. It’s almost 2, and I’m still up. I just finished watching this week’s episode of The Rookie. The protagonist had his son going into open heart surgery.

A client at work called me today. Their server has just enough extra CPU activity to cause more noise than they’re used to. Everything looks fine, but I just checked it again to see if there were any signs of ransomware.

I’ve joked around in the past that “my networks are my children”. Maybe I’m just oversensitive, but I’m worried. Irrationally so, most likely. Somewhat like a parent has that underlying worry about the well-being of their children.

If this is what being a parent is like, even a little bit, then I seem to have a hard time believing it’s something I would want. I wish it wasn’t so terrifying.

Journeyman: My headcanon for the remainder of the series

Journeyman was a series that debuted alongside Chuck and Heroes back in 2007 on NBC. Its late time slot, low marketing push, and coincidental timing with the WGA strike of 2007 meant that the show was destined to be canceled after just thirteen episodes. However, having re-watched the series, I thought through how I would make the series continue, had it been up to me. If you haven’t seen the show, go watch it, because reading this blog post won’t make much sense.

 

Creator Kevin Falls indicated that the ‘back nine’ episodes of Season 1 would include a few notable things: Katie and Zach living elsewhere for a while, and Dan and Jack becoming roommates. Olivia was going to die in episode 20, with Dan bringing her back in episode 21. This would, however, mean that Dan lost Katie and Zach, with no idea how to get them back. Since he’s the creator of the series, we’ll go with that, and pick up with that in Season 2.

We start Season 2 with Dan hitting the bottle, hard. Jack tries to give him some moral support, but is simply unable to console him – he doesn’t even remember Katie. Olivia travels forward in time again, and joins Dan in being upset, as she has found out that Henry died storming the beaches of Normandy. They read Evan’s journal and read how many things could have happened, had Evan not intervened…and they decide to work through their grief and continue traveling. They end up traveling together to the past to help someone, and end up being successful, and they part ways and go back to their own time.

The next episode involves Dan getting let go from the paper. Hugh feels bad about it, but more cuts means that it’s just been impossible for Hugh to keep covering for him. Dan travels to the past, and his job is to win the lottery…just enough money to sit in a bank and compound some interest, so that he can spend the rest of the show living off the interest of his winnings when he returns to the present. In this episode, Theresa has her baby. The episode ends with Dan running into an elderly Olivia.

In Episode 3, Dan and elderly Olivia interact for a bit. She tells him a few stories regarding what else she learned over the course of her life, though she laments that the last time she and Dan interacted before then was the time she needed to go on. However, on this visit, the two of them go on one last mission together to get Katie back. They are successful, but they both return to the present. Katie and Zach are back, remembering everything. Katie and Olivia see each other and speak briefly, but then, Olivia dies.

Episode 4 begins with Olivia’s funeral, where Dan meets one of Olivia’s siblings. Dan then tells him about Olivia’s life and her traveling to the future and so forth; he shares details about Olivia’s life in the past. Dan travels back to help somebody and does his thing. The episode ends with Theresa traveling for the first time.

In an echo to Olivia’s direction of travel, Theresa only travels to the future. In an inverse symmetry to Dan and Olivia who only interact when Olivia is on a mission, Dan and Theresa only interact between missions, giving her advice for the next one. In episode 5, Jack and Katie bond over their feelings of helplessness while their respective spouses are on-mission, while Dan and Theresa get closer over their experiences as time travelers. Nobody cheats on anybody, but throughout the series these dynamics come up from time to time. We don’t see Theresa’s missions to the future; we only hear about them through dialog.

Throughout the rest of the season, those are the major ingredients that drive the plot: Dan goes on his missions,  Theresa on hers, sometimes they are linked and Dan’s job is to give info to Theresa or vice versa, Katie and Jack decide that the six of them should share living space to help each other out during mission times. Over the next several episodes, this all settles in, but toward the end, Olivia’s sibling tries to go public with his sister’s story, which garners the sort of attention Elliot Langley warns them about. Langley meets up with Dan to give him a flash drive with all of the information he’s compiled, and burns everything else. Langley dies enabling Dan to escape. The season finale ends with Dan, Katie, and Zach huddled together, and Jack, Theresa, and the baby huddled as well. Dan’s family all travels to the past, while Jack’s family moves to the future.

Season 3 involves the usual set of missions, but with a ‘new present’ to which they return. Each side works to deal with the shift; Zach grows up as an 80’s kid while Jack’s child ends up beginning her life in 2030. A few attempts are made to make contact between the families, but Dan isn’t terribly successful. A slightly-younger Langley runs into Dan, who in turn helps him try to communicate with his brother. Through something reminiscent of Frequency, Langley conjures up a radio device that allows Jack and Dan to communicate through time – one of Dan’s eventual missions involves getting the plans to a protege of Langley’s who will eventually meet up with Jack and make this possible. Between the two of them, they are able to figure out a way to find enough leverage to keep the ‘powerful people’ at bay, at which point both return home to the present. One idea I had for this was that they demonstrate the power to cause some sort of tragedy and they deal with the possibility of having to become de facto terrorists to survive. Another idea would be a full-blown underground/off-grid lifestyle, though the need for money and resources to research their mission targets becomes a problem.

Season 4 is the last season, and Dan and Theresa continue their missions as usual, in their ‘new normal’ of a house of six, living off Dan’s lottery winnings, helping people here-and-there. In some cases, they run into people who were mission subjects in the past who remember them. The season ends with Dan and Theresa meeting God, as played by Morgan Freeman, who informs them that this is a calling, and that it is all orchestrated in this way because our lives are a matter of one interaction – one missed elevator or one bad day at work is all it takes to alter someone’s life, and they are proof of that. Dan and Theresa, and Olivia and Evan (both of whom are present, along with a number of extras from earlier points in time) are God’s way of helping humanity be its best.

So, that’s how I’m figuring Journeyman would go.

Why I don’t like Warframe…and how it parallels a difficulty The Church seems to struggle with

Warframe is a video game. Specifically, it’s a free-to-play looter-shooter.

For most of my readership, the second sentence needs a bit more elaboration. A “free-to-play” game is one that isn’t a transactional purchase, but instead costs nothing to play, but has an in-game economy where players can purchase items for actual-dollars as they progress, though an actual financial outlay is not required. Basically every game you’ve ever played on your phone that has had some sort of in-game currency is an example of this model.

A looter-shooter is a game that tends to focus more on a gameplay loop where one, as satirical reviewer Yahtzee Croshaw summarized it, “Go to the place and shoot the lads”. Essentially, one goes to a place, shoots a bunch of lads who apparently deserve to be shot (and who generally also believe that you deserve to be shot), and looks for new weapons and armor and upgrades to those things so that the next time you have to go to a place and shoot lads, you are more effective in doing so. Rinse and repeat for the duration of the game.

My good friend Andrew had recommended I try Warframe. It always bothered me when games have me make a bunch of decisions at the beginning, but I did that thing – I picked my class and my initial powers, and my preferred rifle and sword thing…and I set out to go to a place and shoot some lads.

I’m about 14 hours into the game now. I’ve shot many, many, many lads. Nameless faces, themselves looking to provide me with a complimentary lead transfusion or relieve me of my appendages through a short surgical procedure. I’ve visited a dozen maps and tried multiple mission types…and it has failed to engage me. Fourteen hours in, and I feel like zero progress has been made. I’m some sort of guardian that came back from the dead…I think…but that was addressed in a cutscene early in the game that was incredibly muddy in its exposition. “This was a thriving colony…until the Greneer came” is pretty much all of the backstory I got when I landed on my first planet to shoot lads. Who are the Greneer, why did they come to the colony, who did they subjugate, what have they gained by taking it over? I haven’t met a citizen of that planet so I have no personal investment that I’m aware of; why am I piling up dead Greneer for them? Maybe I’d feel I was on the wrong side of this if I heard what started this conflict, but the gameplay so far doesn’t give me any sense of why I’m justified in emptying ammo clips into fellow soldiers.

So, story isn’t its strong suit…fine. Story isn’t always necessary for a fun video game. I am sure nobody who has ever played Tetris has wondered where these boxes are coming from, why they are falling, or where the boxes go when they disappear. It’s a bit of a juxtaposition to be emptying ammo clips into Greneer without cause and calling it ‘just a gameplay loop like Tetris’, but let’s go down that road for a second…

The game’s loot mechanics have yet to pay off – I’m still using my initial weapon set. I haven’t come across a single weapon or armor pickup. There’s a crafting system, but every single ‘blueprint’ I could use requires resources I haven’t come across yet. I came across my first in-game merchant on my last play-through, but he didn’t have any weapons for sale. The second merchant sold fishing gear. I’ve gotten a few upgrades to my existing weapons, but I still haven’t gotten my first sniper rifle, and short of buying one, I see no way to get one. Fourteen hours in, and I’m sitting on a pile of resources that can’t be used because I don’t have enough other resources to make even low-end equipment. I’m shooting the same lads for the same nonsensical reasons with the same guns and I’m wearing the same armor. The Warframe Wiki has 6,354 articles as of this writing…and I’ve come across reasons for maybe a few dozen. There is indeed an encyclopedia’s worth of terms, but none of them have seemed to have any bearing on my ability to get new gear. This loop is broken.

Now, you might be thinking, “well duh, Joey, the reason for this is that you’ll pony up for the weapons you want! That’s the schtick of free-to-play games, right? Why are you surprised?” I’m surprised because there’s another free-to-play game that got me to compromise my principles and pay for in-game items…and the $100 in total I spent in it is more than I’ve paid for any other video game I’ve ever owned. I was constantly playing that game, to the point where I was rude to a friend and playing it while we were out getting sushi and I had to apologize to him because it was borderline addictive behavior. That game is Star Trek: Timelines.

Timelines is basically a computerized card game; its gameplay loop reminds me a lot of the Star Wars CCG that I played in my adolescence. One acquires different Star Trek characters, then upgrades them by acquiring items, which is done by going on missions. The missions involve picking a group of characters to do different tasks, assigning them to those tasks, a dice roll, and a pass/fail each task. Do a god enough job, you get a bunch of loot at the end, as well as experience points to level up your characters. It’s really easy to pick up and figure out. There are a few different in-game currencies, resource management is inherent throughout the game, and the game kept me coming back – and spending money on four different occasions – because I actually had fun doing it.

The fun I had playing Timelines was rooted in a sense of progress. I got to see characters level up, I got to complete missions with those leveled-up characters I couldn’t complete before. I got plenty of loot. Sometimes it was immediately useful, while other times it was enough to be indirectly useful and I was able to make progress in steps. For about six months I was playing daily; it straddled the line between ‘habit’ and ‘addiction’. It was my cruise to Bermuda in 2019 that broke the habit; with very limited internet I spent ten days not-playing it, which broke all my inertia-based streaks and made it far easier to not-return to it. I still drop in once every few months, play a round, and leave it…but the reality is that in that six month span, I spent money on that far-less-ambitious game.

 

So, what did Timelines do that Warframe doesn’t? Here it is…Timelines made the first hours rewarding. Its gameplay was obvious from the beginning, failing missions didn’t have a price tag, early character leveling was easy, basically every item drop had something useful, I started with a massive amount of the mission currency and early missions used very little of it. There were virtually no barriers to progress. When I failed my first mission, the way to advance my characters enough to solve it was obvious, and allowed me to do so without paying money. As I continued playing, I started wanting characters I didn’t have, sometimes for stats I needed to complete missions, and sometimes it was based on liking a particular character…and the store made sure I knew how to get them. The game has ways I can play with friends, or with strangers I meet in-game, but I can play all by myself if I want and never interact with another player.

Every single one of these attributes contrast with Warframe’s design for newcomers. I can’t build, the earned currency is useless, I can’t try different weapons, it seems to try and press me to play co-op missions and then simultaneously make me feel more ‘alone’ in-game when I do so. I might be more engaged with Warframe if I better understood the story, but I don’t. I might be more engaged with Warframe if I felt like the actions I took and the choices I made in the game impacted the game world, but they don’t. I might get some amount of enjoyment out of it if I was allowed to try any of the weapons beyond what I started with, but I’m not. There’s nothing for me there. I uninstalled it.

Here is where I finally compare it to faith: it is incredibly easy – and common – to have faith feel like Warframe if you’re new to considering eternity. This is doubly true if one has had a bad experience with faith in the past, or if one presently has a particular faith and is considering a different one. Christianity has a whole culture surrounding it, and it’s very, very easy for newcomers to be confused regarding what is directly Biblical and what is merely cultural. It’s easy, as seasoned Christians, to forget what it’s like to be in the “early levels”.

Even as Christians, it’s common to struggle with matters of the faith, the state of earth, and the omnipotence of God. It’s super common for me to look at a situation and be like, “uhm…God could totally solve this in, like, 20 minutes, and even that’s 19 minutes more than He would probably need, and it really wouldn’t be that much of an inconvenience for Him…yet this problem still exists, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯”. One of the things that’s been a bumpy part of my faith is trusting that God is addressing the matter in some way or another, and that my perspective is limited and also is nowhere near understanding the nature of God’s ultimate desires and intents. It’s taken as long as it has to get here because it’s easy to use “He works in mysterious ways” as a hand-wave dismissal of the matter at hand, rather than see such situations as the sort of thing that requires a level of faith far higher than I presently have and trust in His perspective and goodness. If I, someone who has been a Christian for over 15 years (or 30, depending on how you count) can still have difficulties with the fundamentals, then it would be a pretty terrible thing for me to expect that from someone who is new to the faith, or who doesn’t ascribe to the faith at all.

I’m not saying that Star Trek: Timelines’ Skinner Box mechanics are the sorts of systems The Church should seek to implement. I’m also not saying that the primary reason anyone comes to Christ (or attends a particular church) is purely a function of the people, ignoring the role of God in both The Church and the life of the non-believer or new believer. What I am saying is that as long term Christians represent – or misrepresent – Christ in how we interact with those who don’t share our beliefs and/or our knowledge of what the Bible says. It is very easy for our representation of the Gospel to alter its perception, not because the Gospel has changed, but because we misrepresent it. 

If we’re going be an encouragement to those around us to pick up their cross and follow Christ, we need to make sure that we aren’t treating them in a way that makes them feel like the way I did playing Warframe: lost, confused, alone, overwhelmed, powerless, and primarily concerned with parting me from my money. The Gospel is none of those things, but if we’re representing it as such with our lifestyles and our interactions, it will be of little wonder why we contribute to new believers deciding they are better off uninstalling.

Am I insulating myself?

I continue to use my phone without Google services, and I like it. I finally feel free. But now I’ve started to wonder.

I remember watching “The Matrix” for the first time back when I was 15 or so…and I remember thinking about the nature of what motivated the characters and why. “Freedom” is a word that gets thrown around alot, but there is a part of me that, even back then, seemed to resonate with Cypher, the one who negotiated with Agent Smith to get plugged back into The Matrix in exchange for giving up Morpheus. Now sure, the betrayal part wasn’t cool, but wanting to get plugged back into The Matrix? That made a whole lot of sense to me.

Cypher was having a steak dinner. Not really, but it was real to him. What was everyone else having? One nutritional supplement. That’s it. For the rest of your life. Neo found love in Trinity, but Morpheus never did. If Cypher was looking for female companionship, there were no options on the ship after Switch died. They spent their days constantly on the run from the Sentinels, they never saw daylight, there was nothing they got to truly own…the list of drawbacks continues, while the list of advantages of not-being in The Matrix doesn’t. We root for Morpheus and Neo and Trinity because they’re fighting the good fight…but in practice, was Cypher really so off base for wanting to live out his life back in The Matrix? I don’t think so.

It’s been about a month since I’ve been using this phone completely Google-free. I can take pictures, but not nearly as good as the photos I can get using the Camera app from OnePlus. SwiftKey is still inferior to Swype. Visual Voicemail barely works. Frost, my Facebook replacement, acts strange and has trouble loading pictures sometimes. I can’t be sure that it’s truly software related, but my 5G performance is generally worse than LTE…and that’s just the things I know.

I don’t use TikTok.
I don’t use Craigslist.
I don’t use Snapchat.
I don’t use  Youtube (except in a browser).
I don’t use SoundCloud.
I don’t use Twitch.
I don’t use Office.
I don’t use a Fitbit or other fitness band.
I don’t use Teams or Slack or Monday.
I don’t use CashApp or Zelle…though I do use Venmo and it works.
I dont use Discord.
I dont use Spotify.
I don’t use Pinterest.
I don’t use Walmart or Target or pretty much any shopping apps.
I don’t use Google Docs or do much in the way of document editing on my phone, unless you count this blog.
I don’t use Uber Eats or Doordash or pretty much any food ordering app.
I don’t use Alexa or Google Assistant or Siri.
I don’t use Ring or a security DVR.
I don’t use Neighborhood or Next door or Everyblock.


The list goes on and on…and I’m starting to wonder if the experiences I eschew to spend my days on a command line on my desktop are worth it. People are finding things they like, buying and selling things amongst local people, ordering new foods, chatting with the people it’s been a social taboo to meet, and I’m sure there are hundreds of other things that mobile apps are doing, but I’m not.


There is most definitely a part of me that feels a bit like Ariel… Wanting to be where the people are and finding myself  wondering if my aversion to echo chambers and endless online accounts means that I have simply made an echo chamber of my own. I sit, wondering whether the nuance of the liberty I feel is a technicality in that I spent a massive amount of time and effort to simply custom build my own prison.

Google collects a metric truckton of data from everyone, and yet, the world turns. Nobody else gets concerned if Google has all their contacts; nobody in my contacts list isn’t in someone else’s phone that is uploaded. My texts are synced on someone else’s phone, and even if my location is only partially traceable based on the amount of disabling I have implemented, my work phone remains on my person with far fewer limitations.

Why am I fighting this battle? What am I fighting for? “because I can”? Because I’m somehow sticking it to “Big Tech”? Because I’m worried about my data being accumulated and monetized while also using Facebook and doing nearly all my shopping with a credit card?

Maybe all of this effort is just me spiting myself. If Google turns on the billion people that already have Android phones and somewhat-consensually sync all their data, then I’m very unlikely to be “spared” from whatever happens. I’ve got friends who expressly opt into giving Google data in pretty much every possible way… And they seem happy.

Betrayal aside, maybe Cypher was right: the steak he ate wasn’t real, but the experience of eating it was, and it was an experience he could have inside The Matrix that he would never experience as long as he was “free”. Maybe my quest for a Google-free phone is little more than a quixotic waste of time, and I’d achieve greater happiness by going back to the phone’s original software from the manufacturer, leaving my phone modding days in the golden age of the HTC HD2 or Galaxy S3.

Or maybe, freedom is ownership…and even if “freedom” boils down to constructing my own prison, at least it’s mine.

Wow…Going Mostly-Open-Source on Mobile Is Hard!

Hello everyone!

 

I hope everyone has had a fantastic New Year. It’s 2021. All it has to do is be not-as-bad as 2020. I’m tepidly optimistic.

 

About a month ago, my Nokia 7.2 decided to install an update. This bothered me because I did pretty much everything in my power to get it to not-download updates, and then telling it to not-install updates it downloads…and yet, it did it anyway. This ruined root, which in turn caused an issue with booting, which then caused issues with Wi-Fi, and to this day the phone disconnects from the cellular network far more than it should. 

When I got my OnePlus 8T+ 5G functionally-for-free as a result of shuffling around some things with my cellular plan, I decided that I would finally cut the umbilical cord and install a Google-free ROM. Turns out…that requires a lot more commitment than I thought…

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Why “Among Us” doesn’t appeal to me

Yes, I visited my family for Thanksgiving. 

 

My niece and nephew enjoy the game “Among Us“, as do millions of other people around the world. I bought a copy of the game trying to give it a shot, but the game doesn’t have a single player mode or a training mode where you play against bots…so, it sat for a bit until my niblings asked to play it with me, so I did.

Now, having watched a Youtube video or two on the topic, I knew the rules and such so it wasn’t an issue at all to play with them. I’ve played a few rounds, and while it’s enjoyable enough to do with them, it’s far from something I look forward to doing once I get home. This got me thinking: why do these young kids enjoy the game, along with no shortage of people my age and older, but I find it the sort of thing I’m not looking forward to playing at all?

 

I think the biggest reason is because the skill in the game stems from being able to either lie effectively, or figure out who’s lying to you. If I’m the impostor, I win by lying to people. If not, I accuse people who may well not be the impostor.

 

This sort of difficulty happens a lot in life. A game with such scenarios as a central mechanic don’t strike me as the sort of thing that draws me in.

Who knows; maybe next year they’ll be ready for Civilization.