Rym is on another business trip to Istanbul, so there will be no new GeekNights podcasts this week. What a perfect time to put out another newsletter to fill the gap. I know that there is a lot less GeekNights than there used to be. Some of you may not like that, but it's much better for me. As time goes on it becomes harder to come up with show ideas, and we have less new content to discuss. Doing less quantity increases quality. It's also a nice break to be able to go home without having to podcast for two hours immediately after work. I actually have time to cook a proper meal.
Letters to the Editor
Did you know that if you just reply to this newsletter, just like any other e-mail, that I will see that reply? Technology is great! People are taking advantage of this feature, so let's see what they have to say. Quite a few people wrote in just to say thanks without asking a question or leaving me any way to continue that conversation. Others sent in really long replies. I'm only going to include the relevant excerpts from your responses in the newsletter to prevent it from getting ridiculously long. I apologize in advance if I cut up your reply, or didn't reply at all. I promise I read everything.
Recently I heard your's and Rym's opinion on the whatsapp app, and I find it amusing since a while ago both of you talked about old people resisting changes on software used daily. Maybe you are getting old! J/K. Whatsapp is really important for communication here in Brazil because most cellphone network providers are really crappy and whatsapp holds you message, voice, image or text, and sends it whenever there is network, to a group or a person. Yes I know you can do that by sms, but I, per say, don't have an SMS plan, only an internet and voice plan so it really works out for me.
That's actually really interesting! I didn't know that Whatsapp had that feature. None of the messaging apps on my iPhone can do that. Whether it's Twitter, SMS, iMessage, Google Hangout, etc. a message that fails to send, fails to send. While the US wireless networks may be better than Brazil, trust me, they still suck. I've had a lot of failed messages. Most of the apps save messages and allow the user to manually retry later, but that's still annoying. They should just auto-retry as soon as the network becomes available again. I should be able to write a text in the subway, and have it send as soon as I get above ground without having to manually press anything. If Whatsapp can do it, why not everyone else?
I have a whole lot of different geeky interests, but for most I don't enjoy the process enough to want to make it my fulltime job. Currently the top thing where the process fascinates me more than the result is optimizing and automating workflows (at least from skills that have any chance to be turned into a job, I'm not talking about gaming etc.). For example I use autohotkey to start programs with shortcuts and I even have a geeknights shortcut. Winkey-shift-g opens the folder with the unheard geeknights episodes on my pc. Or I can select files in the windows explorer, press winkey-1 and they automatically get uploaded to my webspace and I have the links to the files in the clipboard ready to paste them in an email or skype chat, just to give you a quick example of what I mean. Most of what I work on in that area is related to more complex graphics creation tasks.
But how to make a freelance job out of that? I don't see myself in the corporate world and from what I hear there is no place for smart workflows there anyway. So what could I do with that kind of interests and skills? I can do a whole lot of different things on a basic level due to my diverse interests, but I don't excel at a single thing to be able to present myself as a specialist.
Ah well, I better get back to work before I bore you too much with my dilemma. I'd be happy to hear any ideas what kind of jobs to look into though!
Martin, I hate to burst your bubble, but creating keyboard shortcuts is not really a job. Imagine walking into a company and trying to convince someone to pay you to create keyboard shortcuts on their employee's PCs? You say you don't see yourself in the corporate world, but you are probably very well suited to being a clerical worker. Since you are actually good at using a computer efficiently, you could probably do the work of 2-3 others who are less skilled. If you're afraid of big corporations, you can work for a small one. Imagine something like doing data entry at a medical practice. If most of what you do is, as you say, "related to more complex graphics creation tasks," you could just become an expert at something like Photoshop, Maya, or AutoCAD. That's a skill to pay the bills for sure.
Abandoned Island Question
If you COULD only do ONE (or several) geekery as a job all day, what would it be?
Well, I think I explained it pretty well in the newsletter, but I don't think there is anything I could do as a job all day. Even if my job was to bike all day, play games all day, or lay on the beach all day, I would get bored of it eventually. The only thing I think I could do all day is "do whatever I feel like doing" all day.
More than Co-Workers
Work is a thing many of us do to earn money to then enjoy our lives doing other things, I have been working now for almost 30 years doing a variety of things at a number of different jobs and when I think about them all there are only a handful of times when working life was the most fulfilling part of my life - most often I was using the money earned to enjoy myself after-hours or taking advantage of the peculiarities of the job - chopper flights, fishing, accessing restricted areas and of course getting paid to do things that everyone agrees is work but that feels like non-work - like travelling to remote wilderness areas or flying around the world to conferences.
However one of the most amazing things that work does is allow you to meet awesome people and I have some of the best friendships from my working environment - really excellent people, both similar and not similar but there is something of an opportunity when you are working in a large organisation with a lot of people to identify people you like and strike up friendships. Of course there are also bastards and wankers in these environments but I guess that's an education as well for everyone who has to work with these people. Anyway I thought I would write something back to you that you might find interesting to read as well.
That is an interesting aspect that I did not discuss whatsoever. I am a very lucky person. My biological family is not fucked up, and I am still close with them. In addition I have a second family of friends who I have been together with for over a decade. I have always liked all my co-workers and gotten along well with them at work. I've still never had any relationship with them that extended outside of the office in any way. I probably could develop that relationship if I wanted to, but I don't put any effort into that because I already have my own people. If I was less fortunate, I almost definitely would. Also, the typical co-worker bonding activity is to go to happy hour, and I don't drink alcohol. Not drinking makes forming a relationship with co-workers in particular much more difficult.
Gotta Mention Netrunner at Least Once
Just wanted to drop a line saying thanks for the newsletter. I might as well ask a question since I'm here though :). What do you see as an under appreciated Netrunner cards? I've been going back looking at "crap" cards and seeing if they.have improved since they were printed.
If you want me to pick just one card, I would say Woodcutter. The advanceable ICE that must be rezzed first are indeed bad. Salvage can not be salvaged. But Woodcutter has potential. Parasite completely ruins it, but Parasite is also the ONLY thing that ruins it. If the runner doesn't have a Parasite, and the corp can stay alive long enough to build up a Woodcutter, the runner can be completely locked out of a server. I they do have Parasite, the corp is screwed.
Joy of Sharing
I liked your priorities article. One thing people who dedicate all of their time and attention to work don't take into consideration as well is what to do when they retire. I have seen many people who upon retirement get depressed because they have nothing else they care about. Or they refuse to retire for fear of not having anything to do. There was a episode of Family Guy where Carter Pewterschmidt had that very thing happen. I think it is really important to have something to look forward to when it's time to stop working forever. Without something to drive curiosity I think the human brain has a tendency to atrophy, especially in the later years.
I think for many people the value of diverse hobbies is never considered. Each distinct hobby forces us to learn something new about that specific thing. Sometimes it forces us to be around different groups of people and have a broader range of friends. I love sharing my hobbies with people (my girlfriend likes to remind me I have too many) and teaching them something new. Not many have gone further in the hobby and that is fine. I just love to see people try something new, you never know what will stick. And what that can mean to that person years later.
- Another Matt
I too enjoy sharing my hobbies with others. It seems that in our culture right now, people are getting the most pleasure from sharing above all else. The only reason I've seen Attack the Gas Station
so many times is because sharing it and seeing someone else enjoy it for the first time refreshes the whole experience. There's no reason I would ever watch it on my own.
That being said, there is something to watch out for. I've been witness to, guilty of, and victim of overaggressive sharing. One of the indicators of "that guy" is when they try to share things with those who do not want to be shared with. I could get a lot of pleasure from getting a friend to go biking with me, but are they enjoying it as well? Do I end up making them not want to go biking because I pestered them too much? I keep pestering Rym to play Netrunner even though he doesn't want to. He keeps pestering me even more to go rock climbing or skiing, but there is no way I'm doing that. Be careful who you try to push your hobbies on to, and accept it when someone shows no interest. Even if they don't say no, don't ask more than once or twice. You made the offer. If they want to accept, they will come to you. If you are patient, maybe they will!
Here's a real life example: Emily, you told me you read this newsletter. You still have to watch Predator, especially now that everyone knows you haven't seen it.
Own All The Things!
One of the things that has bothered me since even before the existence of GeekNights are the close ties between geek culture and materialism. Star Wars geek has to have all the original action figures sealed in packs on a shelf never to be played with. Comic book geek has to have mint condition complete run of Amazing Spider-Man he never reads. M:TG geek cares just as much about getting rares as they care about actually playing the game. PC geek has to build the most ridiculously overpowered and water-cooled rig, even though they play no games that require such ludicrous horsepower. Photography geek has to get the most ridiculous DSLR and lenses just to take photos of their pets.
I used to be this way, so I can understand it to some extent. When I was younger, getting presents was pretty much the best thing ever. I just loved getting stuff. It didn't matter what it was, I just wanted more. The pleasure of acquiring things was often more than the pleasure those things actually provided. Every pack of baseball or superhero cards was a thrill to open. And then a minute later it was useless cardboard. That didn't stop me from buying more!
I am still guilty of it, but only a very tiny bit. At least I, perhaps arrogantly, believe I'm a lot less guilty than most people I see around me. It's still enjoyable to unbox something, but it actually feels bad if it's something useless. Being in possession of objects that are useless actually gives me negative feelings. In Hearthstone I disenchant every gold card I can. The non-gold card does the same thing! When I do well at a Netrunner tournament, more often than not I give away the rewards. I threw away all the cases for all my DVDs, even the fancy limited ones, and put the discs in binders. One day I might even rip all those discs to a digital format, and get rid of the binder too. I really want to get rid of the board games and comics I have but will never play or read again. It's just too much effort to do so. I may not admit to greed, but I'll readily admit to laziness.
On top of that, I look down on those who still act materialistically. It's probably mean of me to admonish people for being materialistic, but I'm going to keep doing it anyway. When I go to PAX I scoff at all the people who are in the expo hall fighting for swag. They're taking a perfectly good PAX ticket, that could have gone to a real gamer, and using it to wait in line for crappy free t-shirts. At other conventions there are always attendees trying to get autographs. I see the value of meeting a celebrity, even for just a minute, but having them write their name on a piece of paper is pretty worthless. If it's not worthless, and goes for a high price on eBay, that's just pure greed. Treasure the memory of meeting the person. Don't treasure some ink that squirted from a sharpie.
It's no secret or mystery that geeks are often materialistic, but why? How did it get this way? Obviously getting past the general materialism inherent in our capitalist society, why is it particularly strong in the geek communities? For one, the corporations that cater to geeks actively encourage a materialistic mentality. In order for people to be greedy for limited edition trinkets, some company has to make those trinkets. WotC makes rare M:TG cards. Marvel and DC print limited edition variant covers of comics. Hollywood puts out DVDs and Blu-Rays in fancy limited edition boxes. Valve puts all sorts of collectible nonsense with hats and virtual trading cards on Steam. Nobody could spend all of PAX getting swag if the companies weren't giving it away in the first place. It's a field of dreams. If they build it, the geeks will come. They behave the way the marketing departments tell them they are supposed to behave.
One thing I notice is that materialistic greed is much stronger in the passive geekeries than in the participatory ones. There are board game collectors out there, but they're actually quite rare. Most people into board games are just playing the games. Even the people with ridiculous board game collections are also playing with them. Comics, a passive geekery, has a much higher percentage of geeks collecting. Many of them rarely or never read any of those comics. Those who do read often buy multiple copies, one for reading and one just to have. I'm sure there's at least one nut job out there doing that for board games, but I haven't met them.
When a geekery is passive, the only easy way to go deeper into it is to acquire more goods. Reading more comics requires buying more comics. Even the best comics can only be re-read so many times. Participatory geekeries are advanced by actions. Want to go deeper in baseball? Just play a lot more baseball. At some point buying another baseball bat is the same as buying really expensive firewood.
Participatory hobbies reward geeks for so many more behaviors besides just purchasing objects. Most importantly, they reward people with social interaction. Engaging socially means developing better social skills. Social people have friends. They don't need a huge collection of action figures to replace their friends. They're home less often, so they have less time or desire to enjoy passive entertainment in the first place.
Something else I notice though, among geeks, is that those who are less socially skilled rely more on social currency. They really want to talk to people, but are perhaps to timid, or not timid enough. They'll have to have some physical object they need to use as a way to break the ice. I have personally witnessed people walking around convention hallways proudly presenting cumbersome objects in the hopes that the object will attract a conversation. When someone doesn't believe in themselves, they can still believe in things external to themselves. They can get a sense of self-worth from having a large collection because if the collection is worthwhile, and it's theirs, then they are worthwhile by association. If nobody wants to talk to them, but they have a really cool possession that people do want to talk about, they'll have to talk with them because they own that thing.
As someone who readily admits to being this way at one time, how come I am no longer materialistic? What changed? How did I come so far as to shake my head disapprovingly at my former self and others? I only have two possible explanations.
First, I learned my lesson. I have a lot of M:TG cards that have not been used since middle school. Oh, but that wasn't even enough. The straw that really opened my eyes was Mechwarrior: Dark Age. At the time this came out the clix games were huge, especially the HeroClix. We were also heavily into regular Battletech, how could this possibly be bad? Well, I spent a bunch of my limited money that I had during poor college time on a bunch of figures we played with maybe a handful of times. I still have them. Since then, never again. It's frustrating for me to look at people who have not learned the valuable lesson I have in the same way it's hard to watch people die on the first goomba in Super Mario Bros.
Secondly, I have stuff already. Already having stuff strongly decreases the desire for more stuff. When I had read every comic in my possession I really wanted more. Now that I have so many more comics than I can read, my desire for more is nearly zero (except Saga). If I read them all somehow, would my desire increase? When I was a kid I had only a moderately sized library of video game cartridges. It was not easy to acquire more. Now I have almost every game ever emulated in one form or another, and a huge library of unplayed games. If I was a kid today who couldn't easily buy any geeky t-shirt online, how badly would I want t-shirts at PAX?
Normally at this point one might expect me to forgive those geeks who are so materialistic because I understand what they are feeling. Sorry to disappoint, but I still look down on them. Maybe if those comic collectors would read their comics, they might take a lesson from Shelley via The Watchmen. Our favorite and yours, the famed Ozymandias:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert....Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
For those who need it explained in plain English, the pharaoh built all this grand shit, including a giant sculpture of himself. Then he died just like everyone else. With time, all his great works including the sculpture also crumbled. Yet, in his life he learned that valuable lesson and warned others who thought themselves mighty that they and their works also shared his fate.
Stop for a second and think about people you admire and want to be like. How many of them do you admire because they were such great havers of things? That's what I thought.