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Its been a long, long bitter struggle, the likes of which I would turn into an opera if I was A)Wagner or B)Klingon, but basically at the end of a long struggle, I now have stupidly fast internet (at least for the UK). Here is a brief summary.

Firstly WHY was my internet so bad? because I live here (see below), which looks nice, and it is, its so quiet (ish…crows tractors and even shotguns are a thing…), there is VERY little crime, there is zero traffic, the air is fresh, its a wonderful place to live… (picture taken by me with my drone :D)

…apart from the fact that the internet, phone and power lines are all delivered to our houses like this:

Which is sub optimal. Again, the UK’s technological innovation in its far history has come to hurt us. We had very very early railway lines, so they are still here…and awful. We had very very early telephones…and the same wiring is still here…and awful. When people started getting the early phone lines in the UK nobody thought they would ever become THAT important, so sticking a handful of cables up on poles and running them along roadsides seemed fine…but we now find out that doesn’t scale, especially when trees grow next to the lines, and its windy as hell, and rains a lot..and the copper degrades…and to cut a long story short, most people in a rural location like me get internet speeds worse than my old ADSL speed:

Which is actually…not TOO bad. We could use catch-up TV services like the BBC iplayer, we could surf, play games, even stream (most of the time) on netflix and amazon, but large files (like games and game updates) were torturous to download, and uploading anything larger than 500MB was practically impossible. When I did my weekly blog video updates for Production Line I had to render them at 60FPS 1080p, then compress them with handbrake to 30FPS compressed, and then go mow the lawn or whatever during the 2+ hours it took to upload those compressed files. Video calls on skype were impossible and twitch was not an option. Ideally…we needed faster ADSL or FTTC to fix it.

FTTC stands for ‘Fiber to the cabinet‘ and it means a fiber superfast cable goes to a cabinet in the street, and copper cable goes from the cabinet to the house. Its what 90% of UK customers who ‘have fiber’ are using, and you can get maybe 50Mbps down, 10Mbps up (if you are lucky. Our local telephone exchange was FTTC enabled. OH MY GOD. But… the geniuses who manage this stuff had placed the ‘nearest’ cabinet further from us than from the exchange…so actually upgrading from ADSL to FTTC would have reduced our speeds… Many people in the village gave up and ordered satellite links (horrid latency).

I wont bore you with my epic struggle to get fiber, but the short version is me actually plonking down a massive deposit (final cost would have been five figures) to get what BT called ‘fiber to the premises on demand‘ which is basically their way of saving “You cannot have fiber, butt throw us a huge pile of cash and we will do it anyway’. Lots of debate went on, and local councils claimed to be paying for it at the same time as me (the cheek!) and to cut as long angry story short, I got a full refund, and BT connected us all to fiber anyway… (yay!)

I assume it must be illegal for BT openreach to actually think long term, because rather than dig up our road once and lay decent fiber cable, they spent days trimming some trees (but not all of them…which makes zero sense) and then laid fiber cable in the air between poles…except for a bit about 300ft long down a bit of road between no houses and just open pasture, where they buried it underground for no adequately explored reason. They even threatened to add two NEW poles on my neighbours land until he told them where they could put their poles, which obviously it turns out they didn’t need anyway…

So at last, a BT guy came and connected the final piece of the puzzle, a fiber cable into my house. Interestingly it came bundled with a new copper cable, so he could remove the old cable and reuse the same hole. Awesome.! I now have a BT fiber modem (its big!) attached to the wall, most of which is apparently a battery backup to keep the internet up and running if we get a power-cut (we do…and this is awesome, as my PC is on a UPS anyway :D). We also needed a new fiber-capable router because the old one couldn’t cope with the speed.

We got our fiber at 220MBps down, 20MBps up, and we get close to that:

I went with IDNet who seemed very organised, and its costing me a total of £96/month, including them taking over our old copper phone line for elderly and technologically clueless people who actually want to PHONE me in 2018. *shakes fist*. We have no data cap whatsoever. Obviously its a business expense, so I save a little bit of money on that.

Anyway… FTTP (fiber to the premises) is amazing, and so fast its actually funny. I cant find ANYTHING that I can download actually at 200Mbps, its pretty nuts. Steam updates are lightning fast, uploading files stupidly quick, and even simple tasks like posting screenshots to twitter now happen instantly. Youtube defaults to max quality and loads way beyond my ability to watch anything. Its truly awesome. My only regret is that the 80Mbps/20Mbps upload would have been more than enough, and I didn’t go for it. Anyway…fast internet is awesome. I feel like I’m in the modern age at last. I may even start using twitch!

 

A long time ago I was one of the lucky few who got an early VIVE headset from valve, then eventually got a VIVE pre (basically the release model, sans bluetooth support in lighthouse). I considered developing a VR game quite seriously, and spent a lot of time with the original VIVE headset. We even hosted a village VR party to introduce all our neighbours to its wonders which was interesting and fun, as the average age of my neighbours is HIGH. They all loved it.

In the end I didn’t release a VR game (my 3D skills are weak and I detest unity), but I remain a believer in consumer VR, and got a lot of use out of ‘fitness’ apps like rhythm punching games, and various VR archery and sword-related games. I even smashed my office lighting fixture to smithereens when playing vanishing realms.

I recently shelled out the £799 for the upgraded headset. This is a business expense for me (so knock off 20% tax saving) and also I’m VAT registered and can reclaim, so knock off another 20%.  I got it yesterday, and played with it with a few games and experiences like ‘the blu’ here are my impressions.

The VIVE pro comes in a nice compact box, nothing too ridiculous, which makes a pleasant change. Inside is a box for the headset and a box for the other stuff they updated, which is essentially the ‘breakout box’ and its power adaptor, and the various leads you might need to connect stuff.

The breakout box now has a power status LED and a power on/off button, both of which were obvious fixes from the bare bones original. I find it practical now for me to leave it permanently plugged in, knowing I can actually turn it off with a simple button press. This might seem a minor thing but actually its a BIG deal, my number one problem with the original VIVE setup was the fact that it took such a LONG sequence of actions to set up your VIVE to play a game or get some exercise. The barrier to entry meant I used it way less than I would otherwise.

Of course the final piece of the puzzle is the actual headset, and this is where all the cool stuff has changed, and what you have paid your money for. If you have just seen pictures, you probably think ‘oh its blue and has headphones’ but actually I think its much better than that,

Firstly, YES, it does have headphones integrated now, and this is a huge win. I’ll be honest, I like a decent pair of headphones and these are not decent, they are relatively cheap, with very poor bass response, and not a patch on the headphones I normally use for gaming, or my old bose ones. However, the fact that they are integrated and zero hassle, and mean one less cable, is a HUGE win. The adjustment on them is a bit limited, and I had to fiddle with various positions of straps etc to get them fully and nicely over my ears. More range of adjustment on these would be an improvement worth making.

The biggest change for me is the ergonomics of the headset itself. Firstly somehow there is now ZERO peripheral vision. With the old vive I could sometimes look down past my nose and see the floor, not any more, you are 100% in the dark with the vive lenses your only vision. This is a vast improvement.

Secondly, and I’d argue even better, is that instead of assing around with some unreliable Velcro nonsense at the side of your head, the new VIVE has a sort of ‘screw’ at the back of the head which can neatly and nicely tighten or release the whole headset. It works REALLY well, and my only gripe is that they haven’t taken the same approach on the top adjustment, which remains Velcro.

Thirdly, the higher screen res now has (for me at least) 100% eliminated this ‘screen door’ thing that people mention, which is the fact that you can effectively see rows of pixels which break immersion. Those are just GONE now, and that is going to improve the feeling of ‘being there’ quite dramatically.

Finally, the headset now has a SINGLE cable (I think the original had 3, including headphones), and this is vastly better, plus the headset itself feels lighter. In short, its much more practical, comfortable and feels more like finished consumer hardware and not a prototype any more.

So should you get one? Well for me, its definitely worth it, given that I’m relatively cash-rich/time-poor and hated messing around with cables and buttons and so-on every time I wanted to use my VR headset. I also dont pay the VAT and can expense it, remember. If you have the VIVE already, upgrading to this may seem pretty expensive, and all I can say is that when people bang on about the screen res or headphones, dont disregard the fact that its a huge ergonomic upgrade too. If you love your VIVE but find it a pain to use, this is definitely a big improvement for you. If you want a step-=change in VR immersion, it probably is not. What I would say is that if you dont have ANY VR setup yet, and are trying to decide between the original and the pro, I’d definitely recommend the pro as worth spending more on.

Time will tell if I’m still using it a lot in six months time, but so far I’m impressed and glad I got it.

In case you missed the news, there was an ‘incident’ at youtubes headquarters recently… Here is a summary:

A woman shot and wounded three people at YouTube’s headquarters in Northern California before killing herself, police say.

Police have named the suspect as Nasim Aghdam, 39, and say they are still investigating a motive.

They say there is no evidence yet that she knew the victims, a 36-year-old man said to be in a critical condition, and two women aged 32 and 27.

Aghdam had in the past posted material venting anger at YouTube.

The more interesting part of the story is this:

She appeared often on YouTube and in one of her videos criticised the platform for discriminating against and filtering her posts.

On her personal website she accused YouTube of taking steps to prevent her videos from getting views.

“There is no equal growth opportunity on YouTube or any other video sharing site. Your channel will grow if they want to!” she wrote.

I know there is a ‘mental health’ angle here, and also a ‘gun laws’ thing here, but I’d like to focus on what I think is more interesting, and more widespread and more relevant to what i do, and the people who read this. In summary, this was a woman with an active youtube channel, who was obviously very invested in growing her channel and earning money from it. This was very important to her. This was SO important, that when she felt (rightly or wrongly) that youtube were preventing her getting the views and monetisation she expected, she actually went to kill people.

The scary thing here (apart from the obvious) is the huge disconnect people have between what they think the job of a third party company that they are uploading content to is, and what it actually is.

Youtubes job is to make money for alphabet shareholders. They are a private company, not a government organisation or a utility. When you upload videos to youtube, you are quite clearly stating that you agree with their terms and conditions, terms which that company has the right to change at any point. When you talk about YOUR youtube channel and YOUR subscribers, or YOUR facebook page or YOUR facebook followers etc…. be aware that this is just a fantasy. This is an artificial construct put together by marketing experts because long ago they discovered that implying ownership where it was not true (for example ebay referring to YOUR item, before the auction ends) gives you a greater sense of investment in the ‘product’. The accounts on facebook belong to facebook, not you. They might have a database of connections on THEIR servers which allow you (at their discretion) to communicate with other accounts that they also OWN, but do not in any way kid yourself that you are in control or have ownership of your facebook page, your twitter account, or any other third party social media site you are ‘invested’ in. That goes for twitch too, obviously. Youyr streaming career is a single mouse click(by someone else) away from being obliterated, and you would have ZERO recourse.

I love being indie, and unlike a lot of newer indies, I understand the meaning of the word independence. True independence is way, way trickier than the false sense of independence you are given by social media firms who are basically just using you as social data contribution vectors. Unless you PAY for something, its not yours, and youtube lets you have an account for free…

I’m fairly ‘invested’ in youtube, as I have 60+ Production line blog videos up there, but I am fully aware that I cannot make it a cornerstone of my business. I have 10k twitter followers, but I also value those at close to zero, as ultimately I have no control over them, or my access to them. This blog, is a notable exception. It runs wordpress (which is free) but its hosted on MY server, which I pay monthly rent for. Nobody can discontinue my wordpress account and shut down this blog. So even if twitter, facebook, youtube all turn the screws and close off my access to ‘my followers’ I still have this blog, my forums (remember… ‘your’ steam foruns, belong to valve), and my email mailing list. How independent is *your* community?

Never confuse the illusion of independence and control with real independence and control.

 

Is this the year I got old?

December 03, 2017 | Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m 48 years old. Thats old for an indie game dev. However, its also an age where I find myself looking at the world and going ARGGHHHH. Not just in a ‘things are bad’ sense, which I think a lot of younger people would assume, but in other ways. For the record, ‘things are bad’ is always how people feel who look at the wider world, especially if you are political, or read the economist (or worse still…the ecologist). People often forget about things that have got better, and immediately discount them. Here, for balance is some of the stuff that has ‘got better’ since I was a child…

I live in a hugely less racist society than when I was young. Most of the words used to refer to non white kids at school, I cannot even bring myself to type here as examples. We had a single prominent black TV presenter (Trevor McDonald) and eventually a female black newsreader, and then a single black comedian (Lenny Henry). These were watershed moments. Racist humour was a regular prime-time TV event, thanks to ‘comedians’ like Jim Davidson, Jim Bowen and Bernard Manning. There were racist TV comedies about foreign people learning english, or being (OMG) your neighbour.

I live in a hugely less sexist society than when I was young. TV music shows had sexy dancers dancing to the music, game shows always had silent but pretty female assistants to do menial work for the main host (always a man), workplace inequality was huge, and men doing housework or cooking at home was mocked. Sexist humour was everywhere. The pay gap was way worse. We had typing pools (all women) and all nurses had to be women.

I live in a society which has much more opportunity for entrepreneurship than when I was young. There was no concept that you could start a business and build it up and make money, at least not without help from your rich relatives who would first give you a job in ‘the family business’. When I was young, working class people going to university was extremely rare, and class-snobbishness was rife. Yes its bad now, it was worse then. I’m a working class kid ‘done-good’ living in a relatively wealthy rural community, and nobody gives that a second thought now. They would have done so back then… As a kid, the TV example of a small businessman was considered a joke (del trotter), now we have dragons den, which has actually spun out some very successful businesses. Owning shares and investing is easy now. When I was a kid…nope.

Technologically, life is absolutely incredible compared to my youth. We had a sony walkman (if you were lucky) which you could listen to your poor quality cassettes on, and that was it for personal entertainment.  TV had just 3 channels, and it was not broadcast between around midnight and 9AM. Obviously TVs had small screens and weighed about a ton, plus we had no remote control. My grandfather had a black and white TV right up till his death. We had no washing machine, certainly no dishwasher, and no microwave. Coffee was instant coffee, there was no other option. Obviously there was no internet. We had libraries instead. I can see more amazing tech from my keyboard sat here than I thought even the super-rich would ever enjoy in my lifetime, and its all pretty cheap.

I grew up assuming there would be nuclear war before I reached this age. It was pretty much a given that  the USSR and the US would nuke each other, and that living in London I’d be vaporised along with everyone I knew. This was a popular TV drama at the time, and its terrifying. This wasn’t fear of a short exchange of nukes between US and N Korea, this was an assumption of Armageddon. I had regular nightmares about it.

So things are pretty awesome right? And certainly things have worked out well for me, with my own business, some stuff in my past I’m very proud of (the African school and war child being the most obvious examples), so why am I worried about the world?

CHANGE.

Its common that people accept the findings of studies that show that younger people are more accepting of change, and that people become more conservative as they age. Its another thing entirely to experience it. Frankly if I could press a button that froze the world in 2017 right now, I’d be tempted to hit it, even though I know we have problems and a lot needs fixing. Why? what on earth am I so worried about. Heres the less good-news list :D

Climate Change. This is the big one. Unless we do some pretty drastic stuff, we as a society are fucked. People just glaze over when you look at the evidence, and dont want to hear the reality. Ignore the temperature change and the sea level rise, they never seem *that bad* to us intuitively (whats a few inches of water and a few degrees right?), think through the deeper implications. Much lower crop yields and more extreme weather leading to food shortages and massive food price spikes. Mass emigration (and thus immigration) as land becomes useless for agriculture. Think about all of the cultural, religious and ethnic tension you get when a few tens of millions of desperate people try to walk into their neighbouring countries. I would be amazed if we dont see border disputes with countries gunning down migrants at the border in the next 10 years. Am I’m talking Europe, not Africa.

Inequality. Jeff Bezos is worth 100 billion, and wants to build a space business. Thats great jeff, but how about paying your fucking workers decent salaries and letting them take breaks first before you play around with rockets? The sheer lack of empathy at the top of many silicon valley firms baffles me. Again, in the next ten years I think we will see this spill over into violence. You can only kick the poorest in society so many times before they tear your leg off and beat you with it. The recent tax changes in the US point to this amazingly getting far WORSE not better.

Technological change. Stuff is going to change REAL FAST. In fact it already is. Robots, self-driving cars, AI…we are looking at a sudden massive upswing in technology that wwill change everything, put tens or hundreds of millions of people out of work and nobody is prepared for it. This is scary. I like the benefits of the new tech (amazing electric cars, fast computers, VR), but oh my god its going to transform society like crazy, and our elderly and tech-illiterate politicians are too busy with Brexit to even notice.

Political Partisanship. With the rise of social media and more of our lives spent online, everyone lives in their carefully curated echo chambers and polite debate with people who have different views is now rare. Cross-party co-operation is now zero, leading to stagnation or regular wild swings to left and right which benefit nobody. Politicians are either saints or sinners, depending which team you are on, and this is getting worse and worse. The next elections will be won by the best media teams, the actual candidates and policies are now irrelevant. This is a disaster.

So yeah, I feel conservative, and scared. I try not to be, but holy crap, there is a lot going on in the world right now. I feel I could spend my whole life sat reading the news, biting my nails and getting miserable. Apparently its called middle age. Probably all of the problems IO list above can be fixed if everyone buys Shadowhand on the 7th December on steam :D

 

Long long ago, people used to think about what people needed, and make that thing, and sell them. people needed a table, so a carpenter made a table, and sold the table to the person. Then the person would need another table a few years later, and another table would be made. Then carpenters developed better tools, and the process of making tables, clothes, food and everything else became quicker, easier and cheaper, and we made more stuff.

Soon everyone could have not only a shared table, but their own table, and not only that, they could have multiple sets of clothes, not just for when some were being washed, but separate clothes for separate occasions. You could afford your work clothes, and you had separate leisure clothes. Even special clothes to sleep in, and then came ‘formal’ clothes, the suit for weddings and posh events. Eventually we progressed to a situation where you would have an entire wardrobe of clothes, and you picked them based on what mood you were in, or the season.

Then fashion came along and told you that even though you had enough clothes to wear, and clothes for doing X and for doing Y and clothes for Summer, and clothes for Winter, and clothes for the evening and for the afternoon, and for sports, and even for different sports (golfing trousers…) suddenly all of that was going to change because your clothes were UNFASHIONABLE. That meant you had to ditch all your clothes and buy completely new ones.

And once that worked, clever people who had by now long discovered psychology, started to apply the principles of fashion to other things, including the thing that was for many people the second most expensive purchase of their lives : cars.

Suddenly cars were ‘old fashioned’ and despite happily fulfilling the task you bought them for, you wanted a new one. This spread to almost all consumer products, not least TVs, and personal computers. We ended up buying a new laptop, not when the other one died, or got broken, but when a newer model came out that was slightly thinner, slightly lighter, slightly faster (for a while at least).

Now fast forward to a dystopian future where you don’t have a trained psychologist working in marketing, but EVERYONE is the marketing department studied behavioural economics, psychology and neuroscience. A future where most employees in the PR and marketing department are data scientists. A future where the amount of information collected about customers, and their use patterns, and their desires, and dreams, and fantasies and ideals…was all gathered by private companies who would use it, not so much for the improvement of mankind in any way…but to make a product that those people would always buy.

The endgame, the final desire of such a system is to produce a product that has multiple contradictions. It has to be seen as exclusive and premium, and luxury, and yet at the same time be marketed to everybody. It has to have a premium price, despite having no features that any rival product does not already has. It has to appear cool hip and desirable, and the company that makes it portrayed the same way, regardless of how that company behaves behind closed doors.

It doesn’t have to be any good, have any improvements whatsoever over any other version of EXACTLY the same product. It only has to be *seen to be* better, not actually be a better product. And if at all possible it needs some tiny visual indicator, visible to someone nearby, on the same table, or bar, that the person who has the product most definitely has the very expensive new one. Thats all it needs to do. And in this dystopian future, they can sell a product to you that bad, and they can be that blatant about it, because they have totally and utterly weaponized modern science when it comes to manipulating your psyche so that irrationally, you still want it, and you will still buy it, and you will make that company the wealthiest company on the planet.