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We had to destroy the caps-lock key to save it

3 min read

Enso is now freeware. If you run Windows (and there have been allegations of a forthcoming Mac version, although Quicksilver is very good), you need to give this a try. You’ll never know how much time and attention you are wasting in your Start menu if you don’t. And don’t worry, you’ll still have access to something Caps Lock-like – it just won’t trip you up if you fat-finger Shift or Tab, ever again.

The theories behind Enso come from the work of the late Jef Raskin, who more or less created the Macintosh interface. After that went the way it went, Jef left Apple and went on to take ideas from the Mac and combine them with ideas from the command-line world, as well as some rather lovely new ideas like quasimodes, into the legendary, commercially failed machine the Canon Cat. (For a taste of why the Cat was loved by its users as well as why it was discontinued, take a look at Raskin’s open-source project Archy. Not very beautiful, indeed forbidding-looking, but run the tutorial video and its power becomes clear.)

The theories are Raskin’s, but the code behind Enso comes from his son Aza and his now-ex-colleagues at Humanized. As you can see from the Humanized website, the mistake of neglecting appearances was not made again in Enso. It is as gorgeous as it is snappy and resourceful. And unlike the first-glance inscrutability of Archy, Enso is simple – it pulls one salient idea, that of “leaping,” from the elder Raskin’s work and snaps it right into Windows as though it’s always been there. (Note that the actual “leaps” from the Cat and Archy are full-text searches, which Enso doesn’t do.)

Aza Raskin and his co-Ensoers are (mostly) now employees of the Mozilla Corporation, specifically of Mozilla Labs. Labs is already getting up to a lot of interesting stuff, and it is about to get a lot more interesting. I hope that Enso development doesn’t completely abate, or that we get something in a similar vein but even more awesome.

(Want more UI thoughts? Here’s a video of Aza Raskin doing a tech talk at Google. If that doesn’t grab you, root around some more in the Humanized weblog. And, I am sorry I was away. To quote Ze Frank, I didn’t forget about you, and I like you.)

Amuse me, you little bastards

1 min read

Remember Fictionsuit? Yeah, me neither. Well, now you can make your own projects!

Enjoy! And do not ask me for new features.

In which I actually do think of the children

5 min read

A friend asks me, not judgmentally but apropos of nothing, “What kind of parents will World of WarCraft players be?”

Besides absent, you mean? Well. There are those people who seem to feel that having a child is the ultimate in avatarism – that is, that same impulse that keeps people paying Blizzard $14 a month so they can point at their character and say “look how awesome” is clearly operational in child-rearing amongst stage mothers and other railroaders, with the showbiz auditions and/or med schools and law careers of their children taking the place of elite-level mounts. The rest of the MMORPG phenomenon is harder to map to parenting on these terms, and truthfully, I don’t find parents in particular very interesting. I mean, I like my own parents fine, they’re interesting. And yours are too, I’m sure; look, that’s not what I meant by “particular,” really, I just – oh, just go to the next paragraph already.

See, parents are only one of the many conduits through which kids learn to be human beings. Teachers are another big one, and television is too. And now, yep, computers, networks and games are a huge and growing part of it. So let’s switch gears completely and talk about the psychology of achievement, and the way WoW and games like it (reaching all the way back to the roots of Dungeons and Dragons in the late ’70s) exploit our basic drive for status.

A friend who wishes to remain anonymous puts it this way, in a post about friends who get nothing done due to a WoW habit:

And I extend my loathing to Blizzard, which must know exactly what it’s doing, too, since they work so hard on making that nothing feel like something. Not just through game design, but through emphasis on a meta-game that helps assure its addicts that it is a meaningful activity, a dynamic social interaction, a shared artwork that all its players participate in. I declare this to be a colorful icing of bullshit that masks the endless grinding, the overlapping missions, the constant pleasurable stimulus to the I’m-getting-better-and-stronger register that is the heart of MMORPG play and the reason that it’s very easy to keep at it for hours and hours.

(Emphasis mine.) Huzzah, psychology of non-achievement. On which subject: here’s a book called Generation Me (found via danah), all about the pitfalls of a self-esteem-focused educational system. Which sounds like a terrible thesis, at least if you’re a card-carrying member of the nurturant-parent moral model like I am. But that’s just the fallacy of the excluded middle rearing its head: as a comment on that Amazon page says, self-esteem is great and necessary for kids, when it’s based on an actual achievement – something to feel good about yourself for. It’s when self-esteem for its own sake is the prize you put your eyes on that problems start to result.

How do we bring this back around to WoW? I’m thinking it might – might – be materially better to base children’s self-esteem on virtual achievement than on no achievement at all. Replace the methodology of self-esteem at all costs (although I don’t think this methodology is really all that common anymore – at least, if they used it on me, I didn’t notice! *rimshot*) with a somewhat safe, controllable online environment in which kids can “achieve” things and build up their sense of themselves (where your “sense of yourself” literally equates to your on-screen avatar).

I mean, this’d be totally execution-dependent; for starters, if you don’t want kids to see right through the supposed achieveyness of it, thereby potentially taking you right back to square one, then you’ll have to make sure the environment in which they’re achieving things is also a tool they can feel in control of to some degree, that they have input into and help create. I’m thinking here of the desks from Ender’s Game – windows into a virtual reality that reflects the issues, fears and drives of the child who interacts with it. In short, the “colorful icing of bullshit” to which my friend referred will have to be made real. We’re obviously still a long way from that, but I think that with their emphasis on distributed story-building instead of concentrating a game’s story in the hands of the author-referee, story games are waving a hand in the general direction.

Just to drift further, a final thought: it is said (not by me, necessarily; I’m persuaded but not convinced) that men’s ways of talking tend to emphasize status differences between people, whereas women’s ways of talking emphasize connections between people. The gaming lineage that runs from D&D to WoW: all about status. By going back to the tabletop and starting to figure out how to make the game about designing the game world together, are we now inventing an entirely new, more connection-rich – and therefore more essentially female – tradition of gaming? (Boy, is this one a can of worms. I’ll have to expand on this in another post; and yes, I’ll find you a link about that central status-vs.-connection argument when I do.)

#R2ZT52ND5U3D7R

I fought the office supplies and the office supplies won

1 min read

Those of you in my Extreme Fan Club may already have noted that my site indexcards.com is no more. It was difficult to turn down an okay sum of cash for something I hadn’t used in 18 months, just to preserve my first shot at fulfilling a dream I no longer have. Onward to the future, I always say. And the future is a domain-parking ad page.

But I have preserved the old indexcards content. I created indexcards.com in 1998 and it got featured by Project Cool, which was oh nevermind, and before too long the weblog model had cemented and obsoleted my model, which, to be fair, was deliberately obtuse and arty. But even at the time of its death it was the only place I could have posted the sort of things I put there – the only purely creative space I had online. Or it would have been if the admin page had been working.

I’m going to need another one of those maybe. We’ll see if I cook something up.

Dispatch from a point of high inertia

1 min read

So here’s what I’ve been doing while I’ve been very busy not updating this site:

  • A lot of game design work, lately as part of a workshop/support group/collectivey thing I helped start. I think I’m actually cooling off on this a bit lately, or possibly heading in a more digital direction with it (I’ve been doing almost no extracurricular programming lately, which has been woooonderful). But yeah.
  • Setting my drums back up, and playing with a friend hopefully every couple of weeks.
  • Taking fitness a lot more seriously – I’m down 20 pounds this year.
  • Reading this, and testing out the video capabilities of my cell phone camera.

Come to think of it a lot of this has to do with collaboration and putting structure around creativity – something my girlfriend is also doing, and something that’s pretty explicitly related to gaming. So hey, I’m on topic!

More posts about songs, buildings, and food

2 min read

Hi. Nope, not dead.

A while ago I finally had occasion to visit the new De Young Museum in San Francisco. I remember being excited when the final design was approved; the sketches depicted a big brown carapace of a building, brutal and shapely, not as accepting and inclusive of us humans as you might wish for a publically-funded museum to be, but pretty exciting as a piece of art on its own terms.

Getting there was another story. While rounding the corner to see it for the first time was pretty great, with palm trees and the observation tower combining for a nice Jurassic Park the-natives-will-soon-kill-us-on-their-altar effect, it became clear as we approached the front door that the building in the sketches wasn’t the building in front of me.

The second-skin thing, where the outer bronzed shell shows the real wall behind it through pockmarks and corrugations, didn’t actually work at that scale. It was too tight and controlled, too much like a simple half-tone over a basic, boring modern building. The looming arms over the outdoor courtyard worked pretty nicely, as did the tower on the right, but none of the actual museum had that same sense of drama and danger.

All that is a shame, but what really pissed me off was the main signage, which you get a glimpse of here:

Helvetica? Freaking Helvetica? In giant letters on the front wall for all time? Way to cut off a building’s balls. I mean, if you’re going to be big, square and elitist, at least use a nice imperialist serif, preferably in all caps. You know, commit to the shit.

But anyway, in other news, my favorite band Low demonstrates how music videos continue to change in the age of YouTube with the clip for “Breaker,” the first single from their new album.

GMC, raised a power!

1 min read

Contained somewhere within the “Plot Keywords” section of Amazon.com’s listing for insanely prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike’s film Izu is every possible awesome idea in the universe. Tap this Burgess Shale with the impartial, metaphor-blind help of the Takashi Miike Memorial Idea Generator.

(Note: Takashi Miike not actually dead)

Previously on GMC.

Final notes about console games for a while

1 min read

1. Wii Sports really is all that. The second most talked-about Wii title, Zelda: Twilight Princess, is a warm bag of tapioca in comparison. After the polished and natural interaction in Sports, I was actually offended that Zelda makes you steer Link manually through an area when there are only three things in it of any interest. Hopefully the Wii will stimulate more developers to comprehensively rethink how they use controllers.

2. I have never seen a game more focused on sex and violence than Viva Pinata.

Note: the ESRB may or may not approve of this

1 min read

Okay: billion-dollar idea for free. Check it:

1. Be a console game developer.

2. Get the Tenacious D license.

3. Remember Simpsons Road Rage, as it relates to Grand Theft Auto? Your Tenacious D game is of course similarly analogous to Guitar Hero.

4. …only you do it on the Wii so you don’t need the custom hardware, and such that it also enables:

5. Three words, my friend: bong-smoking minigame.

The bitter taste of victory

4 min read

Okay, so Mixology Monday, this thing that some food and drink blogs do. Apparently it’s all about responding to a theme ingredient – this time, bitters – and posting your results by Monday. Not actually doing your mixology on Monday, as we now know. We have just finished our mixing and have some drink in us, and now we frantically post before deadline. Those participants in Mixology Monday who chose not to be one with the evening’s events in the way that we are, well, you suck, we rule, let’s drink.

Ouroboros, the instigator of my involvement, is a fiend for all things bitter, anise, and difficult, in spirits as in music. He lined up at least a dozen things that’d qualify as bitters (well, I was impressed anyway, ya snobs) and we stood contemplating them for a moment waiting for inspiration to hit. For me, the obvious place to start was the homemade bottle of lavender bitters, in the recycled Robitussin flask. Ouro thought it ought to go in either an orange or a grenadine direction. We chose to start with orange.

When the drink was strained and Ouro tasted it, he was inscrutable, as he sometimes is, then said, “That’s no fun.”

“What?”

“We won.”

For a second I thought he was talking about the election. Yeah, that was kind of a letdown in a way, huh? But no. We got that drink in one. Here’s how it goes.

Periwinkle

1 1/2 oz gin (Bombay Sapphire)
1/2 oz Grand Marnier
1 strong dash (1 tsp) lavender bitters (recipe to follow)

The lavender became a little stronger as the drink warmed – you could go to half a teaspoon and be just fine, we think, or you could modify our recipe for the bitters to include some sweetness. But man. That mix was brought to us by the letters F, T, and W.

We then took off to explore the grenadine angle, but nothing proved as winning. I guess that’s not surprising. We tried a couple of routes – a gin base with equal heavy dashes of lavender and grenadine, plus half an ounce of lime, was more promising once it warmed up – but soon moved on to a less conventional bitter Ouro wanted to try.

Ginger juice! Brought to you in a little hot-sauce-sized bottle, it is indeed bitter (so Ouro argued for the defense) but it wasn’t clear that it’d operate the way we needed. Indeed, all our mix attempts ended up including other bitters as well… kind of a hedge. Ouro chose bourbon for the base, and took down a bottle of dry vermouth. He seemed to have a clear idea where he was going, so I stood back.

It didn’t come together. The ginger was more of a disconnected top note, not even as well integrated as drops of Tabasco in a Manhattan. (Try it! I likes. I call it a Hell’s Kitchen. Because I think I’m funny. I’m not funny.) Ouro changed out the orange bitters for Cointreau… and it was better, but it still didn’t fit together. I suggested reaching up towards the ginger by changing out the orange for lemon, or more accurately for Hangar One Buddha’s Hand. But it just sort of made things taste thinner. (Pity I didn’t get to name a drink the Pimphand Strong.)

Then we both remembered at once what our less exotic bitters were for: bringing drinks together that don’t want to come together! I lunged for the Angostura; Ouro went for Peychaud’s, a sweeter, fruitier choice that was clearly more appropriate. A hearty shake of the bottle later, we had a lovely drink on our hands, although Ouro now says he’d go even sweeter and use triple sec.

Giles Goatboy

1 1/2 oz bourbon
1/2 oz triple sec
1 strong dash (1 tsp) ginger juice
Dash Peychaud’s bitters

Well I hope you all enjoyed that as much as we did. Photos to come, but for now we have a deadline to meet. Oh! Lavender bitters:

6 oz 100-proof vodka
1/2 cup organic dried lavender blossoms
1 coin-sized slice ginger
1/2 tsp dried orange peel
4 cloves

Let steep in a cool dark place for six weeks. Strain, and add 1 teaspoon of Lyle’s Golden Syrup. Serves YOUR MOM