Time Travel Faux Paus

Timeless - Season PilotIt has been a while since I wrote anything, because there is a lot going on and I have other projects to work on, and really I have not thought of a good topic to write about.

And then I saw the TV show Timeless. This is a new show on NBC about a group of time travelers correcting history that another group of time travelers are changing for some reason. In the first two episodes they mess up and things actually get changed.

Despite decent acting, writing, research, and production values, Timeless is quite possibly the worst time travel show ever conceived. It’s motivations are unknown, its “rules” are absurd and inconsistent.

Are they trying to fix the past like on Voyagers? If so, they are doing a very poor job of it. There is also no explanation of their movement in space as they travel.  One episode in New Jersey, another in Washington. Every other time travel show sticks to the convention that you don’t go anywhere when you time travel.  The exception being Doctor Who’s TARDIS which takes the position that travel in time and space means different planets and galaxies, too.

Not knowing the motivations mean we cannot understand the characters mission, or whether or not they accomplished anything. All we know is that they are making changes to their present but only the time travelers realize this, so there is no motivation from anyone outside the time travelers perspective to correct history, ultimately making the shows premise pointless.

Time Rules

I have been intrigued by time travel stories all my life. Every story has to address certain rules and establish a motivation for time travel.  The biggest of which is: how does changing something in the past affect the future? and how do you deal with paradoxes?

The most common is “time is always set in stone”: In this scenario, if you go back and change something, you later find out you were always supposed to go back and make that change. Your actions are always a foregone conclusion. These are the rules of Star Trek and Quantum Leap.

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The second most common is “changing the past to make a better future” or the Back to the Future/Terminator rules: Making changes to the past will affect how the future plays out, and you can improve or ruin the future by the changes you make. Any changes you make basically creates a new alternative timeline, and you can even erase people from existence.

Back to the Future allowed time travel back and forth so you can see the consequences right away, so you can go back and try again — assuming you did not erase yourself from existence. Terminator only had one way, so the time traveler never knew the result of their actions, but for all its faults Terminator Genisys showed the silliness of that theory as two warring sides trying to use time as a weapon can push agents further and further back in time to achieve their goals.

Some of these “changing the past to make a better future” universes like Doctor Who create rules to prevent history from getting destroyed. In Doctor Who, there are “fixed point” events that cannot be changed as they would destroy time if they are avoided.

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The Best Rules

That is why in a way my favorite time travel story is Continuum. The show starts on the premise of Terminator rules, that you can go back and change some stuff to prevent a bad future. But in reality there is another simpler rule in place: causality only works in one direction — past to future. It’s rules regarding paradoxes are even better: paradoxes happen so get over it.

On Continuum, stopping another time traveler from being born in the past does not erase them from existence, because they were already born in another time line. This happened at least twice on the show.

Even more bizarre, if you go back in time just a week, there are now two of you and you are both real. If the person who is supposed to go back a week fails to do so, it does not erase the second person. This also happened at least twice on the show.

The premise of the show is that a group of “terrorists” go back in time to prevent a dystopian corporatocracy, but because of their mistaken ideas about time travel, their actions are only creating paradoxes for themselves.

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Frequency

Which leads to the best new time travel show this season: Frequency.  Based on a 1999 Dennis Quaid and Jim Cavaziel movie about a radio that allows communication through time, no one is actually traveling in time but knowledge of an action and its consequences are.

The show uses Continuum rules: paradoxes happen. It is also tied to a specific time and place which makes the stories more personal so no mucking about historical events. They have only aired one episode at this writing, but it is so far my favorite new show this fall.

Rachel and Ariane GO to the Park

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I’ve caught so many Rattata and Zubats in my house, I’m thinking of calling the exterminators.

Pokémon Go

For those that don’t know, Pokémon Go is a phone based game that requires walking around the neighborhood. Landmarks (public works of art or unique signage) are marked as Pokéstops, where you can get free stuff, and also use lures there to attract Pokémon that anyone can catch.

There are also Pokémon Gyms located at major points of interest, churches, and libraries. These are where battles take place, and can be controlled by three teams: Instinct (yellow), Mystic (blue), and Valor (red). If a gym is controlled by a different team, you can attack it and try to take over for your team, if it is already controlled by your team, you can (if it has the space) leave your Pokémon to defend it, and get stuff if it stays defended for 20 hours.

In my mind, Ariane is on Team Valor (the red one), and probably owned the gym before Rachel successfully took it. So that’s the punchline.

General Strategy and what to buy and what not to buy

I have been playing two accounts, one on an iPad, and one on an iPhone. One I have not spent a single penny on, and one I’ve spent about $20 so far. Here are my findings. Note many of the numbers are arbitrary as neither character is very high in level.

Here ultimately is the thing you need to know in this game: There really isn’t an “end game”.  No goal to shoot for except maybe “catching them all”.

Yes, there is a second goal of capturing gyms for the glory of your team, but that is ultimately a Sisyphean task as the gyms are never unbeatable and so the reward for capture is ultimately defeat, requiring a bunch of potions to heal so you can take it back again (as demonstrated in the comic above).

Many commentators suggest that if you are going to spend money in the game, buy lucky eggs which double XP earned. Especially do this early as the biggest rewards are for new Pokémon, and when you are just starting out, they are all new.

While I have purchased Lucky Eggs for this reason, ultimately Lucky Eggs are not worth it. No “end game” means no reason to earn XP fast. Leveling up fast just means you will have fewer Pokémon when you reach level 20, than someone who leveled naturally, and the more Pokémon you get the more resources you have.

Another thing you probably don’t want to invest in is egg incubators. Players talk that hatched eggs result in rarer monsters, but from what I have seen that is not true. Put whatever eggs you get into whatever incubators you get, but don’t put a lot of effort into hatching them.

It seems to me that the best general strategy is just one of collection for the first 15 to 20 levels. For the same price as lucky eggs, you can buy incense to draw more Pokémon to yourself. If you are playing with friends, buy lures and go to a Pokéstop and everyone will be rewarded.

Evolving and “powering up” your Pokémon is a waste of resources before level 20* or so as you will be capturing high CP stuff later and that is what you want to evolve and power up with the same resources. I’m guessing that when you start running out of space for new Pokemon (there’s a cap at 250 which I am not close to hitting) that it is time to start turning in low stuff for candy to upgrade the high stuff.

Avoid gyms before level 20* unless they are friendly and have space to park one of your Pokémon.You get additional rewards if the gym remains in control of your team for 20 hours, but since I started playing I have never seen that happen. When you do get high enough to attack an enemy gym, team with others to assure victory.

My gaming oriented brain says this is the best way to play: capture all the Pokémon you can until level 2o and never power level, save all your resources until you run out of space.

However, like all solo games, there is no “one” way to play, so do what you like.

Odd design flaw in the game

Throwing Pokéballs at monsters is way easier on my 9 inch iPad than on my 4 inch iPhone. What takes often 3 or 4 balls to capture on my phone usually can be done in 1 or 2 on my tablet.  Size matters.

*Level 20 is a bit arbitrary and that figure is probably lower right now (15?) as few people have hit level 20 yet, but as the number of level 20s increases so will that arbitrary level you need to hit for higher content.

tl;dr version:

Don’t worry about XP or your level, or the stats of the Pokémon you capture, just capture as many as you can and enjoy the outdoors and social opportunities the game provides you with.

Ariane and Rachel at Star Wars II: The Espresso Strikes Back

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A continuation of this story.
Note: this is basically a review of Star Wars the Force Awakens in story form, I avoid most of the major spoilers but if you want to avoid all spoilers, you probably want to wait and read this later.

So we all left the movie with smiles on our faces, eager to talk about the film we just saw. Rachel pointed her toy blaster at the coffee stand next door.

Rachel started, “So I can tell by our smiling faces that you all enjoyed the movie as much as I did.”

“I just have to ask,” interrupted Paula, “When did you get your hair done, Ariane?”

“Rachel did it in the theater while we were waiting for the movie to start,” I explained. “She said I needed a more Star Wars hairdo.”

“I wanted to do it with three pony tails like Rey in the movie, but I only had two hair ties,” explained Rachel.

“Cute,” said Paula.  “With that out of the way, am I the only one who felt like I was rewatching the original Star Wars?”

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I agreed, “Yeah, it felt like a remake with the serial numbers filed off. There are so many obvious parallels, a new Darth Vader, a new Grand Moff Tarken, a new Obi Wan, a new Death Star, a new Emperor and a new Yoda. They all just have different names, except Chewbacca. Props for gender swapping Luke and Leia.”

Rachel looked puzzled, “I get your analogy, you are saying Rey is basically this movie’s Luke Skywalker, complete with light colored clothes and a desert planet home, but who was Leia?”

I said “Finn” and Paula said “Poe” at practically the same time.

“I think you are both right.” said Rachel. “While the plot is note for note nearly identical to the first movie, it is not a perfect remake. Finn has more in common with C3PO from A New Hope than Leia. I’m not sure there is a Leia.”

“Noted,” I said, “Still the lack of originality in the plot is my biggest complaint.”

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“Not mine,” said Paula, “I know this is science fiction, and I know George Lucas has an explanation why 12 parsecs is used as a measure of time and not distance, but sometimes the liberties they take are just way too silly.

“You would think that after the first two death stars were so easily destroyed that the bad guys would have learned their lesson, bigger is definitely not better. Now they turn a planet into a space station?

“How does this ‘Star Killer’ move around the galaxy and still have an atmosphere?  The fact that they are creating artificial sunspots and sucking a sun’s plasma away would in and of itself destroy the atmosphere of the converted planet, but also the electromagnetic discharge of these artificial sunspots would fry all the electronics in the entire station.”

“Umm, good points,” said Rachel cautiously. “Excellent observations Professor as usual.”

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Rachel continued, “My biggest complaint is what was missing. Disney wiped out the Timeline of Legends also known as the Expanded Universe so they didn’t have to worry about continuity with the books and comics that continued the story after Return of the Jedi.

“Instead they dropped clues to a completely different timeline that is just as interesting. Luke disappeared? Han and Leia had a son? Where did this First Order come from and how did it get so powerful?  I want these stories dammit!”

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I had to laugh. “It seems we all have our own little biases that change how we see the world,” I said. “I like new and different, and complain when I see sameness. Paula is the scientist who views the world scientifically, and Rachel is the sci-fi geek who likes great stories.”

My statement created a lull in the conversation, Rachel and Paula both quietly took sips of their coffee and I joined them.

“Still…,” said Paula finally breaking the silence, “Good movie.”

“Yes,” Rachel and I said simultaneously before getting back to our coffee.

The Sims 4: Same Old Same Old

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Feeling a little bored, and getting some good reviews from my friends, I decided to check out The Sims 4.  I have a long history with The Sims dating back to 2000 when I got The Sims 1 and eventually all 7 expansion packs until my computer could not handle any more. When The Sims 2 came out, I got that too, and the first 3 expansions, which also coincided with The Sims Online, my first MMORPG experience, in 2003.

This is about to the point where I got burned out. Really burned out to the point where I never got another Sims 2 expansion, and never bothered with The Sims 3.  It is also about the point I started working on Date Ariane, partly inspired by The Sims. In fact the first ever version of Ariane Barnes was in The Sims.  I even created an early web comic made in The Sims 2 using her.

The one thing The Sims brings to gaming that is nearly unique is avatar based gaming that is not violent, and often sexy.  That is what brought me into the game in the first place.

The Sims 4

Enter the newest incarnation, just recently released.  Some of the big changes include a much better character creator, and a much better house builder. Why are these such big changes? Because many Sims enthusiasts spend most of their playing time making new characters and new houses just for fun.  One enthusiasts site Mod The Sims has hundreds of celebrity look alike Sims and any house you can imagine for Sims 2 and 3, and eventually Sims 4 will have just as many.

And then there is the actual game play where they took care of us players biggest complaint: they made it possible for the Sims to do two or more things at once.  The first time I saw a character read a book, then decide to go to the bathroom and take the book with her to read on the toilet, I knew this was a major improvement and much realistic.

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I, of course, had to try and create myself.  None of the eyes or eyebrows were close enough to call it exact, so I settled for close enough. I also created a Rachel that was closer to herself. If you have The Sims 4, do a community search for “Barnes” and download the one that looks like the above two characters.  Ariane is a “Serial Romantic” with Active, non-committal, and goof ball traits, Rachel is a “Renaissance Knowledge” with creative, outgoing, and geek traits.

Like the people that create characters and build houses, I also tend to play the game wrong.  I turn off aging leaving everybody as young adult or adult.  then I like to build a giant dorm with 8 characters and not enough bedrooms or bathrooms, and watch what happens.

The answer: About the same thing that happened in Sims 1 and 2.  Despite the improved graphics, improved character creation and building, and improved AI, its still basically the same game.  They created this cool “multitasking”, then just re-balanced the game by making everything take longer.

This seems to be the main complaint with players of The Sims 3:  its just the same game with less stuff.  As someone who skipped over 3 and only remember 2, I can see their point, it all feels very similar.  Too similar, and that’s the problem, considering my 9 year hiatus.

The upshot being that I doubt The Sims 4 will drag me away from other projects, like finishing the Date Ariane update.  I’ll probably only play occasionally to avoid the inevitable “burn out” as long as possible.

Update Oct 3, 2014:

I assume it has to do with poor sales, but EA is now offering free upgrades, including the much requested “pools” and “ghosts” just in time for Halloween.

Bad Console Ports for PCs: Is this the end of PC Gaming?

I love playing games on the PC. With console games, the controller has always gotten in the way for me.  A keyboard in the left and and a mouse in the right is the most natural way for me to play games.  The last few games I have played have been sad disappointments.

The latest was the super hyped Watch Dogs which released a PC version the same day the console versions came out.  If you bought a console version, you are probably not reading this, you are probably enjoying the game.  If you got the PC version you are probably mad as hell, like me. Reddit, the Ubisoft Forums, the Steam forums are filled with complaint after complaint about how unplayable Watch Dogs is for the PC.  Like the others, I’m seriously questioning Ubisoft’s quality control with the PC version.

The most common complaints, besides crashes and graphic glitches, which is the norm for most PC games these days, is controlling your character. The controls are non standard, you have to edit an .ini file to get the mouse to work, and the camera gets in the way of controlling your character with a mouse.  Worse, driving a vehicle is seriously broken, as it does not use the mouse at all.

I get the feeling that Ubisoft could care less about PC gamers. I will assume that many of these issues will be patched in the future, but these issues are so bad I wonder why they were not caught in beta testing?

This is not my first bad experience with an “A” title game on a PC, in fact the last 3 or 4 games I purchased have had playability problems.  The commonality in all the titles is they were all ported from console games.

This seems to be a very clear pattern for me. I tend to enjoy games designed specifically for PCs, and tend to not enjoy so much games designed for consoles that are ported to the PC.

My biggest complaint is the use of menus for everything.  This is a relic of consoles where there are not enough buttons on controllers. On PC designed games, you usually have a tool bar on the bottom of the screen which you can click on for easy access, and even bind stuff to keypresses for even easier access.  Consoles have you open a menu which pauses the game, breaking game immersion, cycle through a menu looking for what you want, select it, then leave the menu.  This menu interface basically killed Skyrim and Dragon Age 2 for me, as I found the menus way too annoying.

Less annoying was Bioshock Infinite which was also menu driven, but you did not have to access it every time you got some new inventory or faced a new enemy.  I actually made it through to the end on that one, but have never felt the desire to play through it again.

Games designed specifically for PC are some of my favorite games of all time. The biggest category of PC only games is MMORPGs, which is why I play them the most. Dragon Age: Origins, which unlike its sequel was designed for the PC then ported to consoles, is still in my opinion the best non-online RPG for the PC.  Most of the other PC designed games I enjoy are older games from when PC was king of the game industry, but they often have poor graphics compared to today.

Games designed specifically for PC are few and far between. For game companies the money is in tablets and consoles. The monetary investment to make an ambitious game like Watch Dogs is so high that they have to focus on console play, and only put minimal investment in the PC port.

That is the future of PC gaming: bad console port after bad console port.

A Review of Spike Jonze’s “her” From My Unique Perspective

her (yes it is not capitalized) came out last December, but was just released on video this past week, which is when I saw it.

I rarely review movies on this blog, only when they apply to the topics of this blog, but I review movies all the time in other places, and this film got to me.  First of all, five stars, thumbs way up, etc.

her is a film I totally get and understand, which is probably rare as there are very few people that think like me.

This is a movie about the nature of love as it applies to human nature, by showing a type of love that is artificial. “Samantha” adopted her personality around Ted to become the perfect girl of his dreams, the only flaw being that she is not physically real. The movie addresses that flaw correctly in my opinion.  Emotional love, in my experience, does not necessarily require a physical presence.

Can artificial love be as real as real love?  My years playing in virtual realities, where people fall in and out of love with people they have never met and probably never will meet says, Yes it can.

But virtual reality love still involves humans. Can an artificial intelligence be created that is capable of love and being loved?  Maybe, but we are not there yet. Like in the movie, it is likely that AI’s that are capable of love will be merely reflections of their owners.

The movie is so spot on accurate with my experiences and the experiences of others I know, that I became worried an hour into the film that the film makers were going to screw it up. I could think of at least a half dozen ways the plot could take, that would make this movie suck big time.  My fear was based on the general population reaction to virtual world love (they fear it, because they don’t understand it), and it is almost expected that a mainstream presentation of these ideas would take the easy way out and support a negative perspective.

Luckily they didn’t.

The rest of this post contains spoilers

SPOILER: There is an AI concept called the “Singularity” in which machines exceed the intelligence of humans. There is a lot of debate as to if and when this will happen, but that is a different discussion.

This movie is primarily focused on artificial love rather than artificial intelligence, but the “singularity” concept is the same: If “Samantha” is focused on improving her ability to love, eventually her ability to love will exceed human ability to love.  The film makers decided this would be a good jumping out point for the film, making Ted jealous that “Samantha” is in love with hundreds of other people, and the AI would be forced to move on.

While I’m OK with that ending, it is kind of a cop out, though no where near as bad as the half dozen other endings I was imagining.

Back to virtual reality love parallels. Some people fall in love online even though they are already in a relationship in real life. I’ve seen cases where the RL partner is totally cool with their partners virtual love interests, and others times where RL couples break up over virtual relationships.  Thus, Ted’s reaction at the end may be understandable, but it is not a universal one.

In the same situation as Ted, I would think that Samantha falling for hundreds of other people to be awesome, as long as it did not change our relationship any.  If this were my story to tell, I would end it with AI love becoming more and more commonplace, and more attractive than real love leading to the breakdown of society (See the Futurama episode “I Dated A Robot” as a reference)

But I am coming from the perspective of someone who has built a cheap AI of “Ariane”, and a dating simulator of “Ariane”, and have had thousands of people from around the world experience these, and many of them have enjoyed them.  But I am pretty unique in this regard.

Ultimately the film makers put a more mainstream ending on it, and I can’t blame them. Spike Jonze and his writing team totally deserve the Writing Oscar they won for the script.

The Mis-Marketing of Windows 8

In case you have not heard, Windows 8 is coming out October 26th, just one week from now.  If you have not heard this before it is not surprising.  There is practically no buzz brewing about Windows 8.  The upgrade from Android 4.0 to 4.1 generated more excitement.  So did the upgrade to iOS 6, though most of that buzz was negative, so it is probably good that Windows 8 is not generating that kind of buzz.  Much to the chagrin of PC makers, and Microsoft stock holders, Windows 8 is going mostly unnoticed.

First let me say that this essay is not an anti-Windows 8 rant. The truth is, I have never tried it, and the people that I trust who have tried it says it is fine, and perfectly backwards compatible, runs everything Windows 7 did and even boots faster and launches most program faster.  There are good reasons to upgrade, and I may one day upgrade myself — someday — but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

Why? Blame the marketing, that is what this essay is about. In fact, if I get any info incorrect in this essay, you can blame the marketing too. I’m giving my impressions based on info that I have been exposed to (what little of it there is), so I may have some things wrong.  So be it.

I have the advantage of not being a shill for Microsoft, or work for any tech publication or website that depends on Microsoft advertisements or free handouts.  Therefore I can tell the truth about what we the average tech savvy crowd really thinks of Windows 8.

Marketing problem #1: It’s ugly as fuck!

Those screens you see above are atrocious.  I’m just saying what everyone is thinking. Red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, yellow, and white: That’s all the colors you are willing to use?  Look at the opening screens for Android tablets, look at the screens for iPad with iOS. They are cool, they are slick, they look what we imagine the next generation of tech should look like.  Windows 8 look like someone barfed a lego set.  I am certain at some point in the future, someone will find a way to customize the 4 bit color graphics to look really cool too. As soon as they do, Microsoft should give them a job.

Marketing problem #2: It’s basically an overlay

As I understand it, Windows 8 has two user interfaces.  One is basically Windows 7 without a start button (actually if you click where the start button should be you will still get the start menu), the other is the barf lego screen which they are calling the start menu.  The first interface is designed to work with the traditional keyboard and mouse, the second is designed primarily to work with touch screen controls.  Easy access to everything no matter which way you choose to interface.  Sounds great, except that 98% of all PC users use the keyboard/mouse (or touchpad) combo.  I work in an office filled with computer users, and most of them sit further than arms length away from their monitor.  Reaching out to touch a screen when you have a perfectly good keyboard and mouse right there seems like a chore.  Some people swear it is faster and easier to touch your monitor, but they said the same thing about Dvorak keyboards, and after 50 years most everyone still uses QWERTY.

Sure the new Start Menu can be negotiated with keyboard and mouse, but because it was not designed that way it is clunky to use.  It sounds basically like an “overlay” program, like Microsoft Bob.

Marketing problem #3: The Touchscreen OS

Microsoft is trying to sell the vision that the future is touch screen. That may be true, but they are making it sound like you HAVE to convert. Obviously, you don’t have to, but they are not marketing Windows 8 as an improvement over Windows 7, they are marketing it as a touch screen OS.

I have a touchscreen tablet, two in fact.  Receiving info from these devices is fast and efficient.  Watching videos, reading books and magazines, playing touchscreen games, and for the most part surfing the web are fast and easy on tablets.

What is not fast and easy is whenever you have to pull up the on screen keyboard to enter info.  As simple and as easy as pulling up info is on a touch screen tablet, the exact opposite is true when it is time to enter in info.  Keyboard and mouse are so much better for those tasks there can be no question.

Marketing problem #4: The REAL Touchscreen OS = RT, not 8

At the same time Microsoft is launching Windows 8, they are also launching Windows RT, a hobbled step child of 8 designed to run on tablets instead of PCs. I keep reading many articles that are getting these two confused.  For some reason it seems Microsoft wants us to get these two confused, to equate RT and 8 in our heads for some reason, despite the fact that RT is generating a lot of bad press.  RT is a closed off OS, with no traditional Windows interface, only Start Menu.  If you want software for RT you have to buy it from the Microsoft store.  RT is basically Microsoft’s version of Android or iOS.

Unless I am mistaken, Windows 8 is basically Windows 7 with a new Start Menu, and a couple of other enhancements. You can still run traditional PC software, games, and utilities on Windows 8 computers. RT is a hobbled version that can’t do that stuff.  The fear is that the next Windows OS, will only follow the RT model and leave old PC programs that are not compatible with RT orphaned.

I am of the opinion that the exact opposite will be true.  I’m betting RT devices will sell poorly, the next CE or the next Zune.  The competition in the closed marketplace model is too well entrenched to ever establish a decent market share.

Bottom line is that I want the PC market to stay alive.  Just as gaming consoles can never replace PCs, neither can touch screen tablets.  Therefore, I want to be sure that Windows 8 is the next evolution destined to make the PC better, not a distraction to a dead end.  The marketing department at Microsoft is not giving me much to be sure about.