Friday, March 7, 2014

Audacious Idea Part 2

Audacious Idea #2:

      Dismantle the banking system.

 The entire financial system exists on the idea of banks providing capital for investment, and in return, charging interest rates for profit.  It seems reasonable that they would do so, but when you combine interest rates with controlled inflation, it's easy to recognize that no country can ever really escape the debt trap.  Canada racks up about 1000 dollars of debt every second in interest - money that is in no way representative of tangible products or even more intangible services or information.  Inflation by its very nature violates the laws of information - not dissimilar to those of thermodynamics - that information can never be created nor destroyed, only changed.

     My audacious idea is mass-crowdsourcing and the elimination of debt and inflation.  The concept of crowdsourcing is the principle of what a bank is supposed to do (collecting money from a bunch of people and lending it to those that need it) - but of course, that principle falls short when banks are allowed to collude with others in the industry, in the form of huge banking cartels (the Federal Reserve), and insurmountable piles of debt.

Under the mass-crowdfunding platform, there are no interest rates, but instead mass shareholding.  Let's say for example, in the city I'm from, London, Ontario - we wanted to build a state of the art vertical farm.  First you'd need a massive loan to pay for the land, the consultation and engineering contracts, the city inspectors, and so on.  It would cost millions.  But if everyone in the city gave 5 dollars, and we used the pool of academics from the local University for design and consult; it could be done without a massive loan, and pointless interest rates which give nothing back.

In exchange for the small contribution, access to the facility could be made.  People could get food proportionate to their contribution - and not only that - people should be able to work for this institution if they want - in exchange for food.

This is a simplified example of how mass crowdfunding not only provides the capital required for creating new ventures, but also fosters a sense of community lost in the digital duality we currently live in.

The financial hegemony begets old-boy hierarchies, and revolving doors - it's not hard to see that, with five generations of Goldman Sachs Secretaries of Treasury - or the insanely inefficient building inspection in my own city (a small renovation can cost an average homeowner thousands of dollars).

There's no doubt in my mind, in addition, that Academics will volunteer their expertise, or at the very least, we could host competitions with prize pools for design ($5000 dollars to the engineering graduate program for the design - where a single engineering firm might cost several factors more).

This has been audacious idea part 2

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Why Free to Play is Always Better

      Many games these days- especially massively multiplayer games - tend to come with a monthly cost.  I remember the first time I encountered this - it was a Final Fantasy MMO that I installed, discovered that it had a subscription fee, then uninstalled and got a refund for.  I will quickly explain why Free to Play, or rather, free online play with an initial cost is the best strategy for gaming companies to make money long-term, while also cultivating a reputation for the creation of art - which is the ultimate goal of video game production.

      Firstly, this article comes having halfway downloaded the Elder Scrolls Online, for which I received a beta key a few days ago.  When I learned there would be a monthly subscription, I immediately decided not to buy the game, despite being a longtime fan of the series.  Below I will explain why:

1) Taking my money implies you have given me something of equal value to that money.

 My personal use of a game's servers does not cost that company 15 dollars a month, or even 2 dollars a month.  This a disproportionate relationship of cost and value.  World of Warcraft set the stage for MMO, and it did many things right - but profit maximization was not one of them. You shouldn't arbitrarily charge as much as possible just because you can - that is a model for business in the previous century.  Stock prices go with consumer good-faith.  More on this later.

2) Subsciption fees turn games into chores and obligations.

 For example, if I have exams or work, or a very busy month, or if I simply dont feel like playing that game, I have wasted my money for that month.  It's not as if I can take 15 dollars worth of time from September and transfer it to December, when I have more time off.  In this way, subscrip fees fundamentally alter the nature of gameplay - and the relationship that the gamer has with it.  Like most things, money corrupts.

 If you need to widen your profit margins to make these games viable, include cosmetic microtransactions, or increase the base cost of the game.  Hell, I'd pay double the normal price (120 instead of 60) knowing that I wouldn't have to deal with bullshit recurring subscription fees bleeding my bank account.

3) Consumer good-faith and the art of gaming.

The Elder Scrolls Online is a great example for this concept, because it is now making a transition into the MMO sphere.  This has been a series of in-depth story and character design, combined with stunning visual effects and music.  It is a series that embodies what good games should be.  So the transition to massively multiplayer is particularly dangerous.  Subscription fees always make me feel like I'm being used, it causes a separation from the immersion that makes games so great.  I don't want to worry if I've gotten my money's worth - I want to worry if I'm going to be able to take on that bad ass dragon with my new bow.

Using WoW as the antithetical, let's think for a moment about the fundamenal nature of the game.  Subsciption fees imply the game can never end. Here's a hint: IT DOESN'T.  They just release slightly more powerful weapons and armour every few months. Oooooh, +15636 stamina instead of 15424, this game is still fuuuuuuuuuuuuunnn (dozes off).  There should be a finality to the game - there's nothing wrong with that - instead of making the game NEVERENDING, make it have HIGH REPLAY VALUE instead.  Character customization, crafting, racial elements.. etc. etc.

  A half dozen expansions and 6 years of gameplay, and you've spent thousands on a game that should have cost you at most a couple hundred bucks.  It's like having a novel that you pay 10 bucks for, plus 10 cents every day.  If you didn't read on Tuesday, well, too bad, we had to uhhh- keep the pages lubed for you while you were gone.. WTF?

In WoW, they focus on creating addiction by well-placed dopamine rewards, instead of meaningful advancement of character, and it's the whore-mark of the franchise. I.e. "Kill 15 slobbering noobs and collect their mountain dew cans" and you get 10 xp. Kill me now.

Good-faith consumerism: Knowing that a company creates quality products for the sake of creating quality products, and not for the sake of maximizing profit.

This is why I WILL NOT buy a subscrip game, unless they are giving me a shitpile of value for it. If they put out an expansion every month, sure! But nothing is worse than a game that charges you monthly fees, then creates "expansions" that you apparently weren't loyal enough to receive.  How much money do you have to spend? 100? 500?  They don't care. And that's the point, we want gaming companies comprised of gamers, not vampyric suits.

Gaming companies with integrity will stand the test of time.  Path of Exile is an excellent example.  The gameplay is rich, the environment is dark, and the story is interesting (while not being shoved down your throat with clumsy cut-scenes). The microtransactions are cool, but not pay-to-win. 

So please, everyone, do the right thing and boycott sub games with no value, and let gaming companies know we expect quality, and we're not a bunch of cows to be milked.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Blizzard is the Shittiest Video Game Producer on Earth

So I haven't played a Blizzard game for two years, because all my accounts, and the accounts of my brother, were hacked and the passwords were changed, two days after he was killed.  When I called Blizzard today to try to get help (I had to fake a ticket on another subject because they apparently get flooded with calls on this topic) they told me I had to provide legal documentation of his death in order to have the games transferred to my main account.

So let me summarize:

Their lapse in security allowed 300 dollars worth of games to be hacked and stolen.  Furthermore, when I tried to rectify this, they dismissed me outright. No, that's not entirely true - they DID NOT REPLY to a message requesting help in 2012 - and since that time REMOVED all support systems for account issues, because they are so inconvenient for this multi-billion dollar gaming giant.

  So someone out there is currently playing my games, using accounts with cd-keys sitting in my desk drawer, beside the receipts from Best Buy where I bought them; secure in the knowledge that Blizzard's security measures will prevent me from ever reclaiming them (unless I hack those accounts in turn).  Why?

Because you need more than an e-mail to recover an account - you need a myriad of specific information, information which is subject to change once someone gains access to that account - say - for example, a hacker intent on botting and conducting illegal activity.

In the time I played World of Warcraft and Diablo 3, our accounts were hacked 5 times. That's right, 5 times.  Once, when we reclaimed a WoW account, the characters were filled with gold and items that person was trading on the market.  Additionally, the hacker had used a bot to collect hundreds of stacks of materials. In that case, it was kind of nice - free shit right? It's not so nice finding your deceased brother's character stripped of all gear and gold - items accumulated in some of the final hours of his life - obviously more meaningful than the items themselves, but the principle of it.

I find it ironic that their labyrinthine security measures prevent legitimate users from reclaiming their accounts, while empowering hackers' ability to hijack consumers' purchased products.  Not only that, those accounts have credit card information on them which is now in the hands of an anonymous bro.

Great job, Blizzard!  The only thing shittier than Diablo 3, is the security system protecting it.

I lament your shitty games, but I lament your meat-grinder support system even more. I look forward to the day when Blizzard's lazy game production, lack of customer service, and apathy, become their downfall on the market.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In Dreams

In the twilight of awakening,
I surrender to places beyond this hollow flesh.
I tremble in the wake of missing you,
desperately shutting my eyes,  
for a pale resurrection 
in a miasma of mind.

Only in the depths of dark I see you,
as though you waited for me all along.
And for a bare moment I forget you’re gone.

I forget the hatred, the anger,
a suffering so deep it defies belief;
replaced with play and feeling safe -
the chase, a ball, a game,
your face, 
it fades..

I blame myself.
I blame myself.
I blame myself.
It’s all my fault.

Have you gone to Peter at the gate?
Do you swirl still inside us, when the hour grows late? 
I'll take you as such. 
But do you count my broken promises? 
(I said too much)

I’m sorry.
I’m sorry.
I’m sorry.
I hate me.

My apology --
forever inclined to heaven,
though you’re interred in earth. 
In life our golden globules gleamed,
an aspiratory dream
that in the years of your absence
loses all meaning
and haunts me. 

So selfish, I beg for salvation,
though I couldn’t do the same for you.
A final false adieu
I cannot attend to.

I watch the doors,
portals where you came and went
as if you might stroll through,
trolling me was so like you -
and I wish it weren't true..

Is this real?
Is this real?
Is this real?
The illusion has appeal.

So I shut my eyes and dream –
I prefer this sweet sleep,
where you are with me.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Light's Judgement

I look best when naked,
that nudity of my spirit’s shattered walls,
absolution in a free word,
idle manifestation by a gesture,
a whole empty staring silence.

I speak best when lost for words,
that purity, that adiabatic pursuit;
some pale dream in a drawer,
sleeping with tidy halls and no remorse.

For whom do we make our masterstroke?
That perfect stream to one, and none to all,
yet we’re unified by the reflections of
impossible solitude, infinite yearning.
We find solace among each other,
even knowing we will all die.
Stars died for us, so long ago,
but what did they live for though?

A speedy photon from the boundaries of the Universe may come.

The steely spectrometer, a cool calculation,
and cut chromatic chaos into calculable data;
but the iris of the orb watches the watcher,
so we categorize, cut, reduce and measure.
But how does it measure us?

I do not want the secrets of the photon,
It’s measured best by skin,
by the somber green reflections of trees,
by twilight and by dawn again.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Still the Laws, in spite of enlightenment - in spite of well-laid plans - they existed.  Soon the whole destruction visited upon them was some misunderstood destiny,  some pale dream.  

Introductory paragraph to Horizon's Edge, the first of three novels in a series. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

My Victim Impact Statement

Apparently I'm not supposed to publish details about the court case involving the murderer who took my brother's life. But I doubt anyone is looking at my blog, except for a few Russian people apparently.. nostrovia!  This is my pre-tragic levity.  Below is my 'victim impact statement' to be read before the judge in January. I figured if I have the balls to read it in court I should be able to publish it without fear. Maybe I'll remove it later.

Victim Impact Statement
Ben Switzer

                Josh and I were always together.  We shared bunk beds, fought over a single computer, and even shared clothing, up until the night he was killed.  We explored the forest and built shelters for others to find. We climbed trees, ran through the fields and biked until our legs burned through. Every memory I have from childhood has the peripheral sense of Josh embedded there. The sea breeze on a ferry, all of us lined up against the cool railing, and Josh on my left, always beside me.   I knew he looked up to me, and I tried to be a good brother.. but I still wonder that I failed him.   I will never know to what extent.

He provided for me an anchor, a safe harbor from despair.  Knowing that every night before bed I’d pass by his door, and no matter how bad it got for me, my family would be there, Josh would be there.

It’s hard to overstate the impact Josh’s death has had on my life.  I have often contemplated suicide since he was killed.  When I think about how he was brutalized so carelessly and then discarded like a piece of trash, it sickens me.   It fills my nights with disgusting nightmares, and there’s no solace from this grief.  The suffering will never end.  
A few months before Josh was brutally killed, I confessed to him I was struggling and had thoughts of taking my own life.  At this point a tick-borne disease had systematically taken almost everything I loved.  Josh simply put his hand on my shoulder and said “don’t give up man.”   He always had the simplest advice, but it was always honest and true.   Because Josh was honest and true, he was a good man.   A better man than I’ll ever be.

Josh was a team leader in a game called Counter Strike, and his role was the “Strat Caller,” which is like a tactician and a field commander. He was good at interpreting his opponent’s strategy.  We could often hear him late at night shouting orders. It was infuriating, but we knew it was important to him, so we didn’t complain.

After he was killed, we disassembled his room with shaking hands. His computer monitor held a sticky note on its frame..The note read:

“Focus on the crosshairs,
Don’t change what works,
Don’t give up.”

We try to measure the severity of a crime by intent, deed, and “mitigating impact.” So we can inflict a proportionate punishment.  But in reality, Josh’s death will be a mere inconvenience to Mr. Norton. My life is ruined.  But it doesn’t matter, my dreams are just trash.  Discarded. 

It isn’t possible to quantify the future of what could have been. Josh wanted a family. He spoke eagerly of his future, and I looked to the days where his children would call me “uncle Ben,” and I could teach them a proper jump-shot. I saw visions as they rode horses alongside their aunt Brianna; and all their laughter, and joy - their dreams and maybe one day own their families - trash.

What is the worth of a dream? Josh and I were business partners, and we were building something that was better than ourselves. It was meant to be profitable, ethical, fundamentally democratizing, and we hoped to make medicine more affordable for everyone. We worked thousands of hours to understand the machinery of this complete dream.  Years of preparing and studying, planning and researching; tens of thousands of dollars in tuition.. Trash.  Easily discarded.

 When I try to think about the “impact” of Josh’s death, the task becomes so astoundingly tragic, so astronomical in scope, I break down every time.   Walt Whitman once said “I do not give lectures, or a little charity. When I give, I give myself.”   Josh was a gift the world was denied; in a grotesque, morally bankrupt act of violence.  The impact will forever linger, churning away and growing, a void where something beautiful should have been. 

I have decided to say this or something like it (lawyers might edit it  :S).  All I've said above is true.  I have recovered from the disease and am enjoying happiness most of the time now.  So I've come a long way, I guess that's why I can write the above without restraint.