Posts Tagged: Technology

Posts on the subject of technology.

Thoughts on .. An Oldschool Approach

Over the last few years aside from being quite quiet, I’ve been getting more into Steampunk and I’ve been reading The ArchDruid Report, I especially recommend his serialised Retrotopia story. I started toying with the idea of an oldschool approach as my appreciation of Steampunk deepened, my other reading helped. The runs headlong into the fact that I’ve also been quite taken with the idea of running my own personal cloud service. Which I have managed quite sucessfully. Right now though, I’m seeking a simpler solution with fewer points of failure.

There are a few problems with the public cloud. I believe that there’s an unthinking trust in public cloud services but as the Free Software Foundation point out, there’s no such thing as the cloud, just other peoples computers. This was part of the thinking behind rolling my own; the idea that a sudden shutdown, change of terms & conditions or bankruptcy could leave me scrambling for a replacement or bereft of my data. Further to this we seem to be seeing more and more security breaches and as we race forward at what seems to me to be a reckless pace, I find myself wondering what trouble we’re storing up for the future. I’ve made no secret of my pro-privacy and pro users rights stance before and I have to admit watching a jump to ProtonMail after the recent US election made me feel quite justified in my concerns.

So, I rolled my own. It’s a valuable exercise for the experience, I can’t deny that, but it adds a lot of complexity to an already complex situation. Your service is also publicly available, though not advertised. This does mean that whilst such a service is probably not worth going after, the extra worries relating to security and administration now fall on your shoulders. Someone who has their focus on another field of endeavour might not be able to setup their own cloud service, nor might they want to learn. To be honest, I’ve found that for the needs of a single person, cloud based calendars, notes and task lists are overkill. That applies no matter who hosts them.

Wondering what came next, I thought back and remembered that I used a paper based system for notes and tasks to get me through a very difficult time of my life some years ago. I retried it and have found that it’s served me perfectly well ever since. I switched to a paper based diary to compliment things and it’s going very well indeed. Of course, this does mean that you run a risk of losing the paper diary, but after the first year most anniversaries and birthdays are in the previous years diary and copying appointments to an A5 desk diary or decorative wall calendar minimises that risk for a trivial effort. I can also attest to the pleasure of looking back through the previous years diary and reminiscing while copying over birthdays and anniversaries, a pleasure you don’t have with a web calendar.

I find that the most important thing is to keep your system as simple as possible, it’s tempting to go overboard with priortising tasks and categorising everything, I’ve found that this should be resisted as the categories are superfluous and you should already know your priorities. From my position as a person in search of the simpler approach, it works quite well. I admit that taking notes manually and keeping a paper diary sounds odd, especially for someone who can do the things I can with a computer; It’s not so odd when you factor in my Steampunk leanings and I find it frees the mind from clutter, you don’t need to maintain things and to be honest it simply frees up time and energy for other areas.

A Thought on Personal Information

I came to a point the other week where it became clear that the experiments I was doing with running OwnCloud on a Raspberry Pi were a dead end. Put simply, I lack time and would like to focus my energies elsewhere. Trying to lock yourself away isn’t doable without intense effort, I question whether it’s worth all that effort.

The commercial cloud offerings of companies like Google are ahead in terms of resilience and features and the time taken to setup, run and monitor your own system could be better spent if it’s your personal time. For a company with specific needs and sensitive data, I maintain that OwnCloud can make sense. But if you lack either the time or skills to run it, then we need a different approach. I think that the best approach is to divide your data into 3 areas; imagine yourself at the centre of 3 rings.

The innermost ring is data that is so precious (diaries, financial records) that it will never go near a cloud, it may never even go onto a computer! The next is data that you don’t mind having in a private cloud account, for personal use (like iTunes or GooglePlay Music). The outer ring is where you put things that you don’t mind sharing (like this blog, or a Twitter account). Of course information put into the providers is strictly need to know, so a degree of thought is needed here.

A Childish Game?

So there I was browsing online dating profiles, as you do. Whilst looking I happened across a statement that computer games were “Childish”. That started me thinking.

Well, writing as someone who’s frequented virtual worlds of various guises before and is engaged exploring the Kerbin Solar System, I definitely disagree. What I would say is that some games have low quality and others high quality. Now, when I speak of quality I mean this vaguely in the sort of sense that Robert M. Pirsig meant. That ungraspable something, not the graphics or the sounds, something else. Some games have it, others most definitely do not. I (perhaps, controversially) group most, if not all, of the so-called “triple A” titles into the “have not” category.

The games I have in mind as “haves” are Minecraft, Second Life and Kerbal Space Program (KSP, hereafter). Why these? In each case there is a freedom that you don’t get with a scripted level design, and with each a chance at creativity. KSP is more creative when it come to crashes, I admit, though rocket design can be a slightly insane artform. The other part of the reason it’s listed here is the amount of awe and wonder. I’ve launched and flown a space capsule to orbit then sat and watched the sun rise from an orbital spacecraft, it’s a great moment and makes one wonder how much wonderful the real view must be. There’s a sense of adventure and wonder, which is also helped by the sense of achievement at actually getting the rocket to fly! It teaches you about orbit, aerodynamics and a number of other things and really does make you stand in admiration of the real world space programs and their achievements. I didn’t know the difference between Apoapsis and Periapsis till I started playing this game! I will leave a small trailer below, which I think captures the spirit of the game very well.

I’ve mentioned Minecraft before, and it will probably need no introduction. It’s a phenomenon which makes creativity very easy indeed and offers a huge amount of freedom to explore. Both KSP and Minecraft are modifiable, so the variety and potential can be increased in both games. Whilst KSP teaches physics, aerodynamics and other things. Minecraft can teach you to plan projects and organise your resources. It can teach teamwork, when working on joint projects on a server; I’ve used to to try to answer ethical questions I’ve had regarding the use of force. It has also been used to teach conservation and a number of other things; there’s a great deal of quality in such a simple seeming game.

Finally, Second Life and I must put on my flameproof suit for describing this as a “game”. For sheer creative scope, Second Life blows both of the previously mention titles out of the water. It has the motto “Your World, Your Imagination” and it lives up to it. This virtual world contains composers, musical performers, artists, authors and much more. I’ve seen meditation centres, lectures, memorials, art galleries and much more (including a great deal of adult content). Indeed, the building of entire landscapes has been raised to the level of an art form! I should also add that Second Life contains a full programming language with APIs for external access, the possibilities are huge. I’ll provide a link to a blog which gives a great overview of the kind of artistic beauty which can be found in this world.

Real Travels in a Virtual World

Where am I going with all of this? I feel that computer gaming, done right, has a great deal to offer and not just to children and young adults. I also firmly believe that we’re seeing the ongoing development of an artistic medium that is unparalleled elsewhere; a medium for experimentation, learning and the sharing of experiences. To dismiss all of these possibilities as “childish” is, I firmly believe, to show a huge amount of ignorance and to deny ourselves a huge opportunity.