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This morning I finished playing through That Dragon, Cancer. I will leave you to your favorite search engine if you have yet to hear about it.

It’s not really a game in a classic sense, although the mechanics are those of a simplified game.

The game isn’t about storytelling properly, either. There are many bits that feel that way, but there isn’t a narrative or story structure you would recognize as such. 

Instead, I feel it was a great way of communicating and inspiring ideas and feelings by leveraging multiple mechanisms: story, dialogue, sounds, music, settings, colors, light, time.

It’s a wonderful accomplishment. Scary, sad, but wonderfully rich. Worth the time, money and spirit you’ll invest in playing through.


Benefits of blogging

If I may start on a trite note, one of the wonders of the Internet is that we’re all connected. But how we discover and engage with each other effectively is not at all obvious. How do we speak out? How do we find something that will truly speak to us?

Blogging is a wonderful tool to address these concerns. It allows for short or long-form writing, thoughtful essays or to-the-point insights, or simply keeping track of your favorite news or sports site. With the long memory of the web, it acts as a repository for thoughts, for help, for experiences to be shared. Generous linking means that finding something that’s good for you can start off on a path to more good things.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we read blogs and wrote a free app to help others manage their reading. I’d like to encourage everyone to share as well – reading is just one side of the experience. Writing is thinking, and it can be hard, but it’s definitely worth the effort – even if you only do it for an audience of one.

Beginning with the end in mind is a good habit that helps with choosing what’s important to us, but the “funeral visualization” exercise described in Seven Habits is pretty terrible. It takes our ultimate goal in life and describes it exclusively in the realm of “what will others think of us?”

Perhaps a better way of going about figuring out what to do with life is to turn the perspective around a bit. Ask instead: after I die, how did I make the people and things I influence better? How did I help them become happier? How did I help them realize their own goals?

Even this perspective isn’t quite enough for something as broad as your whole life. It is a journey after all, and living a good life is more than just heading in the right direction. But please, don’t start by trying to guess what others will think and say of you!


Backup Adventures

After reading Scott’s personal backup post a while ago, I finally got around to revisiting my backup situation a couple of months ago.

I’ve written about my awesome Home Server before. It’s been faithfully backing up my computers for me for many, many years, and at some point I have to start worrying about what will happen when it dies. A year or so ago I bought a new disk that I’m using to share content between computers, mostly my Zune music collection that just keeps growing, thanks to the old ’10 DRM-free downloads a month’ plan.

About a month ago I got a Western Digital My Passport drive and decided to use the backup software that came with it. The drivers and software installed some updates, and a few reboots (and many hours) later, I had a happily backed up drive. Awesome stuff.

However, I found that every time I restarted my computer, the backup service program would crank up CPU usage for minutes and minutes, and would scan and re-scan files that had presumably been backed up already. This kept happening and made the computer unusable for a good while. Online searches revealed that others have also had this problem.

So instead I’m trying a mixture of TrueCrypt and SyncToy, to protected the contents and to make it easy to keep things backed up.

TrueCrypt seems pretty great so far – I’ll be donating next week if all goes well. It takes a few minutes to set things up, and the support and online docs are pretty great. It’s also open source, which never hurts.

SyncToy is an old classic. While Microsoft has been focusing more on SkyDrive integration lately, the tool works just fine. Ultimately there are two things I want to do with SyncToy: keep a backup of things I work with regularly, and archive things I no longer care about. Because there is always a time-sensitivity aspect to this, I’ve lately come to organize my folders more by time (or sub-folders of important things by time), typically by year. From an old article, I can see what my options are for subscribing.

  • Sync. Copies new and updated files in both directions. If you rename or delete a file in one folder, that action is replicated in the other. This doesn’t work for me, because I don’t want any accidental changes in my hard drive to replicate back to my working disk.
  • Echo. Copies new and updated files, and performs deletes and renames only from the left folder to the right. This is a bit better, but when I want to archive content, I don’t want my local deletion to delete the archived copy.
  • Subscribe. Copies updated files from right to left, and only if the file already exists on the left. Changes made on the left will not be replicated to the right. Almost, but not quite…
  • Contribute. Copies new and updated files on the left to the right, while ignoring deletions. Bingo!
  • Combine. Keeps multiple machines in lockstep by copying files that exist on one side but not the other. Files that are deleted or renamed on either side are not affected or replicated. Again, changes in my backup drive shouldn’t propagate back to my working machine.

Let’s see how this goes. If it seems manageable, I’ll probably get another passport for robustness, and if things grow too crazily over time, I might get another one for media content (although with the ability to buy movies that I can then stream from whenever, that starts getting less and less compelling).

I find it hard, like other people I think, to put my thoughts and feelings in order with regards to the recent tragedy in Connecticut.

Writing is thinking though, so here we go.

There are two aspects that trouble me. The first is the tragedy itself. I try to keep some emotional distance, partly because there’s nothing I can do about it, and partly because the idea of putting myself in the shoes of the people involved or the parents and relatives of the victims is a horrifying prospect, even as an exercise in empathy.

The second aspect is the reaction of the media and the people I know. I don’t have very high expectations of thoughtful analysis from traditional media (or even particularly accurate reporting for what it’s worth). I was surprised though to see how quickly and casually this seemed to turn into a public policy debate about gun control, and on how little information.

The research I’ve done so far shows that it’s a messy situation. There seems to be no conclusive evidence as to what is the better policy, and the approximations aren’t very good, and there are a lot of interested parties that muddle the situation further. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Tim Harford’s “Adapt” book, however, is that these matters are very, very complex, and you want to make decisions based on data, rather than supporting a position based on an intuition (however well-reasoned it might seem).

But it seems early to start discussing policy when the tragedy is so near. The concern for the poorly thought-out view of the future should not overshadow the immediate grief and ultimately how we choose to deal with them. And while I find that reaching out to people I don’t know and will likely not care too much about my concern (rightfully so) is ultimately a gesture with little meaning, perhaps there is more to be said about understanding how we see ourselves in respect to the situation; how we relate, how we react, and how we choose to be touched or not by it.

The other day, I got a recommendation for a book and I thought I’d go ahead and buy it. My preferred vehicle for reading these days is my Kindle, which I love dearly for the clean typography and ridiculously long battery life, but I was shocked to see that the Kindle edition was considerably more expensive than the paperback.

Curious, I bing’ed a bit, and it seems that there are two candidate explanations.

1. The new pricing model, where the publisher sets a price and Amazon gets a cut, means that Amazon can’t lower the price as aggressively. This doesn’t explain why publishers would start up so high to begin with though.

2. Because folks are willing to pay for it anyway.

Now, I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to pay more for the Kindle edition, or just get the paperback which isn’t so bad after all (I still need to find somewhere to keep the book I suppose, or donate it when I’m done). In the end, I ended up just not buying the book altogether – I have other stuff to read in any case.

I thought I’d leave Amazon some feedback about the “freezing effect” this price structure had, but after spending about 5-10 minutes (an eternity in Internet time), I couldn’t find a way to leave feedback.

Amazon, your customer spends time trying to contact you, but cannot find any way to get in touch with you directly.

Your engagement strategy is disappointing.

There’s nothing on the banner, or the rest of the home page. Searching for ‘feedback’ yields only products. Looking under ‘help’, it seems I can only send feedback about vendors. The “Community” section seems to be mostly about rating products as well, so that doesn’t look very promising. Searching on search engines yields vendor feedback as well.

And so I have a blog post, no book, and more questions than answers on how book pricing works these days.

Eleven months of Kindle

I got my Kindle in mid-June of last year. In the first eleven months, what have I been reading? Italics are things I bought and I still haven’t finished.

  1. Dragons of the Hourglass Mage: Lost Chronicles, Volume Three
  2. The Orc King: Transitions, Book I
  3. The Pirate King: Transitions, Book II
  4. The Ghost King: Transitions, Book III
  5. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
  6. Homeland: The Legend of Drizzt, Book I
  7. Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure
  8. Ender’s Game
  9. The Count of Monte Cristo
  10. And Then There Were None
  11. Gauntlgrym: Neverwinter, Book I
  12. Neverwinter: Neverwinter Saga, Book II
  13. Death on the Nile: Hercule Poirot Investigates
  14. Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution
  15. The Servant of the Shard: The Sellswords, Book I
  16. The Halfling’s Gem: The Legend of Drizzt, Book VI
  17. The Best Things in Life : A Guide to What Really Matters
  18. Sinuhé El Egipcio
  19. A Spell for Chameleon
  20. Bio of a Space Tyrant
  21. Bio of a Space Tyrant Vol. 2. Mercenary
  22. Bio of a Space Tyrant Vol. 3. Politician
  23. Bio of a Space Tyrant Vol. 4. Executive
  24. Frankenstein
  25. Bio of a Space Tyrant Vol. 6. The Iron Maiden
  26. The Name of the Wind: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day One
  27. Catching Fire
  28. Mockingjay
  29. The Wise Man’s Fear: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day Two
  30. Don Quijote
  31. On a Pale Horse
  32. The Works of Edgar Allan Poe – Volume 1
  33. Thinking, Fast and Slow

So I think I’m putting the thing to good use, with a very heavy leaning to fantasy and science fiction. 18% are “in flight”, which is no horrible, but probably reflects the fact that when something new and exciting comes up, some books are easier to go back and resume than others.

Also, when I find an author I like, I tend to buy more things from the same author, preferably but no always in a series of books. That’s more likely than the other way around – if I find I series I like, I may not get the books that are written by someone other than the ‘starting’ author.

And that’s enough self-learning for today. Time to enjoy a rare sunny Seattle day now.

Giving Thanks

Here is a list of things I’m thankful for, in no particular order, and with no attempt at being thorough.

  • Good health. I can do pretty much whatever I want as long as it’s not a long-distance race. I don’t take any medication. I feel well all day every day, save for a couple of days of flu every one or two years. That’s pretty awesome.
  • A loving family. A lot of people that I love and that love me back. ‘Nuff said.
  • Great friends. There’s this whole lot of people that I will see at varying frequencies, and yet there’s this connection that always holds. People that make my life richer just for being who they are. Awesome companions to go through life with.
  • My pups. Cuddly bastards that can get away with anything.
  • A fun job. Fun stuff that I would do for a hobby, but that I get a paycheck for.
  • A safe place to live in. Running in dark streets alone? The worst problem is watching were you step.
  • An early snow season. Tomorrow will be my first skiing, but the nearby slopes opened last Saturday.
  • Peace. Not just the fact that I’m not part of any armed conflict, but also simple peace of mind and spirit in everyday life.
  • Having lots of nice things. Not very spiritually deep perhaps, but if I enjoy them, why not give thanks for them?
  • The fact that vacations are not too far away. Getting some nice warm sun will be pretty great.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Bungee Jumping

Ayer sábado fuimos a hacer bungee jumping con los perritos.

Lau y yo nos levantamos temprano, tipo a las seis de la mañana, ducha rápida, preparar todo para el viaje, y salimos con los perritos rumbo al puente de la gente de, al sur del volcán St. Helens.

El viaje estuvo tranquilo, con Pucho hinchando hasta que lo ayudamos a parar, y fueron tres horas de autopista, seguidas de media hora más o menos de seguir instrucciones para atraversar Woodland y llegar al lugar.

Una vez llegados al lugar, estacionamos del auto, les calzamos los collares a los perros y salimos rumbo al puente privado que tienen. Ahí estaban tres de los empleados del lugar; uno de ellos, Abe, un ecuatoriano que había hecho bungee jumping en Mendoza Argentina! Mundo chico…

Tirarse fue algo muy raro. Te ponen dos arneses, uno para las piernas y otro para el pecho. Cuando es tu turno de tirarte, te ajustan los arneses y te enganchan unas cuerdas flexibles a los dos arneses, de forma que te queda todo enganchado.

Una vez atado, pasás sobre los rieles del puente y quedás sobre una pequeña plataforma del lado de afuera, y entonces es momento de saltar.

El momento de saltar es todo bastante confuso, porque por un lado tenés a la gente contándote “tres, dos, uno…”, y por otro lado tenés todos los instintos diciéndote que estás en peligro, con el corazón agitado y adrenalina por todos lados, y a la vez estás tratando de acordarte de cuando te explicaron cómo saltar “mirá para adelante, levantá los brazos, saltá lejos”… Y cuando saltás, sin pensarlo mucho, estás cayendo de repente, pero es raro porque la caída no para, seguís cayendo, hasta que las cuerdas te empiezan a frenar y después te tiran para arriba, y de repente estás yendo para arriba muy muy rápido y es una sensación distinta, hasta que se te acaba la fuerza y estás cayendo de nuevo… No hay forma de explicar la sensación, pero es muy, muy intenso.

Una vez que subís al puente después del salto, el corazón sigue palpitando a lo loco, y uno está con una alegría fenomenal de haberlo hecho.

El resto del día estuvo más tranquilo… Compramos agua y algunas barritas en una tienda en el camino, fuimos para el volcán pero había un camino cerrado, nos metimos por un camino menor que era de un único carril (pero doble mano), llegamos hasta que la nieve bloqueada el camino y después volvimos para Woodland. Almuerzo de comida mexicana por ahí, caminata con los perritos por el pueblo, y después de vuelta rumbo a casa, cansados y contentos.

Las fotos del evento las sacaba la hija del dueño, que estaba en un banquito de tres patas sentada en las vigas que corren por debajo del puente… Si todo sale bien, estarían llegando en un CD en un par de días.

I still remember how the news hit us at work when we heard Paul David had been in an accident. We were all shocked that something so terrible and sudden would happen to someone who we always thought of as the healthiest guy around who would certainly outlive us all, and anxious about his condition – things were looking pretty grim, and of course the less we knew the more room we had in our imaginations to think of the worst.

Today, Paul is back in putting everyone back to shame with the awesome active lifestyle he’s got, and working to get a better legal connection between the driver’s actions and the consequences created. His latest blog post on the topic is absolutely worth a read, both for his pespective on the work he’s doing and on the actual process citizens can engage in to change the society they live in.

As someone who is often jaded about these things (and who still can’t vote on the way things work around him), it’s inspiring to see this effort in action.