Software

When I was young, probably too young for such aspirations, I wanted to grow up and write software. I still want to write software, and it turns out that’s what I do for a living. I have trouble wanting to write “apps” though. Somehow they’re just too “hip to the scene”. Something just inherently seems less professional about calling software an app. App is just short for application, which I think is even nerdier sounding than “software.” But alas, that word fell victim to what I will henceforth call “English rot” – vowels, syllables, whole words are rotting away until only a handful of consonants and maybe a few numerals will remain.

It’s weird having lived through both sides of computing skills being necessary and socially embraced. When I was young you were a nerd for being able to use a pc, now it seems to be going full circle. Tablets and smartphones are not computers, they are appliances that have computers in them. The computer portion of these devices is buried beneath the glossy touchscreens and one-size-fits-all user interfaces. Sure you can change your backgrounds and colors, but what makes a computer a computer is the freedom to control it however you like. A computer is a canvas that you can paint however you want. These appliances are pre-painted canvases and changing the paint voids your warranty.

As usual I’m rambling like an old man. I’m not afraid of change, I swear!

I’ve put together a few little applications I’m not sure I want to call them apps.  They’re not on phones, so that makes them not apps, right? In case you’re curious, you can feel free to grab a copy of what I’ve made and put out there so far: ColorCoder and Passworder. I’ve got a few concepts in the work that will probably make their way to phones and tablets, computers are obviously on the verge of extinction for the 10th year in a row now. Seriously though, focusing on any one platform today is just not a good idea for future movement.

Making desktop software is what I enjoy creating. I know the medium isn’t the biggest growing market. But there’s functionality capable and expected on desktop and laptop computers that thus far has not been replicated well on tablets or phones. I’m no rocket surgeon, but I’d bet that the vast majority of phone apps are written using real computers. If there’s anyone out there that’s looking for a custom solution for desktop software, business or personal, feel free to send us a message to see if we’re a good fit.

I do have a few more little utilities that I’m planning to shore up soon to share with the world. You can expect a few more freebies in the future, and for everything we’re planning so far there’ll at the very least be a free (and ad-free) version. These are mainly tools that’ll help developers more than anyone else, but I make what I need, and it turns out I’m a developer 🙂

App Crap

matchthethingsNot so long ago phones were not so smart, and tablets were from star trek. Then a social technological revolution happened. You’d have a hard time finding a phone today that was not a smart phone, bundled with one flavor or another of a walled app selection. With each of the platforms advertising heavily the number of apps available, as we all know the apps make the phone.

The word “free” has all but lost meaning. There’s a lot of variety of what they call free today, very little of it is not for profit. If someone has made money from giving you something for “free”, it just somehow seems less than free. I’m not rallying against companies turning a profit. I’m no moral crusader that’s boycotting apps, I use lots of free apps and services. My issues lie mostly with the sheer quantity of the apps being pushed out there, most of them are labeled as free, and most of them are garbage.

I’m not picking on any specific app stores or brands, every one I’ve used has the same issue. In the rush to beat the competition, the number of apps available was a pivotal marketing point for app stores. Who cares if piles of apps are just non-functional, duplicitous, plagiarized, pay-to-win, or just plain crap. It’s all about the number of apps. This deluge has all but ruined the experience for me. I once looked upon my smartphone screen with wonder and curiosity, and now I look at my smart phone when I need to know what time it is.

RPGcardI scroll these markets far more often than I actually download or purchase anything. Not so long back, the “New” section of the store would actually seem to change. Sure the titles change now, but to me it just seems like the same things over and over again, with very little originality floating to the surface. I want to find something, some treasure that I might have overlooked, but I’ve done the download-and-try dance so many times now, it just doesn’t seem to be worth the effort.

Figuring out what the catch is from the store page isn’t always so easy either.  Do I need DLC? Is it possible to actually win? If so, how much real world money will it take? If I can win a game for free but it will take 1000 years, I’m not sure that actually counts as being able to “win for free.” The popular mantra seems to be to monetize in as many directions as possible.  Apps today that cost money still often contain ads, have additional DLC content to buy, and have special in-app items or features to buy.  And of course there’s the matter of your privacy, which is seldom not profitable in some form or another.

I’m sure I’ll be making and publishing an app or two in the future, so it’s somewhat disheartening to watch how things are going. Even if I make a glorious gem of an app, with novel functionality and use, that is the best app ever…  I’d still need to throw it into the pile of crap and pray that someone will see a glint of it’s shiny.  I still try to look for those that other people have made, but it’s getting harder and harder as the pile grows.

Maybe I should just get a dumb phone, lol.

Finding Direction

It’s a big crazy world.  The more experience in the world that I have, the bigger and stranger the world gets.  We live in an age of technological magic where the lines between science-fiction and reality are mostly just a matter of time.  One thousand years ago the human world was much simpler.  It wasn’t a very fun time to live, by our modern day measures of fun.  Children of the distant past were not burdened with silly day to day choices like “What do I want to be when I grow up?”  That was an easy one, “I want to live that long.”

Identity crisis is a sign of the times.  The huge number of possibilities that people can chase for life fulfillment is staggering.  Each and every year new occupations and hobbies are created or reinvented, new paths on the trail of life that already seems to have infinite paths.  It seems rare that someone actually knows what they want to do, what would fulfill them. Our modern lives are becoming a hunt for that one path, that one that is best suited to our skills, interests, and desires. What signs people are looking for on these paths differ greatly, but we all really want the same thing.  We all want to be on the path that makes us happier to walk down.  Limited by our short-sighted human wiring, not many people can really see more than a few years down a path, and even what we can see before we start on the path is not the same as feeling the path under your feet.

Most people don’t just try one path in life. They start a few paths and take a few turns, and often end up back where they started, with the wisdom and experience they collected walking in their circle.  A mile walked should never be thought of as a mile wasted.  We are the sum of our experiences. Each day we are forging ourselves, or allowing ourselves to be forged, into the person we will be tomorrow.  Ultimately it is up to us to weigh our experiences and glean what we can from our failures and successes.  The golden path that promises easy riches is probably a trap. People that don’t see that the first time, will usually recognize it the second time, but dang if it doesn’t look shiny still.

I often marvel at the amazing things that technology has given us.  Humanity has created a second world, a digital world. Children of today are growing up in two worlds, and inherently accept the digital world as just as real as the real physical world.  In many ways, it is just as real as the real world, and is becoming increasingly indistinguishable. People have “friends” they’ve never actually met and “followers” that live on the other side of the world.  People seldom have a firm grasp on who they are themselves and the confusion of multiple identities only compounds this.  This whole new world is full of brand new paths that are ever changing, and you need a digital identity to walk those paths.

Finding direction is the most important part of doing anything. Without direction, you’re left to be carried down whatever path the wind blows you down.  Direction sounds easy, just pick a path that you want to walk before one is picked for you.  It’s so easy, just look as far as you can see down these infinity paths and choose the one with the cheese at the end, but hurry up the timer is ticking. The paths people take tend to be following someone they trust or admire, watching the back of their mentor and not seeing the path ahead of them. Some team up to walk a path together side by side sharing the difficulties and rewards, good company can make a difficult trail seem easy.  Some stomp forward with enough determination that it destroys any obstacles in their path. Most of us don’t have that super power, but the path behind those people can seem pretty clear.  The best of us forge a path and plant flowers in our wake, making the path more pleasant for those that follow.

Obviously none of this applies to me as I have everything figured out and am walking the gem encrusted trail of happy warm times, with unicorns prancing by my sides, the sun on my face, and the wind at my back.

What’s So Bad About Bad-Guys?

The seeming majority of plots in pretty much all stories, movies or video games can be summarized by the sentence “The good guys get the bad guys.” Sometimes this is just a partial narrative to a different plot, but it seems it’s almost always included.  There’s an interesting mental quirk that almost everyone has, people like to see a bad character “get what’s coming to them.”

The flip side to this is what I’ve started calling “Bad-Guy Anxiety,” which is the anxiety that accompanies the perception of the bad guys “Being Bad.”  In movies, these are the cringe-worthy scenes when an innocent person is about to be snuffed out, and the audience knows it’s coming. People have trouble staying still, even just keeping their butts planted in their seats.  Some people can’t help but yell “WATCH OUT!” when watching horror movies.

My 6 year old has a crippling case of bad-guy anxiety when playing video games. She’s working on it, and for a kindergartner I am in no way surprised. Bad guys can be scary, particularly when someone is not accustomed to the experience. She freaks out every time she sees a bad guy, but that doesn’t stop her from playing the game. If anything it seems to make the experience more fun for her, although she would deny that.

Walk_02_B
So scary. Image courtesy of lightfiretech.com

Back in the dark ages when I was a child, the archaic video games that we had still had the power to induce bad-guy anxiety.  If you have ever seen a young kid playing a NES, it’s a whole body exercise, well before waggling was expected and promoted by more recent games.  It was just a natural reaction to the anxiety that goes with “not wanting to die.”  As silly as the comparison from a game to real life is, ask almost anyone playing a video game, and they will wholeheartedly agree that they’re actively trying “not to die.”  After all, they may only have “2 guys left”, you don’t know!

Illustrator’s note: The author of this post was totally whooshing his head back and forth yesterday while playing a car racing game.

badguy_anxiety
Fun Fact:  this helps you jump farther

This anxiety is paired with people’s depth of immersion.  The more zoned-in to the game, the more real it feels.  More realistic graphics automatically make a game universally more immersive.  I had no trouble immersing myself in games like Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda on the NES and even more ancient relics like Number Munchers.  But not once, did I ever care when I was greeted with “You have died of dysentery” on ye olde Oregon Trail.  There’s no anxiety or buildup involved with that one, it’s just “Bam, dysentery”, time to think up something clever for the gravestone.

screenshot
Lava, the ultimate immobile bad-guy.

Bad-guy anxiety is a great thing.  It’s a sign that the game is working, that the real world is at least not wholly consuming your emotional state.  Without the emotional ride, games are too easy or boring.  It’s an important part of the experience that make the plot an enjoyable thing.  It’s part of the emotional roller coaster that makes the whole of an experience worthwhile.  If a movie only ever had happy moments, what would be the point?  If there’s nothing to overcome, there is no winning.  Bad guys are one of the more direct obstacles that are used as plot devices.

So don’t hate on bad guys in games and movies, they’re there for your sake.  They’re doing just what they’re supposed do.  They’re not bad, just misunderstood… and sometimes hungry :).

Just don’t go being a bad-guy in the real world!

 

Where to begin…

So there I was, planting apple seeds throughout the frontier, and out of nowhere comes this funny guy named John Jacob Jingle-Heimer Schmidt.  He’s going around singing his name like some kind of idiot, so I seized the opportunity to copyright his song, just so I could collect the royalties from him.

copyright_notes
doot-dee-doo

Seeing as how the song was only five seconds long, I could charge him quite often.  Then inspiration hit me, so I strolled down to the local tavern and listened carefully to the drunken renditions of different songs, and I realized that they were different enough to copyright without infringing on the original copyright.  So I go about copyright’n all of these slurred songs, and as it turns out, each drunk slurs a little bit differently. So here I am, tryin’ my hardest to write every possible drunken rendition of every song.  That’s when it hit me:  I need a huge blue ox. I can’t quite remember why it hit me; it might’ve been the booze.  I was trying to write drunken renditions after all.

big_blue_ox
That’s a big ox.

And so I find this huge ox, and I realize that I am easily no match for it.  This is when I turned around and began running. Luckily for me, a crowd of innocent bystanders meandered into the ox’s path. The next thing I know, the ox is lying on the ground whimpering like some kind of baby.  So I approached the mighty beast, only to realize the reason for the ox’s pain:  It had a farmer stuck in its hoof.  So I kindly help the poor ox out.  I took a 2×4 and pried the poor farmer loose (what was left of him, anyway) and the next thing you know, this ox is my best friend.

 

 

 dead_farmer

That’s when the $’s sprung up in my eyes:  I realized this ox could easily feed a whole town for a year.  “Now to find a town with a big enough gun to put this creature down with,” I thought to myself, “seein as ordinary bullets just bounced off of it.”.  Well after tryin a few dozen cannons to no avail, I realized I needed someone with tremendous strength, and not much brains, so I started auditioning.  I finally end up with this meat-head named Hercules, and when I say meat-head, I mean it. This guy didn’t even know which end of a tree you’re supposed to chop.  This kid kept telling these crazy tales about his dad being some kind of omnipotent being and whatnot, that’s when I pegged him as a loony, I convinced him that he had to help me slay this giant beast, in order to get a golden fleece, I couldn’t believe he fell for it.  Eventually I got the basic plan into his head, all he had to do, is chop the head off the big ox, this is when the trouble began.

I never really considered how much blood a huge ox like Babe (the pet name I’d given him) could hold, and well, the nearby towns didn’t much appreciate my lack of foresight, especially when the tsunami of blood was headed their way.  Quickly I blew a breath of frozen air at it, a trait passed down through the Frost family, and froze this giant wave of blood solid.

 

jack_frost_milkman
He was nice.

While, I’m not really a member of the Frost family, But Jack used to deliver the milk when I was a child, so I figured the ice breath sort of rubbed off on me.  Once again, my lack of foresight was my downfall.  Now, instead of demolishing the nearby towns, I ended up nearly encasing them in ice. The three survivors were very angry about this:  You know “you killed my family” this, and “you’ve ruined my life” that.  I ended up settling the score with ox meat.  Now, I had planned to sell this meat to the nearby towns, but since we were in the middle of a “population crisis”, they didn’t exactly have much interest, besides the original bribe, er, tribute.

So I convinced Hercules that we needed to bring the beast’s carcass to the nearest “populated” town to collect the fleece.  He kept trying to convince me that proof of its demise should be enough, but I kindly reminded him that he was an idiot.  Now this guy was a tough guy, but no matter how tough he was, there was no way to avoid half-dragging this giant, blue, headless ox.  This wouldn’t have been a problem, if the nearest town was within 50 miles.  Now lets pretend the ground is sand paper, and Babe’s headless corpse was a piece of balsa wood; yeah, it wasn’t pretty.  When we got to the nearest town, only about half of babe was left, and there was a huge red path behind us.  Ordinarily this wouldn’t have been a problem, but it seems this town had some odd organization protecting the endangered giant blue oxen, and seeing as how Babe was, well, the only giant blue ox, there was hell to pay.

dead_ox

Now normally in this situation, I’d high-tail it outta there, but seeing as how I was in the middle of town, and surrounded by angry citizens carrying torches and pitchforks, that didn’t seem like it’d work.  Now the second idea that came to me seemed a little more likely to work.  I decided to play blind, color blind that is.  I fell to my knees and covered my face in my hands, I hadn’t intended to use the waterworks, but the sharp rock I just slammed my knee down on changed my mind.  “I didn’t know he was blue!” I let out between sobs, “I thought he was an ordinary giant brown ox!” This seemed to take them aback for a moment:  Now all I had to do is convince them I was the victim.  This wasn’t as hard as you’d have thought.

So there I was surrounded by angry villagers that didn’t seem to be buying my “colorblind” excuse.  Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, the pygmy cannibals arrived. Sure, they couldn’t have been more than 3 ft tall at the best, but when a people eats human flesh, other people tend to fear them. I on the other hand, found this to be the perfect diversion:  Now was my chance to escape, or so I would have thought, if the entire town wasn’t surrounded by half-pint human-eaters

But, I remembered something about common enemies, and friends and stuff, so I realized, all I have to do is kill a few innocent people, and that should scare the little people away…  I quickly grabbed a pitchfork from the nearest civilian, who happened to be frozen with fear, then I stabbed him with it.  Hercules seemed to think that everyone was waiting to be saved by him or something, and rushed out into the middle of the pygmies’ group and started stomping like crazy. I pretty much ignored him from this point out, trying to make like I didn’t know him and such.  

pitchfork

Now, generally you’d expect people to attempt to defend themselves, especially when charging them with a pitchfork in your hands, these people must’ve been as dumb as rocks.  The biggest effort I saw of self-defense was one guy who yelled at me when I was charging him; everyone else just stood there with their backs turned to me, like they wanted to be killed or something.  Now, in the fray I spotted the leader of the pygmies.  He had a patch over one of his eyes, and one of his ears looks as though his wife gnawed it off. I assumed he was the leader, at least:  He was nearly 3ft 2in, so among them he was a giant.  And everyone knows that the one guy that you can tell apart from the rest of the crowd has to be the leader.

This is when my plan came to me:  All I have to do is take out this guy, and the rest of the pygmies will worship me as a god. Unfortunately, my pitchfork was a little too inbedded in my last victim, and it was not coming out. So I turned to “plan B.” Plan B was to trick him into killing himself, all I needed was a raw human heart, and I had no trouble finding one of those…  After I cleaned off my pocket knife, I began stomping my way through the pygmies towards their leader. Now, I probably could have just kept stomping and went right on by, but once I make a plan, I got to see the results of it.

pygmy_bossI stopped my stomping right in front of the leader of the pygmies, and as he opened his mouth to bite me, I stuffed the whole heart down his throat.  The whole crowd went silent and looked at me and the one-eyed, one-eared, pint-sized, purple, people-eater.  He grabbed at his throat for a few minutes as I stood there patiently waiting for him to keel over.  He kept giving me this weird look with his eye that intrigued me at the same time as it disgusted me.  Now, I was expecting the pygmies to bow down and grovel, or at the very least retreat, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Almost at the second he finally croaked, the entire horde of pygmies came rushing at me with their teeth bared.  It kinda looked like an ant hill after being stepped on, from my angle at least.  Now, one of my faults is my complete and utter lack of “correct” foresight, which you may have noticed; my other major fault is my bad habit of blaming others when I make a mistake.  The latter came in quite handy as I pointed at Hercules and yelled “He Made Me Do It!”   Now, I was unable to pull a fast one on the villagers, but these pygmies were something else, even though they all just witnessed me laughing at their leaders last moments of life, for some reason they actually believed me.

The horde turned around almost in one fluid motion and began charging directly at Hercules. I almost felt sorry for the guy, when I realized he was just a waste of good meat anyway, at least he could feed some pygmy children for a few days. A little too late I realized my folly, for Hercules was carrying my backpack, and in my backpack was my wallet…

So there I was, knee deep in pygmies, not a dime to my name….

 

Video Games and Me

I know of no other medium that is as powerful as interactive video games can be.  A person can fly to the farthest reaches of the universe, throughout the expanses of time, see things that never have and never will exist, based only on the limits of technology and human imagination. All while building thumb and butt callouses and not even standing up.  As with all new media, it’s had a rough start, and rough acceptance in society, but video games have grown into a billion dollar industry.

I started coding when I was 8 years old.  Inspired by the archaic video games of the early 1980’s, playing on an antique computer with a radiation spewing amber-monochrome monitor. It’s been my desire since that time to create games of my own.  Some of my earliest inspirations were games such as Willy the Worm, Space War, Jump Man, and who could forget Lode Runner.  All are quite simple by today’s standards, but once upon a time it was not such a crazy idea for *one* person to be making a game.

I’m not even sure how many times I’ve started working on a game for my own learning and enjoyment.  In my youth I would enjoy making the concepts, basic rules, and game engine bits, but never followed through to complete an *entire* game.  I once created a DOS sprite editor, it even had mouse support.  Not such a trivial thing in the dark ages.  It’s not until adulthood that I’ve come to realize that I was having so much more fun coding than I would have had playing any game I myself made.  To be realistic here, as a child I thought I wanted to build an awesome game because I wanted to play an awesome game, a notion that seems outright silly to me now.

Fast forward to the future, where we’re all living now, the number of video games available is mind boggling.  There’s more video game content being created each year than any one person could possibly complete in their lifetime.  What was once just for us nerds has been thrust into the mainstream.  Movie stars have admitted to playing massively multiplayer online role-playing games.  Even among early video games, role-playing games were shunned as ultra-nerdy.  Television networks devoted to sports are showing video game tournaments, what has this world come to?  Aren’t those guys supposed to be beating up nerds?

There’s a gaming platform in the pocket of most people in the modern world.  I wouldn’t go as far to say that everyone with a phone is a gamer, but I’m not sure I know anyone that doesn’t play a video game now and then.  Jigsaw puzzles, solitaire, and match-3 galore.

Here I am now, an adult by most measures, with a nostalgia based love of video games.  I’m a software developer, but not even remotely in the direction of games.  Every now and then I get an itch to make a game, but the itch never lasts long enough for a completed vision to take form.  Unlike many types of art, video games are not timeless. Technology progresses and old video games die.  Someone building a game is fighting a battle against technological advancement.  If technology  progresses too far, a game that is being made might be left behind before it’s even completed, a potentially disastrous consequence for developers.

spacegame
My most recent prototype, space-game-alpha

When dabbling on my own, I’ve not worked on any of these projects with thought to marketability or even with the thought to sell them.  In that respect I’ve avoided the battle against technology.  In recent years this trend seems to have gone weird, with retro pixel games having a resurgence of sorts.  Games like Shovel Knight and Terraria are showing the world a thing or two about pixels in the modern day. Sandbox games like MineCraft and Creativerse are somehow seeming to bring pixels into 3d and it’s working.

CV_01
Creativese

These recent games are quite inspiring.  Maybe there’s more people out there than I think that want to see what I can make, what WE can make.  As it turns out I’m no artist, I’m a nart. We’ve rolled around a few ideas recently, but have not yet found the one, the one that must be made.  We will find it and it will be awesome, and more importantly it will be fun to make.

Gamesprite
Possible future game sprite

The Warning of Briney Jack

They call me Briney Jack, and I’ve seen the end.

Briney_Jack

My spirit animal, the mortal enemy of the invaders, has warned me of what is coming. I’ve tried to tell the world to no avail. We’re not prepared and we will fall. Any moment, the invaders will arrive, and they wont be coming from across the ocean or across space. Hollywood has done nothing to prepare us for the true invaders. They will burrow up from the silty depths. The molluscs have had enough, they wont let us walk on them any more. The Clam People are coming.

nart-clam
A nartist’s representation

They are biding their time, building their strength by leeching our precious plastics from the environment and sucking up our treasured radiation to use against us in the coming clampocalypse. As humanity litters, we’re only arming our greatest enemies, playing right into their dastardly schemes. Every pound of radioactive waste, to them is sixteen ounces of death and destruction to rain down upon humanity. Filter feeding is natures great big joke, until you’re the one being filter-fed upon.

clam_people
Artist’s representation

I have been shown a vision of the destruction, the streets littered with bodies and shells. I have seen the streams of salty destruction blasting from giant clam-tanks, that make our most prized weapon advancements look like toys. Our cities rusting away, and being washed to sea with the ever rising tide of clam people.  Their immense floating clam-blimps blotting out the sun, as they rinse us to sea like used motor oil.

clam-tank
Fear the clam tanks

The few human survivors only being allowed to live, to massage the fleshy foot of the giant clam-queen.

clam_spy_smOf course their existence is being covered up. In the face of their insurmountable power, people can do nothing but cower and live in denial. They have spies among us, working to subvert humanity from the inside. Brilliantly disguised with expert camouflage, cardigans and mittens to cover their moist mitten-hands. For generations they have been convincing us of the coolness of littering and smoking, weakening us while we’re simply throwing our most precious resources into the oceans for them to gather and use against us.

 

They have nothing but time, for every year brings them another layer of calcium armor. Gloves wont be enough to save your fingers from the rage of the bivalves. Prepare yourselves, when the time comes, if you don’t shuck them, they will shuck you, and everyone you love.

 

-Briney Jack