Ottawa Game Conference

I attended the first annual Ottawa Game Conference today, and had a blast. The Ottawa game development community is way bigger than anyone expected – the speakers and attendees kept expressing how shocked they were about the attendance and the diversity of the local gaming industry.

The speakers were great.  I particularly liked Jason Della Rocca‘s talk about Darwinian ecosystems and Gabe Zichermann’s talk about gamification felt very polished. (I have to admit that I still hate typing that word.) There were two tracks with 13 hours of lectures, so I ended up having to pick and choose now and then to attend them all.

Probably the most impressive part of the whole event was the student App Jam, where local high school students were showing off their games built in class. Amazing. A bunch of them were building android apps and publishing their work to Playbooks – I was blown away by how much they already knew (we learned QBasic on 8086 machines in high school). One of the prizes was that they get to come work for us for a summer term, so I’m looking forward to mentoring a young genius!

Sketchbook – Parliament Hill

I showed up a bit early to pick up Natasha after work, so while I waited in the car I pulled out my long-neglected sketchbook and doodled out the awesome view from the back of the confederation building. This is Parliament Hill’s Peace Tower, looking from just behind and below the West Block. (Can you guess what time I drew this?)

For a 15 minute sketch (with a bit of cleanup afterwards) it’s not bad. The perspective is wonky all over it and my straight lines are messed up … BUT I HAVE NO REGRETS!

Jaron Lanier’s “You Are Not A Gadget”

VR Researcher (and a major nerd hero in my teen years) Jaron Lanier was here at the last Ottawa Writer’s Festival promoting his book “You Are Not a Gadget”.  I missed his lecture, but caught bits and pieces of similar talks he presented over Youtube, which seemed shockingly anti-tech given his body of research to date. (He hilariously rips the head off an Aibo accidentally in a video, then castigates people for feeling sorry for it) With some trepidation, I eventually picked up his book and read it myself.

In summary – Jaron spends the book pointing out how technology sometimes exhibits unanticipated negative pressure on society. A solid example he uses is the Facebook relationship status – with only five options to choose from, it forces people to pigeonhole themselves into categories arbitrarily concocted by a developer somewhere, rather than allowing people to express their relationship (from the full range of human relationships) in the terms they prefer. There’s a subtle backchannel message going on that says “Here are the categories that society has deemed normal and acceptable, and if you can’t pick one you don’t belong.” The same goes for gender (which seems to be a contentious issue lately), sexuality, political stripes, etc, etc. Humans are very rarely easily categorized into neat boxes.

He’s definitely on to something, and the book is chock-a-block full of powerful and interesting observations about technology’s impact on creativity, freedom, economics, that really opened my eyes to the subtle effects of interfaces that even I, as a UI designer, take for granted. However! While I see where he’s coming from on a number of issues, the conclusions he draws are rarely compelling. I had a really hard time reading this book, because whatever starts off as a neat humanist observation ends up degenerating into a 10-paragraph disorganized rant around the point, sometimes further devolving into a wordy tirade about the singularity. At times I felt I was swimming around in an ocean of argument without any really solid conclusions.

Maybe he’s not the greatest writer in the world – I think a lot of the problems I had with the book could have been fixed by a good editor forcing him to consolidate his arguments. (And to stop name-dropping mercilessly!) He’s a very bright man – I think he raises a lot of really interesting issues in his book, but it’s a bit of effort to get at some of them.

Planes Out of Time

Sunday afternoon I heard a loud droning noise from above and looked up over downtown Ottawa just in time to catch a fleet of biplanes and WW2 Canadian warplanes flying in formation. I wasn’t aware of any military celebrations, but Greg suggested it could be the Vintage Wings of Canada out on a practice flight before they do a flyover for Canada Day in two weeks.

(a shot of the Vintage Wings of Canada by Peter Handley)

What a cool, unexpected sight! And how much fun must they be having tooling around over downtown doing formations? Beautiful planes!

Update: Mystery Solved – it was definitely Vintage Wings, and they were doing an “airborne parade” for the Tulip Festival. 🙂 So much going on now that the festival season is in full swing!

White Grubs (Junebug Larvae)

While I’m on the subject of grumpy news… we’re finding the Junebug grubs especially frustrating this year – our neighbourhood seems to have a scourge of them devouring our lawns in wide patches.

Natasha and I are wary about using insecticide – but we tried to dig up some of the grubs along the munching wavefront with a spade. It seems futile – there’s just too many of them, and not enough birds to come help us out with the ones we’ve missed. I’m willing to entertain suggestions. We’re losing about 6 inches of lawn every day, and while I’m at work the grubs are chewing away with impunity. (They’ve helpfully left the weeds behind.)

I looked up some entomological texts to read about Junebugs (aka Maybugs, May Beetles) but altruistic biologists seem only interested in identifying them (by the shape of their penis, strangely), and not destroying them angrily in large numbers. 😉 I think our troubles are short-lived – I’ve seen the mature beetles buzzing around our windows in the evening, so I suspect the grubs are all very close to coming out of the ground and “buzzing off”. (After, probably, exfoliating all the trees and shrubs in a hundred mile radius.)

The grass we planted in their wake is growing fast – we’ll probably have a lawn again by the end of summer. (So they can eat it again next spring?)

Update: Lots of resources!

The summary of all of them is that there’s not much you can do beyond growing a more resistant lawn with longer roots. There’s a nematode treatment you can use to kill them, but it sounds rarely effective.

Angry Day

I’m in a bad mood already and everything is pushing my buttons today! I went on Amazon to order a used book. Check out the pricing details.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? $60.10 to ship a $6 book to Canada?

I’ll bet the affiliate store is shifting all the costs to the item’s shipping to game the product rankings – this was one of the cheapest copies on the list with the most outrageous shipping price. Are they sending it in a first-class plane seat? Did they train a homing pigeon to bring it to me? Does it come in a rare collector’s edition gold box full of chocolate packing peanuts?

Forget it, you swindlers! Try to rip me off? YOU GET NOTHING! YOU LOSE!