Benny's Adventures

No more Reddit for me.

I lied. This post is not actually about Reddit. However the role Reddit plays in my life exemplifies a type of behavior I am minimizing: consuming without a goal. Reddit is my starting point and I’ll generalize from there. Please understand that I am not disparaging Reddit as a whole – I am making a statement about my own behavior when using Reddit.

When I say consuming without a goal I mean absorbing a lot of information with little to no reward besides the base stimulation that seeing lots of new comments, images, and links offers. This type of stimulation results in a lot of short-term gratification but yields little benefit in the long run.

As I write this currently the top 3 posts on Reddit (based on default subreddits without logging on) are:

  1. Swedish justice minister falls for Daily Currant spoof story on marijuana deaths, calling incident “stupid and sad”
  2. number 1 rule at a party : DON’T FALL ASLEEP FIRST!!
  3. What do you see on tv all the time that never actually happens in everyday life?

While there are more focused and useful subreddits (a better-known one that comes to mind is /r/AskHistorians) these three links are a good sample of what I encounter most often. There are lots of links to news articles that I am personally not involved with, random comical things happening in other people’s lives that I don’t care about, and possibly interesting discussions that don’t really make my life better.

Even when I tailor the subreddits to my tastes with subscriptions to /r/engineering, for example, the basic content does not change. /r/engineering often has the same type of content I find uninteresting except with a different coat of paint. And I would argue that the more banal, asinine, or irrelevant content is more addictive.

This sort of content and gratification-seeking behavior on Reddit is the root of this post today. I want to avoid behavior that does not lead to a happier life. Looking at memes/image macros, following pun threads in comments, and being bombarded by a seemingly random collection of information is not helping me be happier.

Other examples from my personal life would be letting myself get caught up watching a TV show that I don’t really enjoy but sit down and watch anyway because it happens to be on.

That’s not to say avoid TV altogether! There are shows that stimulate the imagination I whole-heartedly recommend and documentaries can be a good source of TV that is beneficial.

The key is to have a goal.

It doesn’t have to be a grandiose goal like changing the world. Those types of goals are usually too taxing for their own good anyway because of the scope. I prefer to work with personal, quantifiable, and achievable goals that can build momentum into a massive shift.

Spending time with friends and loved ones, for example, is a wonderful goal. I don’t suggest watching Judge Judy on your own (I use this example because it’s a guilty pleasure of mine) but if you’re sitting with friends and able to bond over it – either because you are enjoying it or because you’re making fun of it (I’ve been known to do both) then you are working on something that leads to long-term benefits.

A clearly superior use of my Reddit time is to improve my skills. I don’t mean random skills that don’t help me with anything. I can learn how to build a website but does that do anything for me as an engineer? Not immediately and without a clear reason for requiring a website that skill is just another project waiting to cause stress and disappointment by not being completed. On the other hand I can review my textbooks and hone my math skills, both of which have direct benefits to my job and to my mental well-being. Plus the better I get with engineering concepts the more likely I am to be able to innovate.

Instead of being on Reddit, even if it was only a “quick” Reddit break, I could have cleaned my apartment. I get stressed when my apartment is messy in any way so the cleaning option is obviously better but it is not instant gratification like Reddit is. But that’s my point – the extra willpower and discipline to clean is tough but improves my happiness while Reddit does not.

Just so we are perfectly clear I’m not saying Reddit is bad. I’m saying my use of Reddit is a waste of time. There are certainly plenty of folk who use Reddit productively as a tool for communication, collaboration, development, marketing, or any number of other things. (Though for every one of those people there are 100 more using Reddit for puns and image macros.) There are plenty of other behaviors for me that fall into the same waste of time: playing games on my smartphone, procrastinating, sitting around doing nothing, and more.

My point in all this is that I want to be more selective with how I spend my time so that I can be true to my personal motto: Live deliberately.

7 January 2014 Posted by | Feeling Good, Internet, Life | Leave a comment

Acer C710 Unboxing (Woah! I have a Chromebook now!)

The laptop I used since early 2010 finally died in the middle of this year. I’ve talked about this laptop twice before including one occasion where the laptop failed and HP repaired it. The same problem cropped up again it seems where the laptop would not turn on and flashed error codes. After some research it looks like the CPU failed. It’s been 3.5 years since I got it and I reevaluated my computer usage and surprisingly found Chromebooks to be useful and inexpensive for my needs. I do not like to play games while on the go and I don’t have a history of activities beyond internet browsing when I am out of the house or abroad. Since I already have a Google account and am mired in the Google ecosystem (Gmail, Android, etc.) a Chromebook is just enough to satisfy my needs. Plus it’s a new “toy” to play with and that’s always exciting! (as an added bonus I got a hard drive upgrade for my desktop using the laptop’s hard drive)

I’ll share more detailed thoughts later but I just wanted to share the excitement of opening up my new gadget!














18 October 2013 Posted by | Computing | , , , , | Leave a comment

Blogging Deliberately: Rationalizing the Desire to Blog

Blogging unsettles me because I associate it with narcissism. The feeling is exacerbated by the limited reach of this blog. However I have found reasons to keep blogging through introspection.

1. Contributing to the documented collective experience of humans.

The internet brought about an unprecedented level of communication between people and a lot of it is documented. Many people are unaware of the extent but it is safe to assume that anything that has been on the internet is on there forever. I find reviews particularly useful as they help me come to an informed decision about a new product I am considering purchasing. I find reading about others’ experiences helpful because it is more information for me to use in my own life. I don’t want to be only a consumer in these and other pieces of communication that benefit people. I want to contribute. Blogging is one way of doing so that balances the skills needed for entry, the time required, and the potential audience in a way that suits my circumstance.

2. Developing and maintaining skills related to writing.

There are benefits of blogging to me that provide the driving motivation to continue writing provided I set my expectations properly. I am not hoping to become famous though I certainly won’t deny that it’s nice to think about. Probably the most immediate and tangible result of blogging for me is improvements to my writing. If I don’t write I can’t continue to improve my grammar, use of vocabulary, and my voice. Rather than lament a lack of development I want to choose to be proactive and practice by writing regularly.

3. A combination of keeping in touch with friends, journaling, and learning.

I want to keep in touch with everybody in my life but that can become temporally prohibitive. There may also be cases where I have the time but my friend does not. These are cases where having a blog can be useful. Especially with useful titles and headers a friend can understand if a blog post is useful or not. My prior flirtations with search engine optimization also indicate that this is good for building a wider audience as well. Mysterious titles may be useful for self-aggrandizing but serve no further purpose. Additionally some thoughts come out better when written than when spoken in a conversation. There are benefits and drawbacks to both forms of communication and maintaining both lines can be helpful.

In the process of revealing various details of my life from my thoughts to mundane details like a new purchase I am also journaling. A quick Google search for “benefits of journaling” finds sources (many of them blogs!) that claim benefits of journaling. Anecdotally speaking I find that I am better able to process my thoughts and feelings, I have some sort of record I can look back on for future reference, and seeing my thoughts in writing often provokes further inquiry and insight.

I think that practically reasons 2 and 3 are what drive me to rationalize blogging as useful via reason 1. Still I think that the thought process is valid so I have no problem with crafting an experience that benefits me if it also serves to benefit others.

Now comes the difficult period of forming a habit so that I can reap the benefits.

17 October 2013 Posted by | Blogging, Thinking | , , | Leave a comment

Age of Empires Online: How Developers Screwed an Amazing Game

I’ve been playing Age of Empires Online and I am distressed.

Let me add context: I love video games. Video games provide an outlet of expression for developers and gamers alike, a new art bringing untold potential to humanity’s table. Personally video games have helped me get through tough times by relieving stress, catalyzing the learning of life lessons, and, in the case of the Age of Empires series, teaching me history in an interactive experience.

As a gamer and as a fan of the Age of Empires series I had high hopes. I should have known that these hopes would be obliterated like a castle bombarded by an army of trebuchets (for anyone unaware: a reference to Age of Empires 2).

To be fair the core game is amazing. The real-time strategy (RTS) portion of the game (as opposed to the quests and crafting) is rock-solid, in my opinion. The game is paced just right and the resource gathering, combat, and other aspects are – in my opinion – spot on. There are not many civilizations available for selection but there doesn’t have to be. Each civilization has a unique feel.

Beyond that the AI is competent which is a very pleasant surprise. And collaborating with other gamers or finding a sparring partner for PvP is dead-simple.

The icing on the cake is the stylized graphics and cheeky humor. Age of Empires Online has personality. How many game can claim that? (In case you don’t know my answer, here it is: not many can truly claim that)

I could expand on the good qualities but alas for all the good Age of Empires Online has it has been weighed down with cement shoes by some mafia boss of a manager or producer. Some moron decided to take Age of Empires Online and slap onto it a free-to-play system. On top of that the idiot-in-charge ignored any successful model for a free-to-play game and set up something frustrating and inadequate (I mean come on, League of Legends was right there!). To be fair I don’t know who made the decisions behind the scenes but I can see where some good people tried to make the best of a bad situation but…

There’s a good reason the developers had to announce no further developments for the game: the people in charge screwed up. Read this portion:

Why no more content?

Because creating top-tier content, as we have been for the last year and a half, is very expensive—too expensive to maintain for long, as it turns out. We can no longer afford to keep creating it. AOEO already has a very large amount of high-quality, hand-crafted entertainment, and adding more is no longer cost-effective.

In other words the game makers failed to pull in the revenue needed to continue with the game. Or they never planned on going beyond what they’ve done anyway – which is, in other words, create a standard retail game and disguise it as a free-to-play game.

Whichever the case may be the developers made critical errors in judgment:

The priorities are backwards. The core of the game has always been a great skirmish/sparring mode with an interesting campaign added on but here the developers somehow created an extensive campaign (sometimes interesting, sometimes not) and walled off the interesting things (read: PvC and balanced PvP) with a financial barrier to entry. The carrot on a stick here is that it’s theoretically possible to earn entry without spending money but at what cost? More time than it is worth. I’ve put in more than 60 hours and have not gotten close to unlocking anything without paying.

The game is unfair without purchasing premium. Many powerful items that you can equip or use (an idea I am fine with) are locked away from free players who have not upgraded a civilization to premium. At lower levels and towards the beginning of the game this doesn’t prove to be an issue but when computers start using items that give them an unfair edge over the player it becomes a frustration rather than an incentive. It’s not that the computers are using items that is an issue – it’s that when compared to items available to non-premium players the premium items are overpowered leading to an imbalance that can only be corrected by paying.

There is little value for any money you do put into the game. At 900 Empire Points, or EP, to unlock a civilization the price can quickly become steep for unlocking 3 or 4 civilizations. Add to that having to unlock the skirmish mode (PvC), Champion PvP (PvP without items and everything accessible) and other modes you get a full-priced game disguised as free-to-play. If this is how they were going to price it they should have just made it a more traditional release than with all these other extraneous trappings. There is a great cognitive dissonance (is that how this expression works?) between what the game claims to be and what the game is.

Apparently the idea of making a good, satisfying free-to-play game is difficult even after successful examples have proven themselves.

4 September 2013 Posted by | Gaming | , | Leave a comment

Bookmarks are Windows to Your Soul

It occurred to me as I attempted to organize my bookmarks that over time I’ve accumulated several hundred bookmarks. I’m sure it pales in comparison to others out there but I think there’re interesting insights to be had in the midst of all these links.

I find that the links that stay on my bookmarks list are bookmarks that resonate most with my being. Take for example the following image I saved in my set of bookmarks (it’s a bit long, but I think it’s real good):

For me there exists a somber sense to this image, this comic, this snippet. This and other links with a similar feel make it while other things I’d saved on a whim get culled.

Other topics of note in my set of bookmarks includes engineering and programming links.

The introspective insights were unexpected here. My bookmarks reveal a man drawn to sadness, enthralled by the possibilities of engineering, and excited by everything he encounters.

What do yours reveal?

3 September 2012 Posted by | Internet, Life, Thinking | , , | Leave a comment

Slowly Dying Dreams of Flying

While browsing Reddit I saw an article titled, “Running on empty: big airlines in big trouble”. As a fan of aviation and being in the air this is disheartening. Reading through the article there are two trends that are dominating the industry currently and an uncertain future ahead.

One trend is smaller aircraft. Even the A380 hasn’t stopped that trend, apparently, instead mostly being used in cargo applications. This could mean that if I have children, it’s very likely they may never get a chance to experience being awestruck by the sensual curves and the incredible size of the 747-400 as I did when I was a child.

Another trend is packing more and more passengers into a plane. The example cited being Air New Zealand, which went to a smaller plane and decreased seat size and aisle size to fit the same number of seats in. And then there’s the interesting phenomenon of what is supposedly called the “chub class”, a set of wider-than-normal (though the normal is already pretty narrow) available for a premium.

The author goes into more things but these two trends themselves are very disturbing for me. The only way to see my family conveniently (meaning without having to spend say, weeks at sea just to get there or some odd combination of sea and land) is to fly, and these types of trends make it more and more difficult each year.

The drastic increase in price of flying has already stymied my ability to spend time with my family and this is really just insult to injury. The UN has said the Internet is a basic right but it’s okay that every year it gets more and more difficult to see my family, to not be a part of my cousins’ lives, to not be able to help my grandparents in their dying days, to not be able to hold on to my heritage?

It’s even difficult to see my parents in Florida! I could drive 12 hours or fly for a few. If I just have a weekend off the clear choice is flying for a few to maximize time spent with my parents. The troubles the airline industry is having wreaks havoc with my ability to experience my family fully.

Furthermore after college all my best friends moved all over the country. Again, if I want to see my roommate for 2 years and one of my best friends I could take a 30 hour drive to California or fly there. The flight is preferable yet is so cumbersome and expensive that it’s infuriating.

Sadly I don’t have an immediate answer. Perhaps a government subsidized airline, along the lines of public transportation already in existence, would alleviate a lot of issues. It could at least provide inexpensive, adequate hops from Virginia to Florida though international flights are still unresolved.

I do have something I’m working on though. Increasing oil prices have a dramatic impact on the airline industry from fuel to the plastics used in the electronics, seats, components, and more. My goal is to make that irrelevant and my path is to discover better energy harnessing or new forms of energy and/or propulsion. Wish me luck!

18 August 2012 Posted by | Aviation, Technology | , | Leave a comment

Is that you, Foe Hammer?

I first crossed Halo’s path when I convinced my parents to purchase the original Xbox with Halo to play with my high school friends. Many a LAN party was had and I have fond memories. Due to the significance of the original Halo in my life I picked up Halo: Anniversary Edition (Plus I would be able to play through the story with one of my fraternity brothers, in theory). I finally started playing through it and my, the power-armored stroll down memory lane is wonderful.

is that you foe hammer 1

For those that don’t know, Halo: Anniversary Edition allows a transition between updated graphics and original graphics at the press of a button. Besides the direct nostalgia, comparing old and new is an eye-(and ear-!)tickling experience.

The first thing I noticed is color. The ring world is vibrant and colorful where once it was drab and dark. The technology improved since Halo came out for the Xbox and allows for all this extra detail.

Another big graphical advancement is the draw distance. I’m not quite sure what the effect is. Somehow the world seems less lonely initially because I can see more. I suppose it doesn’t help that I’m playing on Easy to try and observe all these differences so all the marines’ chatter breaks up what could be a very solitary romp around the big ring. I’ll have to come back on Heroic or Legendary and see how it feels.

I believe the music has been re-mastered as well. Not being much of an audio person I’m not exactly sure what that entails, but it is my impression that the music exists with the rest of the game much more noticeably. I’m hearing more subtle tunes coming from the background that I did not previously. Whether it’s new or not I can’t be certain but that it affects me as much as it does is a testament to the well crafted sound track. The ebb and flow of combat, the prelude to engagement, and the prologue of relief is all captured and amplified so well!

For anyone who enjoyed Halo: Combat Evolved, the Anniversary Edition is a worthwhile purchase.

19 July 2012 Posted by | Gaming | , , , , | Leave a comment

Fire Needs Fuel: Of Gamers and Imagination

I am a proponent of video games as art. As a gamer fortunate enough to experience a golden age of gaming (marked by the birth of the NES, though I did miss out on the even humbler roots of gaming) it disheartens me seeing many artistic qualities of video games stripped to more directly appeal to consumers for reasons of profit. I understand the reasoning behind it – both the greed involved and the need for a publisher or developer to pay the bills, which means the employees can feed their families. That doesn’t stop my lamentation, however, and it is up to me and individuals like me to fight to retain the imagination that made games wonderful.

This thought process was sparked by an imgur album I came across on Reddit. This comment thread in particular catalyzed this post:

fireneedsfuel 1

It occurred to me that a developer could infuse a game with all the artistic creativity in the world and the player may never see beyond the mechanics of the game into the art. (I realize that this particular case is a glitch and thus unintentional, but regardless this is what sparked the thought. I do address the fact that this is a glitch further down so read that at least before you comment)

Consider books, another medium requiring imagination. Without the reader suspending disbelief and diving into the world a book is nothing more than a large set of words arranged in grammatically proper groups. The author is responsible for ensuring tone, vocabulary, setting, plot, characters, and much more are appropriate for the effect he/she seeks but it’s all for naught if there is no kindling to set alight with creativity.

Here’s another example but about movies (I don’t know the source for it, so if anyone wants to enlighten me I’d be much appreciated. Personally I encountered it first on Reddit):

fire needs fuel 2

This is satirical and thus exaggerated some, but it holds enough truth to be valuable. I submit Exhibit A (a comparison done by metacritic) as evidence.

Now back to video games. “MrBtongue” on YouTube makes a compelling argument about Diablo 3 under this light, with this being his most poignant statement:

In my opinion, the game they set out to make is a regression from the rest of the series.

Watch the video for his arguments. Pay attention in particular to his description of Diablo I. This guy gets it.

How many people would notice the points he makes though? I fear that the average gamer would not pause to let their imagination wrap around the world of a game, instead focusing on the surface game mechanics and its direct response in the brain. (Note MrBtongue’s second and third points)

I said earlier, “This guy gets it.” Let me clarify. This guy is a minority who can enjoy subtleties in games. With skyrocketing popularity games must cater to more and more people to earn the profits needed to be considered a success. As a result they are tailored toward the average human to drawn in more people than a player who has an imagination to call upon.

It is on the developer to sow their games with the seeds or art, and it is the role of the player to water those seeds. The developer is the spark plug in the internal combustion engine of a players artistic perception, and the imagination of the gamer is the fuel that undergoes ignition.

For example, a developer cannot deliver a broken game and call it art. This glitch in Skyrim is one of many, but never was the game as a whole broken. Big Rigs, for example, is NOT art. For what it’s worth the referenced Skyrim experience was accidental so let’s look at something more intentional. *spoiler alert* In Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, there is a poignant moment where the character you control dies.

Gamers loved it (for good reason). So what did the makers of Call of Duty do? They spammed scenes like this until it lost all meaning. A developer cannot repeat the same thing over and over and expect to evoke the same reaction. Rather they are tasked with the admittedly arduous task of taking the fundamental heartstrings of a player and knitting it together into a new experience.

On the other hand, when a developer delivers a gem of a game full of fun, personality, and awesome the player needs to be receptive of it. A great example of this category is Psychonauts, which was saved from obscurity by turning into a cult hit but not without taking damage. Really it should have been a blockbuster hit, but the mettle of the average person is not the kind to appreciate an intelligent game.

I tend to hold everybody to a high standard. If we are to proudly display the banner of “civilization” and embody the pinnacle of evolution (or creation, as you may believe) on the planet, we need to act the part. Perhaps this is a flaw, however, and my punishment is to be disappointed time and time again in my fellow man and woman.

16 July 2012 Posted by | Gaming | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Post a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

It’s not foreign for me to contemplate the role blogging plays in my life. The allure of gaining Internet fame is ever-present but as a man understanding probabilities and likelihood I’m not going to quit my day job.

Maintaining a blog has become meditation. Like maintaining a journal I can take thoughts and parse them through writing. I’ve often sat down with a vague idea in my mind and as I write, the quest for the precise set of words to convey an idea with its subtleties acts as a sieve to remove the chaff from my thoughts, leaving a focused idea that I can develop further.

The hunt for wording is exciting. As an aspiring poet of (hopefully) above-average skill I’m drawn to the feeling of discovering the perfect word, not unlike the feeling of placing the correct puzzle piece in its rightful home. I reach back well into the recesses of my mind to access words I haven’t thought of in years sometimes and it sends waves of warmth down my spine as if I’ve found an old game I loved to play. My voice as a writer develops in tandem, and as cross-training helps in the physical realm, pursuing multiple forms of writing serves to improve my core strengths, benefitting everything I do.

I challenge myself to express ideas more concisely, to use metaphors that are uncommon or perhaps even brand new. I challenge myself to grow as a writer and to speak my ideas with the same intensity I have in thought.

Here’s an example. Just a few paragraphs ago I said, “…I can take thoughts and parse them…” That section of the sentence initially said, “…thoughts in my head…” rather than just “thoughts.” Reviewing it I wondered, “Where else am I going to have thoughts?” It hit me that unless I was expressing a specific way the thoughts are behaving in my head, such as a whirlwind of thoughts, it is assumed that the thoughts are in my head.

Revelations like that fascinate me, and as I write I have many kinds. Recently I looked at Gunslinger Girl critically and reviewed it. In the process I managed to distill my enjoyment into its component parts. With that information in hand I could then apply it to other things I enjoy and compare, or better yet I can predict more accurately if I will like something in the future.

Getting to know myself, whether learning about my preferences or developing my voice, is a reward for writing unparalleled short of winning the lottery and a lifetime supply of chocolate.

1 July 2012 Posted by | Blogging, Life | , , , | Leave a comment

Using an Old Android Phone as a Musician’s Sidekick

With the popularity of smart phones with the Android Operating system it’s not uncommon for people to end up with an old phone sitting around collecting dust. Should you not care to donate the phone, sell it back, or otherwise relinquish ownership some people have come up with things you can do with your old phone:

Personally I have not found any of that very useful but as a musician I’ve used my phones for tuning and a metronome which has come in handy. My contribution to this list of uses for old smartphones is the following apps as ideas to turn your phone into a sidekick for your musical ambitions:

These are all for Android but I’m sure with a brief search iPhones can also find similar apps.

I’m a wind player but I can see a guitar player having an app that shows them unfamiliar chords (such as Chord! – this particular app’s free version is pretty restricted but at least you can see that apps like this exist). I even found one for ukulele! With a bit of searching you can customize your old phone into the perfect helper for your music.

26 June 2012 Posted by | Technology | , , , | Leave a comment

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