Monday, December 31, 2007

THANK GOD...Christmas is over!

In true form I have not posted anything on my blog for a long time, but while I'm now enjoying some vacation time i figured it would be a good time for me to catch up on some thoughts I have had floating around in my head.

Thank GOD...Christmas is over. This time of year depresses me for so many reasons. I had wonderful Christmases growing up and have very fond memories of me and my brothers getting up at 5am (or earlier) and quietly sneaking down stairs to see if Santa left us some presents. My brothers and I could dig into our stockings and play with whatever we got in those but we had to wait for my parents to get up to open presents. Needless to say, we got pretty noisy around 5:15 to encourage them to get out of bed. Despite all of the wonderful memories I have as a kid, the holidays are much different to me as an adult. Sure there are some quite moments at night, while looking at the tree that I believe in the magic of Christmas, but unfortunately now it's a noisy, stressful, overly garnished, expensive, and fattening time. I know, I know...BAh Humbug. With all of that said, I bend over backwards to give my kids the most wonderful Christmas that I can while trying to teach them to be giving and humble human beings.

December 26th is the GREATEST day of the year. As far as I'm concerned, this is the day that truly kicks off the new year. Down comes the tree which is now a house fire waiting to happen along with all of the decorations and lights. This is a time of purification and simplification. Wiping the slate clean. Opening the windows and letting in some fresh air even if it is 20 degrees outside. I feel energized and ready to start the new year. The shortest day of the year is over and from this point forward the days are going to get longer which mean not getting up in the dark and driving home from work in the dark. I enjoy taking personal, financial, and mental inventory and getting rid of what I don't need, looking forward to what I would like to do in 2008 and plan on what I can do to make myself more of the person that I want to be. One of the first things on my 2008 agenda is to post more frequently on this blog.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Who is Ron Paul?

I didn't want to talk about politics in this blog however I feel so strongly that our government has become so incredibly corrupt, wasteful and inept from both republicans and democrats that I feel it necessary to stand on my virtual soap box and ask you to just listen to what Doctor Ron Paul has to say. He is like no other candidate that is running for President of the United States and his views and beliefs cross party lines. I have never felt this strongly about any political candidate before and for the first time, instead of voting for the lesser of two evils, I feel confident that I will be giving my vote to a citizen of the United States that will truly uphold the Constitution and bring dignity back to our country. Please check out the link.

You can also find out more about Ron Paul here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Iron & Steel. Art of the Industrial Revolution

53 years ago, Walt Disney Productions released their full length motion picture adaptation of Jules Verne's classic, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. I wasn't around to see the film when it was first released however I had seen it when I was a kid. About a year ago, I saw the newly digitally remastered version on a Best Buy shelf so I picked it up. I remember liking the film as a whee lad and figured it would be a good flick to add to my collection. When I got home I popped it into my dvd player and watched it. I was shocked at how vibrant the colors were and how detailed the set pieces were. I had forgotten how amazing the Nautilus interiors looked. There were details that I had never seen before especially when viewing the film on a tv. I believe the movie was filmed in 72mm which means there are beautifully composed panoramic scenes that one can only appreciate if you watch the letterbox version. Now the special effects are a bit dated compared to any major film or decently funded tv show nowadays, but the craftsmanship of the Nautilus still impresses me. The ship is piece of artwork from the apex of the industrial revolution. A sea monster made of iron and steel with an interior of velvet, brass and oak. The interior of the ship overflows with late 1800's decadence. The ships heart beats with an intense energy source that at the time made reference to nuclear power. Although I know the Nautilus is just a movie prop, I recently took a ride on an old steam locomotive constructed in the mid 1800's. The shear size and mass of this train reminded me of a iron dinosaur. I would not call this thing an iron horse, it was 4 times taller. While this train rested idly on it's tracks, you could hear loud and clear the churning of the massive pistons. It sounded like a very low, powerful, prehistoric heartbeat. This massive work of art could have only been created in the hottest of foundries and been built with raw determination and will. The Nautilus blue prints I found online represent three appreciations of mine. The imagination and craftsmanship of the Disney imagineers, the forward thinking and adventures of Jules Verne and the awe inspiring testament to human ingenuity. In this day and age everything feels like it has become disposable digital, downloaded and stored as ones and zeros. Just a movie prop, like the Nautilus.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Inside the Magic podcasts

I'm a HUGE Walt Disney World fan. I've been to the 'Mouse House' nearly every single year since 1996 and my parents took me and my brothers there a number of times while we were growing up. What is worse is my wife is just as bad as I am. We joke around saying someday when we are older, we'll get a job working in the parks or the hotels. It's tough to pinpoint a single reason why I enjoy going down there so much. Maybe it because I had an amazingly fun experience the first time my parents took me and my brothers there. Whatever the case, the place is truly magical. Now I know that the place is not for everyone and that's fine. To each his own. To those people that have been to Disney World and enjoy it, I have found a podcast that takes you back to the warmth of a spring Orlando morning. Back to the smell of freshly popped popcorn on Main Street and the cool spay of water from the first plunge down the Pirates of the Caribbean. Back to the scenic views from the Wedway People Mover over in Tomorrowland and of sitting on the monorail just after watching the end of the day fireworks, feeling completely exhausted. I get so much pleasure from so many of the little things in the parks & hotels. Below is the link to the Podcast I found a week or two ago that takes me to my laughin place when I'm driving to work on a gray dreary rainy day.
If you need to take a quick trip back through your Disney World memories, just listen to a few of these podcasts and you be strolling through the happiest place on earth in no time.

What is Conduit Labs?

Well it has been about 6 months since the last time I posted and I'm feeling pretty bad about that. So here's the deal. I am now working for a venture backed start-up called Conduit Labs. We are building Club Penguin for the Facebook audience. Well, not quite. We are building an MMO that incorporates and piggybacks off of preexisting social networks and other web 2.0 utilities. That's about as high level as I can get. To talk about some specifics, we are building a game in flash, but doing some amazing, never before seen techniques that's gonna blow some minds and have some folks scratching their heads. I can't really dive into anything too detailed about the game right now, but i can say you'll be hearing more about us shortly. Over the past few months, our very small 4 person team has been prototyping, testing, and developing a working demo of our game. For me, this process has been very exciting because I have had to learn Flash while figuring out what our art pipeline should be while traveling to meet a number of venture capital groups. Long story short, some of the top VC 's in the country were fighting over us to give us round A funding. I can't begin to tell you how good it felt to have people willing to give you funding when my past experience in the games industry has been the opposite. We are very lucky. Now that we have a better handle on pipeline and tech specs, we are ramping up the Conduit Team. The team that we are putting together is just unbelievable. This past month we have been focused on hiring and it looks as though the team will be about 9-10 people by the end of August. So anyways, that's what's up. Nearly all of my creative energy has been directed towards work the past few months so I haven't had the fire to post to this blog. I think the recent news about Disney buying Club Penguin for $700 million the other day makes me fell less guilty about not posting and better about staying productive at work.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Why Brain Age for the Nintendo DS rocked my world.

Math problems, speed reading, and mental focus puzzles. No I'm not talking about the SAT's or your days in high school. I'm talking about the hand held game phenomena, BrainAge for the Nintendo DS. Why is this game doing as well as it is? It wasn't this much fun the first time I did it when I was in high school. For me there are a few simple things that this game does that captures my attention as a gamer and one really cool thing that captures my attention as a human. Let me explain.

BrainAge presents very simple logic puzzles with very simple graphics, that get progressively harder over time. The game encourages you to play briefly, but often. The game also rewards you every time you play by keeping track of your progress and by giving you a stamp on a calender. The game could easily stamp the calender for you, but it allows you to do it. There is something very gratifying about putting a stamp on your calender and watching it fill up. Its a similar feeling to crossing off a task on a long list of chores. It reinforces the feeling that you are making progress. This game also rewards you by unlocking new content based on the number of times you play the game. For example, if you do your "Daily Training" 5 days in a row, the game will grant you the ability to play a new logic puzzle. The next time, it may take 10 days to unlock new content, and so on. That's exciting! Unlocking new content is fun, even if the game that you unlock is just another simple logic puzzle. There is no reason why the folks over at Nintendo couldn't give you all of the content up front. They just decided to hand out that content as a reward. As they say up here in New England, "That's wicked smart!" Another thing that the game does well is allow you to see your progress over time with a line graph. I know that sounds crazy, but it's cool! I can look at how I have improved on a month to month basis and I can also compare my results to others that have been playing, but the greatest thing about BrainAge is how it interacts with you with the little floating head of that Neuroscientist, Dr Kawashima.

When I boot up my DS to play BrainAge, the game knows what the actual time is and that floating head of the Doctor says something brief to me like..."Oh, It's nice to see you again," or "It's been a week since the last time I saw you." If I boot up the game at 6am he will say something like "Boy it's nice to see you this morning," and if I play at 2am he might say "Don't you think it's a little late?" The Doc will also give me praise after if I have improved my ranking within a certain puzzle or give me words of encouragement if I did poorly on any puzzle. I have a theory that if I boot up the game on my birthday, that floating head Doctor will wish me a happy birthday. My point is, that even though I know his comments and reactions are all programmed in, it feels good for this little floating head to recognize my achievements and encourages me if I have an off day. I feel it is this design feature that really taps into a basic human desire. It's always important to feel like you are making progress in a game so it's extra gratifying if the game you are playing recognizes your achievements and makes comments about it. For example, if were playing an MMO and I went into a dungeon and saved Gretchen the fruit stand girl from monsters, it would be great to have the blacksmith in Gretchen's village say something like..."Hey Mike, I heard you saved Gretchen from those goblins. Because of your heroism, I'll give you a discount on the price of my swords." Not only does the game recognize my achievements, but I'm rewarded for completing this quest. It also reinforces the fact that I have an effect on this game world. Over time, based on the quests that I have accomplished, it could have an accumulative effect on the NPC's in the game world. Some of the effects could be positive while others could be negative depending on your actions.

The main point I'm trying to make is that when a game acknowledges what you are doing and reacts it feels much more interactive and more memorable. Without that floating head of Doctor Kawashima reacting to you, praising your achievements or guilting you into practicing more frequently, I don't believe this game would have done as well. While typing this entry, I got out my copy of Brain Age to refresh my thoughts and feelings about this game. I had put it down for a month or so to get caught up on Mario. The first thing Doc Kawashima said to me was..."Ummm....WHO ARE YOU AGAIN???