The perfection of the laptop form factor

November 20th, 2017 by harold

After almost six months doing IT support, I am still shocked at how much people don’t like their tablets. I never bought the hype but I was pretty sure that people enjoyed their devices.

Main complaint: They’re tired of pulling the keyboard out, constantly. And if they’re using their tablets a lot they buy stands and keyboards and then well, it’s just a laptop that isn’t compatible with everything like a laptop is.

Laptops are fantastic in terms of usage. They’re light, they sit on their own, mate screens are still the shit (thanks Lenovo, thank you). You might even be able to upgrade a thing or two to make them last longer. If I could have the same 2012 laptop that I have with 2017 AMD hardware inside, I’d buy one as soon as possible. OEMs are still thinking that people look for innovation when we’re looking for peace of mind. So they build new laptops with new hardware, changing the keyboard layout –who asked you?- getting rid of ports –who asked you?- and adding shit we never asked for, like a touchscreen. Laptops with touchscreens make absolutely no sense.

15” is kind of the perfect size to work at a desk and watch a movie in bed. Plug in a controller bam, it’s a Switch console now. Plug in speakers and a sound card, you now have a more than decent recording studio. It’s beautiful.

I want people to realize the beauty in the fact that we have reached some kind of perfection. Bigger sizes don’t do it. More pixels don’t change nothing (your eyes are not getting better with time) and are absolutely overkill on the GPU/battery life front.

There is no need to reach for new form factors. We could use more convenience like waterproof, washable laptop keyboard (how come it’s still not a thing????), actual standard sound volume buttons and other little improvements and consistency that need to be polished.

I wish I could start a hardware shop. Simple Machines. Customized by real users, for real users.

It’s all about distribution

November 17th, 2017 by harold

So I’m there in the little blue bar:

Distribution

The divide is staggering. You can read about the full report here (pdf).

Between 1983 and 2013, the wealth of median Black households decreased by 75%.

Basically most of the black wealth earned after WWII and the civil rights movement is gone. Let’s take a picture of economic growth:

World wealth growth over time

Wealth, worldwide, went up so hard after the 50s it’s almost a straight vertical line. At the same time, black people in the wealthiest country on earth, in the freest times –1980s and up– lost 75% of their wealth. That’s just not possible, technically. That makes no sense whatsoever. And yet.

If we don’t change everything now, well from the report’s own words:

By 2024, median Black and Latino households are projected to own 60-80% less wealth than they did in 1983. By then, the continued rise in racial wealth inequality between median Black, Latino and White households is projected to lead White households to own 99 and 75 times more wealth than their Black and Latino counterparts, respectively.

In a few years white people in the US probably will have on average, about 2 orders of magnitude more wealth than black people. I can’t even process that. I have to re-do the math. Twice as much is 2X, which is already a lot more. Five times more is filthy. 99 times more? No wonder white folks are so much more chill about the future while people of color are stressing out. Jesus. More facts:

Distribution

I think this is what gets me the most. Strong, qualified black and brown folks doing worse despite having done everything to succeed. I know, you white folks feel irritated by that because you did everything to succeed too and it didn’t pan out. But on average, you have a massive cushion of wealth that will help you out. We don’t have that.

Because the safety net is basically inexistent the fact that qualified, highly educated people of color can’t find work is a tragedy in the making. It’s even weirder with all that talk about inclusivity and diversity, that makes it even more confusing to me, tech worker of color. I can’t land a start of an interview for contract jobs that I can do with ease, that’s how bad it is. Meanwhile all the jobs I did? Stellar reviews from bosses. It’s disheartening. But I keep going. It’s been years.

It’s not about education. It’s not about working hard. It’s not about making sacrifices. It’s about wealth distribution. And distribution fucking sucks.

WellDamn

November 15th, 2017 by harold

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach a few weeks ago. Photo by my dear Janet.

It’s when I noticed that homeless people all have better shoes than I do that I felt anxiety going up a bit. On that beach day I saw a pair of Jordan’s by the thrash cans and wanted to pick them up. No judging.

Colin Kaepernick is on GQ’s cover but my brothas are disappearing. They’re around, I see them, have them on the phone, text them. We have a bowl, a drink, talking politics and sports. And one day poof, gone. Nothing for days, which become months. There’s something terrifying in having your peers, your friends vanishing in a 24/7 connected world. Anxiety going up a bit more. Black men are really not doing well. We’re hiding it in plain sight. Stay strong, brother. Don’t forget to close your eyes and to stretch that body, it helps.

Sweet Dog

November 7th, 2017 by harold

I spent the weekend with my favorite dog.

Sweet Paw

He was on the couch like this, facing me while I was editing pages of some book. He would stare at me, making sure that I wouldn’t leave or get ready to go somewhere. When I went to the bathroom, he busted the door open and seeing me telling him “heyyy” he ran away, like a little kid in fake trouble. Once I settled on my laptop, he closed his eyes and started to drift away. That’s when I snapped this picture.

The day before after freezing for a second when I opened the door, he greeted me with so much excitement. His heart was pounding in his chest like it was about to dislocate itself. I like rubbing his chest, making him feel proud. Also it’s so soft.

We played. We ran. We met other dogs. He tried to jump two wolf-ish husky on the sidewalk. He growled at one that really looks like a damn wolf, just looking at him from the bed, inside. He really hates those. We walked in the sun, he loves that so much.  We got barked at from an off leash border collie and my dude simply froze at my feet raising his eyes, looking for instructions. So cute knowing that he could end this dumb ass’s life in a few minutes.

Sweet Potato

He played the silly dog, jumped around on the couch, rolled over. He’s getting stiff but he’s staying young. When it’s time for me to go, he has three states: sleeping/too tired to care, annoyed/knows he’s going to be alone and excited/wants to go with me in which case he stands there in the way, mildly whining. It was one of those times. It’s hard but I don’t escalate the sad energy I just open my nostrils to the max and slowly close the door.

He is a good dog. Probably the best on earth, I know them all shhh.

Simulations are doing fine

November 4th, 2017 by harold

Engagement

Green line: Wolfenstein II, a big single-player game that just came out.

Blue line: Stardew Valley, a small single-player game that came out last year.

Orange line: Euro Truck Simulator 2, a medium single-player game that came out years ago.

Wolfenstein, which probably cost more than Euro Truck and Stardew combined times two or three and which just came out –that is, when peak interest is at its highest- is already engaging players less than games that came out many months ago.

It’s a rough business. But there are opportunities.

There is a wide, very wide spectrum of games that people like to play. Stardew Valley is a one-man made farming simulator averaging almost 10K players at any time, that’s tremendous.

Imagine a band touring and having 30,000 people every night to see them. That’s Euro Truck Simulator 2 and you’ve never heard of that game. We really can’t say people don’t play or are a fleeting crowd that buys games for cheap and never play them. People like to play games, no doubt!

We just under or overestimate a whole lot of things.

Curtis

November 2nd, 2017 by harold

Man, I’m so mad. Curtis Mayfield’s history is amazing.

Jimi Hendrix opened for him in the late 50s. Curtis definitely influenced him.

He and the Impressions basically created Bob Marley and the Wailers, who couldn’t stop listening to the Chicago-based band and artist, covering his songs and harmonies.

He worked with Donny Hathaway but it didn’t work out.

He had on his label Curtom that band called The Winstons who recorded “Amen, Brother” which features the Amen Break, the most sampled track in the history of music.

He auditioned that group called the “Jackson 5” and passed on them.

He was a millionaire in his 20s with his own label, owning all the rights to all his songs, after starting his life in a seedy hotel with his family starving more often than not. Pretty incredible.

But he fucked up with his friends, over business decisions mostly. He fucked up with his family (at one time he was married, had a girlfriend pregnant and was in love with another woman), beat his significant others from time to time. Once success left him he went down some cocaine binges apparently. I mean, it’s not very original but I’m shocked. I used to listen to Curtis quite a lot in the late 90s early 00s, thinking this man with this beautiful, fragile voice, composing strong and definitive songs and grooves, couldn’t be what I’m reading right now about him. Motherfucker was dark too.

Damn.

Super Mario Galaxy infinite

October 31st, 2017 by harold

On Super Mario Odyssey shaped by a designer trusted by his bosses, no matter what.

He also bluntly stated at a roundtable press conference in Japan, "We should have designed the game differently, but we couldn’t." To Miyamoto’s credit, his confidence in Koizumi’s potential as a designer never wavered.

Koizumi became producer of Super Mario Odyssey after directing Sunshine, Galaxy, Galaxy 2 and 3D World. It’s interesting to see the trust: a game designer missing the mark on a huge IP like Mario would get fired or be sent to a closet inside the company in the West. At Nintendo they encouraged him and let him work on what would become Super Mario Galaxy.

I think the Galaxy games are the finest Mario games, if not finest platform games ever made. It’s joy all along. I would love a version that goes forever, cutscene-free. I would just send Mario to rest like we do in MMOs.

TL;DR: legendary game developer trusts newbie to take over one of the biggest IP in the world, newbie kind of fails, developer keeps trusting him, newbie directs and produces the best platform games ever made.

I like that.

Stay strong

October 29th, 2017 by harold

45K

The memoir is going.

Reading others’ biographies, I realize that it was hard work for them too. Only usually they have an editor and people encouraging them, I just do it all on my own. I told my parents about it, they said “ok”. Okay, then.

People talk about taking notes and organizing them in the real world of paper and physics, I do it all in my head. Four decades, four parts. I wrote in chronological order.  If there’s something I forgot to talk about I note it in my head and keep thinking about it until I finally write it down. I do that for everything in my life, from EQ settings for a kick drum to things to send at work or tasks to do at home. I’m lazy, my memory is always with me, closer than a phone or a notebook. I use post-it for dumb things like moving the car for street cleaning.

I’m exhausted and burned out mentally. But then I find the energy again and again.

I’m job hunting like a demon, still. Living the leanest life I’ve ever lived.

I broke my bike’s rear wheel axle. I biked over 9000 km (6,000+ miles) in the past four years.

OverwatchView

October 29th, 2017 by harold

Specifically, the team behind Overwatch wanted to address a criticism they have received from users over the last few months: It can be challenging to follow what’s going on when watching Overwatch eSports. They’ve taken the following steps that will hopefully make things a little better.

Viewing improvements. Let me get this straight: Overwatch players themselves are having a hard time to decipher what is going on between 25 very different heroes that rotate on 4 different roles while using several abilities in blazing fast action.

That’s a huge amount of data to process while watching a game. People watching sports are chilling. They can process data but it needs to be simpler, a lot simpler than 25 very different players doing a billion different things in a very fast-paced fashion. Nobody got time for that, even regular Overwatch players don’t apparently.

Overwatch’s esport watching issue is a game design issue. The game needs to have a mode where things are a lot slower or simpler.

After being all the rage around 2000, the arena shooter is back. But there’s a problem: people watch people play now, and it’s a big deal.

I watched Overwatch’s 16 “heroes” and you have to appreciate Blizzard’s surgery at work, how things are readable in a chaos of green, blue bullets, force shields, particles and so forth. It’s amazing how good they are at manipulating color palette.

It is also super fast. It’s pretty much unwatchable for 90% of people if not more.

I wrote that two years ago and I guess I wasn’t wrong.

Why basketball is the best

October 27th, 2017 by harold

– No contact

That’s the first reason that got me interested to be honest. After playing football in Europe for years with other kids pulling and grabbing and faking… I just hated that. Avoiding contact is elegant game design. You still can have some obviously, as they do go torso to torso hard in the NBA. But the fact that the rules strictly don’t allow them created a sustained limit in contact. The rule reinforces itself.

– 5 VS 5

Again coming from the football world I was like “hell yes”. Running 11 VS 11 is too much for my taste. Being able to focus on a much smaller scale allows one to track his teammates as well as his opponents almost all simultaneously pretty easily. Much faster plays, more points, more clutch, more fun. 5 is a sweet spot in team game design.

– Variety of play

There are so many ways to score compared to other team sports. You can be a big man in the paint, you can be a tiny dude shooting threes and everything in between and vice versa.

– No injuries

You know, the ones that fuck you really hard for the rest of your life. Basketball players age like wine. Ginobili out there seasoning fools at 40. Kareem Abdul Jabbar writing thoughtful columns and offering deep social comment, I mean. Professional players stay pretty cool and healthy all their lives and don’t die at 32. And most of us can play (shoot) until 60.

– Single Player

No other team sport can be appreciated alone like good hoopin’ is. Running to get a bouncy ball to warm up, little jump shot or going at the line to shoot free throws and think about life. Basketball is just the right size to enjoy alone and the sport scales perfectly to 1 VS 1, 1 VS 2, 2 VS 2, 3 VS 3 up to the standard 5. That’s beautiful game design right there.

– Affordable and low maintenance

A ball, a field, some shoes. A ball used very regularly lasts years on harsh concrete and costs $20. Shoes, it depends but you can ball with anything really. No pads, no special shoes, no helmets, no gloves. You can play outside in quite a large weather spectrum from dead hot to kind of rainy. Wind sucks though.

Basketball is simple yet not easy. It’s the shit.