The trouble with normal

This is something I wrote in Feburary 2013. I’d like to share it.

Normal seems easy, common, correct, non-threatening. It can feel like “why would anyone want anything else?” Problem is it leaves no room for experimentation, no space to grow and change, no leeway to explore. Because no two people are quite the same. Bundling the, for most unimaginable, range of relationships and sexual expression into a prepackaged ‘this is what people want’. There are so many decisions overriden by this. Infinite possibilities left unexplored. There is very little room for personal choice when a ‘normal’ holds such sway.

We live in a society scared of itself. Seemingly unable to accept difference, disability, experimentation, varied life paths. Respect, compassion and understanding are deemed radical, as if we are not all part of the same world, as if we do not share resources, as if we do not have our common and individual triumphs and failures.

We would trust in our opinions of experiences and ideas that we have little knowledge of, rather than go out and observe and participate. Assume the worst of people we do not understand, expending no time to gain that understanding.

I believe we all must have the right, and ability, to make our own decisions based on experience. Real experience, real options. Not prepackaged, not filtered, but the full spectrum, without interference. Similar to the idea of freedom of speech, the responses to expressions are the way to show agreement or not, rather than pre-screening and restricting the possibilities.

Respect, not loathing. Compassion, not suspicion. Understanding, not fear.

The Avid Reader Reader

I visited Avid Reader in Brisbane’s West End for National Bookshop Day on Saturday 8 August. In addition to some peaceful colouring in while eating cupcakes, I was lucky enough to loan one of only 40 ‘The Avid Reader Reader’ books handmade for the day by the staff. The books are rather special ‘concertina’ or ‘accordion’ style books - each page is joined to the two neighbours, rather than to the spine.

The contents of the books were also written by Avid Reader writers, with stories and illustrations. I’m currently reading it. My favourite sentence so far is from Jon and Monica by Sally Olds

“He gets excited and overreaches, and Monica gently collects his identity and hands it back, like a friendly neighbour returning a rowdy dog.”

I’m keen to keep reading and finding more gems in this rather special handmade book.

Humans (TV Show, 2015)

I’ve been watching more of the free content on ABC iView and SBS OnDemand. There are some really good TV series available sometimes, and feels like there’s more and more being brought in quickly from the UK, US, and various other countries. There’s also some decent Australian content appearing as well.

I just watched the first episode of Humans. It’s from the UK, and is another take on androids, or ‘synths’ - robots made to look like people, created mainly to do menial tasks. The first episode mentions ‘Asimov laws’ - the operating rules for a robot. It also discusses the singularity, the point at which AI is able to self-improve and replicate without human support. The plot of the first episode follows an everyday family that buys a synth. However, this synth is one of very few who has feelings, thoughts, and something approaching consciousness. I liked this take on an alternate modern reality. The only difference is the synths. There are the same cars, jobs, and problems.

I liked the extras available as well. I’m always interested to get some background into the people behind a movie or TV show, from actors and writers.

Circular reasoning hiding the benefits of fast Internet access

I have seen the same argument many times now. It is circular reasoning, in some cases begging the question (in the original meaning of begging the question - where the question assumes a particular conclusion).

people don’t need internet that fast, because they don’t use it for things that need it to be that fast

This overlooks the obvious fact that we can’t use speeds we don’t have, and services that require faster speeds won’t be built or be available in Australia if faster speeds aren’t available. Arguably, Australia has the greatest need for innovation that makes use of high-speed and reliable connections with plenty of upload capability due to the sparseness of population over the country. The easier it is for anyone, where ever they are, to access services electronically (particularly health services), the easier it becomes to live in regional or rural areas, and less traveling is required.

As to the potential for faster speeds to contribute to the economy, bolster Australia’s competitiveness, and save money there are plenty of possibilities. Many have undergone trials and tests, and are simply waiting for the speeds necessary to be put into use. Nick Ross at ABC Technology + Games has summarised this quite well. The list of application at Whirlpool are separated by speed tier.

In some ways, fibre broadband is similar to public transport. It has a substantial chicken-and-egg problem. Without the faster speeds or regular transport services, the service is not used. As it is not used, governments of some persuasions see this as an indicator of overallocation of resources, and reduce the funds spent. This might make sense if fast internet and public transport responded to supply and demand in the traditional ways, but they do not. There needs to be a threshold level of investment before use will take off, as well as support from many areas of the community and government. Simply throwing money at the issue, then proclaiming a few years later that the service is not wanted, is disingenuous. People and data travel to many different areas, and providing services to only a few areas, or a few good services among many bad services, will not encourage use.

Oh, and in case you think this is a minor issue: read the article by Nick Ross and the Whirlpool wiki page. Think about the potential applications - health benefits, economic benefits, environmental benefits. There was also the (now closed) petition to the Coalition to reconsider FTTH in September 2013. It gained 272,033 supporters, many of whom also described their personal and business use cases for faster and more reliable internet access. That is just over one out of every 100 people in Australia (for 2014 estimated population of 23.5 million).

Game Review: SteamWorld Dig

SteamWorld Dig is a platform mining adventure game by Image & Form, released in the second half of 2013. It is available on quite a few platforms, including Nintendo 3DS, PC/Mac/Linux (via Steam), Playstation 4, and Nintendo Wii U. It is apparently a Metroid-influenced game, but I haven’t played Metroid. It is also quite like Terraria due to the mining down and collecting precious stones. In SteamWorld Dig there is considerably less emphasis on open-world exploring and extreme numbers of items to collect, and more of an obvious storyline.

I found the game good fun. Unlike the beginning of Terraria, it was obvious what to do, and I was clear on my next goal. Roll into town with population 3, talk with the NPCs, then down the mine and start hacking away. The NPCs have exaggerated personalities, which is to be expected I suppose, and are rather obvious and traditional in their roles. It would have been nice to mix things up a bit. As I dig further down, I found quickly that it pays to go horizontally more than vertically, and any vertical movement needs to be carefully planned. Even with the higher jump and other power-ups collected later on, it can still be very difficult to go back up without a little forethought. Rusty can only dig one space up, and cannot dig while jumping.

I was pleased that the pause screen displayed the current keys to use - this made it easy to quickly check how to change objects to place, rather than accidentally placing an object. The inventory is straightforward and provides all the information required while playing. It is possible to further inspect the inventory and reject items, but I haven’t needed to do that. The movement and hit zones for Rusty are reasonable. I was frustrated occasionally by digging the wrong space, just because I was slightly off centre over the top of rocks. The map is very useful in seeing where I’d been, and what’s coming up. Displaying the number of strikes required to mine the default rocks as separate levels was very helpful. I would have liked a way to see the current goal again - new goals pop up in a red banner once the previous goal is achieved, but I haven’t found a way to see the goal again.

Overall a pleasant game, simpler and more straightforward than Terraria, but with reasonable progression and some small choices to be made between available upgrades. I would recommend this game as a casual game, as a small amount of time invested can give a good return. For more complex or open-ended exploration and building, Terraria is the way to go. SteamWorld Dig is a fun way to pass some time.