Friday, January 4, 2013

A New Year Begins

Hello everyone. Happy New Year's Eve. Sadly, a holiday case of the flu has forced me to sideline myself and cancel what would have been a most excellent party here. I kept thinking it would go away in time and it kept not doing so. Eventually, I had to do the responsible thing. Anybody who has any knowledge of my past and my recent long awaited good fortune in the form of Sara will have some understanding of what a painful decision that was for me to make. I had stocked up with supplies, called Piel Housing to inform them who was staying over as my lease requires, etc. A good number of my friends both new and old would have shown up. However, I couldn't face the prospect of possibly giving any of these good people this flu that has wrecked this holiday season for my family and I.

Christmas went ahead. Short of plague or life-threatening illness, I don't know that anything could have stopped that from happening. Everyone rose to the occasion and Christmas was a big success. I got a splendid audioboo of the present opening that came out far better than I thought it would. Sadly, I didn't think to take a picture. My nieces had an absolute blast. As usual, getting them to sit and enjoy the excellent Christmas dinner proved to be an impossibility. There was just so much new and nifty to play with. I imagine that'll start to change soon as expectations of good behaviour take more of a firm hold as they grow older. Everyone seemed to like what they got and really enjoy the day. Given the condition in which I now find myself, I'm very glad of this.

After Christmas, I kept thinking that the various changes in symptom were signs of me getting over this bug. I had a feverish night of being incredibly hot but with the consolation of far less stuffiness. When that went away leaving me chilled and achy, I figured things were running their course. However, the stuffiness has since returned. I've gone through a great many tissues which festooned my garbage cans. I've eaten lots of soup and other canned food. It's hard to plan more proper use of the vegetables and frozen meat when you're not certain which meals you'll be both hungry and conscious for. I've done my best. The extra supplies I got for the party will either keep until a hoped for gathering later this month or will stand me in good stead over the next while and be replaced in good time. Dayquil and Niquil are once again proving their worth giving me welcome re leaf and likely preventing me having a much worse time of it.

I'm far from the only one whose holiday plans have been thwarted by the flu this year. It seems to be reaching its peek over the holidays this year. Thankfully, all my friends seem to have avoided a similar fate to mine. I hope I've helped keep it that way and that they'll be able to join me for a gathering once I've recovered. It'll be awesome fun having them meet Sara and for her to begin to know the people who've made such a positive difference in my life. I'll just have to exercise the patience I seem to be known for.

I'm not immune to bitterness though. This positively sucks! It would have been a terrific beginning to this new chapter in life. There are some who seem to think I can be too cheerful about things. I'm pretty good at finding the bright side of things including some small consolations here. Nonetheless, I keenly looked forward to what would have soon been started. Making the calls to cancel it was really not fun.

Having said that, I thankfully have the ability to take a longer view. I'm in for a tremendously promising year. I've at last been found by a very special lady who seems to be everything I've hoped for in a partner. What's more, she's actually seriously interested in something beyond friendship with me. That's absolutely staggering in and of itself. There's also prospects for more interesting gatherings with both old friends and new. There's work on a few creative projects plus some interesting beta testing coming up. Add to that the many recent additions to my radio drama and audio library. Some interesting opportunities are presenting themselves to some good friends and it'll be very interesting seeing how things pan out there. I think I'm in for some interesting spiritual discoveries and theological discussions too. Even faced with current disappointment and discomforts, I still count myself a very fortunate man indeed.

It's early on New Year's day. I didn't plan to wake up at just shy of four. However, a dream where I was crushed by collapsing rubble inside the basement of an old house can put coffee to utter shame. I figured I'd best get up and continue working on this blog entry. If it comes again at all today, it'll take its sweet time. New Year's Eve was as enjoyable as humanly possible given the circumstances. I had a great Skype call with Sara and Rose. I'm glad those two got to be introduced at least virtually. Twitter also proved marvellous as has Audioboo. In particular, I got to hear an excellent boo of what that magic moment of transition from one year to the next sounded like in the Philippines. Pat Bouchard got a terrific recording while in the company of another of my Twitter friends Hannah Mae Aldesa. Pat's gone over there to complete studies in computer programming or something like that and they're providing hospitality. It sounds like he's having quite an interesting time of it. What a different approach to it all. You can't even tell when the moment occurs. It's just one big continuous party whose structure and tempo seems hard to define. Perhaps, there's more visual focus which Audioboo wouldn't capture. Have a listen to this young adventurous man. Pretty damned spectacular. Just follow this link:

I don't know about you, but I couldn't help thinking of my friend Steve Murgaski as I listened to that. I would quite enjoy getting those two in front of some beer whenever Pat returns to Canada. I can't wait to see Steve and company once I'm over this blasted bug. I'm still slightly stuffed and coughing. I also feel far from fully rested. I need more sleep if I can grab it in a couple hours. I have the sense that I'll need to crash at some point today but look forward to dinner with my parents. Tomorrow, things will just carry on. Hopefully, Rose can get the computer I've gotten ready for her some time this week when I'm conscious and present. It'll be good to clear that and its old peripherals out of my small storage room. As far as I could judge with my somewhat flu-dulled hearing, it seems in good working order. I've even managed to find the drivers for my discontinued Trendnet N WIFI adaptor. That was the only real snag in the whole process of getting it up and running. I'm pretty confident that it'll serve her as well as something so old and well used can.

This has been quite an interesting year. I wouldn't even know where to begin my customary reflections. The many unfortunate incidents of needless gun violence in both Canada and the US. Shootings in very public locales in busy times. Many incidents were the results of unstable people who somehow got access to very powerful weapons. A bunch were gang-related. You'd think gangs would be rather more careful about collateral damage. I wonder whether anything concrete will come out of all the carnage. The NRA seems to stifle any attempt to better control who can legally own even military assault weapons. Canada at least has a better handle on things but needs to find a way to rid us of criminals who obtain and use guns in support of crimes. I think it's a clear sign that in our quest for our individual rights, we've lost entirely too much of what holds society together. Cohesion and empathy have gone way down. There are, however, echoes of those things that might still be re-ignited. There's still a longing for a life more inclusive and less divisive. I think of the people who I've volunteered with at the Dam. They've hung onto that dream and found ways of trying to help it happen. Many of the movies I've watch with the teens there evoke that sort of consciousness. How much of that really gets through remains a mystery to me on the whole. I'm just not that involved in their life situations. I guess the real important thing is that I'm willing and able to put myself in that space of helpful soul. Perhaps, more clear-cut answers will reveal themselves in this coming year.

The two big scientific stories this year have got to be the most inspirational in over a decade. The safe landing and explorations of Curiosity have fascinated people. No life-altering information has come to light so far, but it's still early days. Same goes for the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle. I remember my secondary school science teacher talking about it decades ago. It was so vexing that this particle just couldn't be proven to exist. Now, that big stumbling block has been removed. As with the Curiosity vehicle on Mars, the large hadron collider is also really just getting started. Quantum computing is also seemingly right around the corner. I've read just enough science fiction and had just enough to drink so that a dim understanding of the ramifications of societal change quantum computing might offer us is possible for me. It's going to be absolutely earth-shaking when it really takes off.

There have been so many interesting things both in my own life and in the wider world. In better health and circumstances, I would likely have more to set down here. Even over the past couple of months, we've lived through Sandy, that huge tropical storm. We've also seen the last widely discussed possible doomsday prediction come and go. May the Mayans rest easy. They at least left plenty of room for interpretation unlike a certain Mr. Camping. I do believe we're fresh out of doomsdays. Perhaps, that'll help more people start to look forward and try to help build a better future for all of us. I can still hope.

One of the areas of tremendous success for me this past year was in acquiring long saught after recorded books and audio dramas to add to my greatly enlarged library. Audible has been a gold mine when it comes to finding complete series covered by the same narrator. the Prydain chronicles is the last remaining fantasy series I have yet to obtain which I consider having influenced me greatly while growing up. I'll be able to complete that whole phase of collection early next month thanks to my Grandmother's generocity. A new series I'm keenly looking forward to is the KIng Killer Chronicles by Pat Rutherford which I plan to purchase once the third book in the trillogy has been released in audio format. My wishlist on Audible has grown to something over a hundred titles now so there's lots more to acquire. What I really didn't expect was that Audible would help me acquire so many excellent audio dramas that were otherwise unobtainable. The Inspector McLevy and Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes being two stunningly unexpected finds. The CNIB Digital library has also offered up some splendid reading and made old favorites like Larry Niven's Footfall and Michael Crichton's Congo available once again. So much excellent narration was on those old four-track tapes.

For me, hope really sums everything up. The past year has given me quite a lot of that. A chance for a lasting stable love with Sara is the very surprising pinnacle of that. Seeing this relationship off to a good start is definitely at the top of my list. I know that in doing so, areas of myself which have largely starved and wilted over the past while are at last going to have space to grow properly. Having a special lady in life constitutes a very important part of my core sense of a fully realized adult life. It makes more of a difference than anybody else could quite understand. I've made a kind of peace with the lack of a job and the cascading lack of opportunity that entails. This wasn't easy at all and took years of soul-searching, creativity and frankly, anger management. It really hurts like hell to want to participate fully in society and feel utterly barred from doing so despite all the good qualities people say you have. I don't know that I ever could have come to a similar place where love is concerned. I've certainly reached a point where I can cope with the lack and find enjoyment without a female companion but it's still very much an inner struggle. Thankfully, it's one I need no longer contend with. Not for now, and perhaps never again either. Sara and I are continually surprised by how well we seem to click.

My creative projects await my attention as they probably always will. There's always going to be something I'm working on even if only slowly at times. I hope that this coming year sees a great deal more progress on that front. I've acquired a couple of interesting new books this year and still have to re-read my earlier finds more closely. I'm very hopeful that my experiences with Sara as we see where our relationship goes plus more excursions with friends will further feed my writing.

There's my home here which now has reached a state of completion in terms of furnishing. As a single man, there's really not anything else I think I might need. Things are about as perfect now as I could ever have imagined them being in terms of home facilities. It's taken a while to get to this point, but I do believe I've at last arrived there. I've succeeded in making a haven for myself and any friends or guests who might choose to visit me here. A place where I can both take care of myself and share my blessings with others.

It's now Friday morning. Approaching two thirty as I once again take up this entry. A hot cup of cider and a cookie await my pleasure on my desk. The flu hasn't quite let go of me yet but I'm coughing less often and using notably less tissue. I'm tentatively taking those as hopeful signs. I seem to have a little more energy for periods of the day but am still finding it necessary to sleep at inopportune times. Then, of course, I find myself awake at absurd times like now. The past few days have been rather uneventful. My new headset arrived and will be very adequate to my needs both for playing Swamp and while travelling with my laptop. The Logitech G330 doesn't even come close to the better headsets I've owned but then, I didn't pay nearly as much for them. They ought to do alright until I can really afford getting a better pair when these eventually ware out. One thing that very much recommends them is the comfort factor. They're light and very nicely padded. You can wear these for extended periods without begrudging the necessity. The mic does its job but again, is nothing spectacular.

The only package still on the way here are the lapdesks I ordered. The Lapgear Traveller lapdesks stand up very well in reviews and genuinely strike me as precisely what I'm after. A solid one-piece design with durable non-slip serf ice and microbead padding for long-term comfort. They're taking somewhat longer to get here. I ordered a second one of these for Sara. After hearing something rattling around in hers that was obviously picked up of some soft serf ice she used it on, I figured that this might make a practical first token of my growing affection for her.

It's now Friday afternoon. The lapdesks arrived and are pretty much as I suspected they'd turn out. They ought to serve us both very well. Just before I took delivery of the lapdesks, we had our first fire alarm of the new year. It was a small genuine fire I'm pretty sure. It may even have been on my level. After they announced that people could return to their suites, I opened the door and definitely smelled smoke. I've gotten things to the stage where I can just put the laptop and now my new lapdesk into the case and be ready to walk out within a minute of the alarm going off. I noticed they didn't announce which level the incident was actually on this time. This perfectly exemplifies why I don't just head out before I know something about a fire in progress. Had that been a big one on my level, it could have been far more dangerous to move out into it than to stay in the apartment and use a wet towl to block anywhere smoke was getting in. The doors here have steel cores and walls are concrete.

Informationally speaking, as long as I leave with that case and my iPHONE, I lose next to nothing at all. If I have time to grab a few nearby accessories like the bone conduction headset that's typically plugged in and charging at my desk, I lose no funcionality at all. Anything much beyond that would require advanced notice of an impending disaster. It's hard to hear a knock at the door from within the bedroom here so I'd rather not chance going for clothes and personal supplies in there. I've thought about why that is lately as I've spent a larger amount of time than I normally would lying down in bed. I don't think my apartment is any more than ten metres long end to end although perhaps it's close to that from the far bedroom wall to the door. The carpetting in the bedroom is much thicker than in the main apartment and seems to make the room disproportionately quieter. There's absolutely nothing else other than the bed that would absorb so much of the ambient sound. The blinds are hard plastic and the walls are ordinary.

Friday evening has arrived now. I've finished off the last of the pizza I ordered a couple days ago. Tomorrow, we'll see how a bacon and egg breakfast turns out. I have soup and other easy options ready to hand for supper depending on how things go. There'll doubtless be interesting stuff online to listen to. Eventually, I presume they'll put up the first episode of Under the Influence, Terry Oriley's excellent show about advertising and marketting. I've thoroughly enjoyed each episode of the first couple seasons and keenly look forward to this one. Spark is also staying strong and interesting these days. I doubt I'll keep even anywhere near up to date with all my podcasts with so much else likely to happen over the next year. I feel like it's pretty much bound to be a great one in so many ways. I realise that a large part of that optimism is due to Sara's appearance in my life. I guess I had simply forgotten just how much finding someone special can change. I hadn't realised how jaded I was slowly becoming. There's just so much to look forward to once I've ditched this flu bug. Hopefully, that won't be to lenghty a process. At least there's plenty to read here.

Where Faith Meets Fun and Fantasy

Where Faith Meets Fun and Fantasy

By Michael Feir

As a game developer and a believer, I've taken a keen interest in where these two important spheres of my life intersect. Hoping to create a game which helps bridge the gap between people and faith, I've been wrestling with two key issues for quite some time. One of these is how much of an overt factor religion should be in the fantasy world I'm creating for Enchantment's Twilight. In tandem with that issue is how to go about representing the force that one or more god-like beings may exert over the events in the game's story. Too much influence can render a game broken since players feel too HELPLESS AND INCONSEQUENTIAL. Why strive for victory if some god can just will the needed circumstances into being? On the other hand, too little influence renders supposedly super powerful beings mere tools for clever players to make use of. Who needs to gather all that treasure to be able to afford good armour if Zeus can just fry one's adversaries with a few bolts of lightning? It's a very tricky balance with dangers of detracting from the experience or giving offence to people of faith. Striking that balance rewards both the players and the game designer with a more richly woven experience. It also provides a ready agency for injecting control over situations at crucial points.

It is certainly possible to create a fantasy world for a game or story without directly involving religion. Tolkien, a devout Christian, chose this approach in his Lord of the Rings books and still packed them with undeniably Christian values. When creating good fantasy, it is vital to maintain internal logic and consistency. Basic questions normally answered via religions must still be addressed in some fashion in order to have fantasy which hangs together and is meaningful.

Representing our Christian God or a pantheon of gods such as the Hindu, Roman, or Greek ones in a game is very problematic. Even more so, in fact, than in a fantasy novel. In a story, the author retains full control of events. The whole idea of a game, on the other hand, is that its players shape the outcome through their own decisions, luck and skill. The whole point of games is that they are interactive experiences.

As a player, I've experienced two different approaches to simulating god-like entities in games. In most computer role-playing games, gods are essentially treated like vending machines. Pray or sacrifice to this god and you'll get that reward. Lets say I've come across a magic hat on the floor of a cavern I'm exploring. I decide to try it on hoping it will bestow a magical advantage upon me. Instead, it makes my fingers slippery and sticks fast to my head. For it is a cursed hat of fumbling fingers! Picking up anything is hard and takes time but there are precious diamonds scattered throughout the cavern. I'm naturally averse to leaving any behind. Spending precious moments gathering up all the diamonds I can carry allows the goblin hoard that pursues me to enter the cavern! I am discovered and now badly out-numbered! I flee to the cavern's far extremity where I come across an altar to Blorn, the god of second chances. As the goblins close in on me, I draw my enchanted sword. I take heart as this gives them a moment's fearful pause ... until it falls from my hand! Drat that cursed hat! Perhaps, there's a lesson about greed to be learned here. If I hadn't spent so much time gathering every diamond I could see, the goblins wouldn't have caught up with me. That gives me a notion. I throw down a good portion of the diamonds onto the altar and pray to Blorn. There's a clap of thunder and the diamonds on the altar are consumed in a shaft of brilliance. The cursed hat falls from atop my penitent pate. I can now retrieve my sword and make my escape with a small quantity of the diamonds.

The above is a basic example of the most common way in which god-like beings are featured. Consequences tend to be immediate and well defined. This approach has the advantage of being simple to plan out and program. You can dress it up with spectacular effects and grandeur, but one can't ultimately escape the profound hollowness of this approach. The rules are simply too apparent to the player. There's none of the wonder, awe, humility, uncertainty and fear that actual worshipers would experience. This is why such games almost never use deities who are still actually being worshipped today. Real religions that have stood the test of time tend not to limit their gods to such basic immediate reactions. Actual belief tends to weave a rich and deep tapestry into one's life far more complex than mere action and reaction.

King of Dragon Pass is a game for the iPHONE and other Apple devices which attempts to address this common shortcoming. This game puts you in charge of a clan on a fantasy world with many gods and spirits to contend with. You need to pick and choose which ones to worship and sacrifice cattle or goods to. Unlike the vending machine model, there is no certainty here at all. You can't easily quantify how effective a given blessing is or predict when or what the result of rituals will be. This uncertainty creates some of that missing experience of mystery and awe. As the player, you definitely have to pay careful attention to mythological detail and tread with caution if you want your clan to prosper. King of Dragon Pass has something like three novels worth of text. There is hand-painted artwork, music and sound to help bring the player deeper into the experience. However, despite all that, Orlanth and his fellow gods are ultimately just very powerful and unpredictable game elements to be used or ignored at one's own peril. However, thanks to this richly detailed background, the game isn't reduced to mere number crunching. You can't help starting to care about your clan and the fictitious people who comprise it. The game teaches valuable lessons regarding leadership, responsibility, the benefits of practicing faith on an individual and societal level, and more.

Far from weakening my faith, playing King of Dragon Pass has given me a sense of deep gratitude that there is just one true God and that he loves us without conditions. We need not know a thousand different rituals to keep in his good graces. For us, asking his forgiveness and accepting his son as our Savior is sufficient. Exploring alternative world views can let us appreciate our own faith all the more.

The original vision God gave me of Enchantment's Twilight definitely depicted aspects of religion. I remember priests and places of worship. Characters seemed to have a sense of supernatural forces larger than themselves being active in their universe. While I'm confident that God wants me to incorporate some sort of religion into the game, I'm very uncertain how he would have me proceed in that area. However, if past experience is anything to go by, this will eventually be revealed to me. It's another thread in a very large and complex tapestry. God has given me some indication through the respectful great care he has taken with me. He has given me plenty of gentle nudges or taps on the shoulder, but has always allowed me to find my own unique path and pace to his truth. That spirit of wonder, reverence, and compassion over all is the one in which I approach bringing the vision of a grand interactive epic God has given me a glimpse of into being.