Sunday, November 10, 2013

2013 By The Numbers

As we get close to the end of 2013, I feel like taking a look back at a very incredible and crazy year for me and my career. 2012 was almost entirely wrapped up in one single thing: shipping Guild Wars 2, while 2013 was a hodge-podge of various experiences and challenges, and I feel like I've grown more in this past year as a designer than in the three years previous! :-D So here, for your perusal, is my "hit list" for the year.

January - (TOP SECRET) Sorry, I can't talk about what I did for the close of 2012 and beginning of 2013. Suffice it to say that some of the things I was involved with during that time have been or will soon be in development.

February/March/April - Living World: Flame and Frost Retribution. In February I joined the Living World teams to work on Flame and Frost Retribution, specifically as the main designer on the Molten Weapons Facility. I designed most of the main path through the dungeon, scripting all of the encounters and writing scenes and dialogue. The only parts I did not work on in this dungeon were the mid-boss fight against the "computer" and the final fight with the Dynamic Duo. Those two boss fights were implemented by designer extraordinaire Leif Chappelle. I was really happy with how the two of us collaborated to create a story dungeon that IMHO had really great pacing, strong boss mechanics and I also created and implemented the "Sonic Periscope" turret for the release prior to that, but the less said about that, the better. ;-P

May/June/July - Living World: Bazaar of the Four Winds/Cutthroat Politics. After Flame and Frost, our Living World team moved on to tackle the Labyrinthine Cliffs and the Bazaar of the Four Winds. When our team was told that we would be building out a new public map that was based around a bazaar, I just about flipped my shit. As the most experienced city builder on the team, I was chomping at the bit to get back to flexing some of those muscles. But because this was an open world explorable map instead of a hub I also got to add some fun flavorful events around the area. I worked on the marketplace spawns, conversations and events, though for most of the really memorable characters I give all credit to our amazing writers. For Cutthroat Politics, I worked on the Candidate Trials. While I think that there were some interesting ideas that I was experimenting with in this content, I don't think this ended up being as successful as I would have liked it to be. Maybe it's a concept that I'll be able to return to at some point and prove it out more successfully.

August/September/October/November - Living World: Tower of Nightmares/The Nightmares Within. After working on a bright, happy release like the previous BotFW, we took a step into darkness as a team and began to work in earnest on building the Tower of Nightmares. One thing that was an immediate difference in this cycle was being moved up to Principal Designer. At Arenanet, that's a "temporary" role but it equates to being something of a "junior" lead designer for a release. A principal designer is responsible for overseeing the release's design, so I got to write the design document for the release, and then oversee the execution of that design and work closely with the design leads and directors to ensure the release aligns with the core pillars of our design philosophy. This does entail more responsibility for managing design, so I took on less actual implementation work this time around. But I did schedule myself to create the opening "The Nightmare Unveiled" story instance, and also implemented the krait obelisk shard scavenger hunt. For the latter I worked really closely with our writing and narrative design experts to ensure that the lore for this was really well thought out. And for the former, I relished the chance to finally be able to build a solo instance, and I had a ton of fun creating something that was exactly the kind of content I enjoy playing. I'm also working on something else that I won't talk about quite yet as it hasn't been released yet, but I'm really proud of as well.

December - ??? I can't say anything about my next plans yet obviously, but you can be sure it'll be something different based on how the rest of this year has been.

So that's it for 2013. I'm really curious to see what 2014 will bring for me and my career, but I hope it's as interesting as this year has certainly been!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

First Impressions of the Sensori Venture minimalist sandal from Xero Shoes

Last week, Xero Shoes announced that they were branching out beyond their "Do it yourself" huarache kits by introducing a new line of "barefoot" sandals which they named the Sensori Venture. The introductory video posted to their website pegged this new sandal as something that was designed to "sit in the middle" between more expensive varieties of minimalist footwear and cheap flip flops and sandals.

Having given them a few days of road testing, both running in them for 30 minutes and wearing them to work with me, I can honestly say that this is exactly what they promised it would be. :-)

I received them quite quickly (two days shipping) and I opened the package excitedly. I got the charcoal in a men's size 8, which I was a little bit nervous about, because my normal shoe size is between 9 and 10, but according to their sizing guide, these sandals are slightly different from an ordinary shoe's sizes. And they're mostly right. I printed out their sizing chart and according to this, I should be wearing an 8. When I first opened the package, I thought I had made a terrible mistake. The sandal straps looked like they would be WAY too tight. I slipped them on and sure enough there was absolutely no give.

Undaunted though, I decided to mess around with the locking straps a bit, and that's when I realized that there was still about 3/4 of an inch of slack. I adjusted the straps, which admittedly wasn't easy but this was most likely down to the newness of the material more than it was any design flaw. It took maybe 15-20 minutes of noodling, but I finally got the straps to a point where they were comfortable. I will say, this is a case where I am right on the edge in terms of sizing. I might at some point pick up the next size up to see if those feel even better, but as they are, it might not be a bad thing for them to be snug.

That afternoon I took them out to a light run around my neighborhood, and I could tell right away how amazing I'm going to find owning a pair of these. First, a disclaimer. If you know me, and have followed me at all, you probably know I'm a barefoot "purist". Meaning, there's very, very little in this world that bothers me enough to feel a desire to put on shoes. I will tolerate shoes when I need's just that I'm lucky enough that I almost never need them.

But there is one exception to that rule, and for me that rule is cold, wet ground. Standing on wet asphalt isn't awful for short stretches, but where I run into problems is when I have to be on cold, wet ground for a sustained amount of time. There are two main problems with this for me:

1. Skin Erosion - I don't know if other barefooters just deal with this, but it really bothers me. The constant moisture in our area seeps into the skin, and after several minutes of exposure, the skin begins to break down. When it does this, I find that it no longer matter how thick or tough my soles are...I will get blisters, or breaks in the skin, or peeling, or any number of skin-related issues that can quickly sideline me from activity.

2. Stinging->Numbness - One of the most frequent questions that I get from non-barefooters in the winter time is "Don't your feet get cold?" Well yeah, of course they do. When you go outside your hands and feet get cold. So do your ears, and your's a rather silly question honestly. But getting cold feet isn't really a detractor in and of itself. What IS a detractor is that if you spend any amount of time on cold, wet ground like what we experience a lot of during our winters, you do feel the stinging of the cold air/water. But even this is not really a bother by itself. The danger for me really lies in what can happen once you get used to the stinging, and that is numbness. Although your body does have a defense mechanism for dealing with cold extremities (the process is called vasodilation; your body begins to open the blood vessels in the lower legs to shunt additional blood to the digits, turning them pink), it's a cyclical thing, and your body tends to alternate between vasodilation and numbing. It can also be cold enough that vasodilation becomes ineffective, which is when you run the risk of frostbite. For me, whenever I've had any kind of nagging injury from running barefoot, I attribute it to sloppy form, which is almost inevitable when you spend part of your run unable to feel the ground.

Slipping on the Sensori Venture completely removes the above two issues while still giving me enough ground feel to still get the sense that I'm barefoot. I own another pair of the standard Xero shoes huaraches, but I never really grew to love them because they really were a pain to lace up and they felt really floppy on my feet, like they were going to fall off or fold up under my foot, causing me to twist an ankle. But the Sensori Venture is nothing like them. It fits like a glove, without the confining feel of one. I've never had any interest in trying a Five Fingers type of running or sport shoe, but I always appreciated that they wouldn't have those instability problems of the huaraches. But I never once felt the Sensori Venture move apart from my felt like an extension of it.

The Sensori Venture is a really well made sandal, in my estimation, and I do think that they'll be my "go-to" footwear, even for just casual wear. You can even flip the heel strap around and wear them as normal, albeit unusual looking, flip flops. There's only two negatives I have to say, but both are really minor. The first is what I mentioned before about the straps being kind of tight in the beginning. Some of that may get better as I break them in and go for longer and longer runs. The second issue I've had is more of a mind-body error on my part. One of the features of the Sensori Venture is that it has a heel cup. I'm still a little unsure how I feel about this feature. It's supposed to be designed to keep your foot from slipping and sliding on the footbed. Since I've not felt any slipping or sliding, it may very well be doing its job brilliantly. But it also has a heel strap, and that heel strap is covered in a really sift material which is designed not to abrade, but this also makes it so that you don't really feel it at all. And as a result, in my initial testing, it feels to my brain, like the heel strap has clipped down and is now resting UNDER my heel. But it hasn't...I'm simply feeling the heel cup. This is a pretty minor complaint, all things considered, and I may just get used to both of them.

Either way, I'm really excited by this new line from Xero Shoes. I hope it does really well for the company. The world could only benefit from more people trying to live barefoot, or at least the next closest alternative. :-)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Replies to Spam #1 - White Russian

I haven't blogged in forever. It's not from a lack of things I want to talk about, it's a lack of time and enthusiasm really. But I've been wanting to do this for a while, so here I am. I get spawm, like everyone. But I'll be honest, I read some of it. Not because I'm interested in what the spammer is offering, but because I find it highly entertaining. I have always wanted to correct grammatically poor spam ads, and respond to particularly creative uses of the English language. So here, without further ado, is the first in what I hope will be a series called "Replies to Spam". Enjoy!

Good afternoon
My name is Alena. 

Hello Alena! It's technically morning here, but hey, this is the Internet. You're probably in another time zone somewhere.

I think my email for you is surprise. And i hope it is a
nice surprise.

Hmm. Well, so you can't really email surprise. Surprise is a state of mind. I'm guessing English isn't your native language, so I'll forgive the oversight for now. I believe what you mean to say is "I think my email for you will be a surprise". And you would be right, since I don't know anyone named Alena. I do enjoy meeting new people, so yes, I hope it will be a nice surprise as well. Always capitalize "I" when referring to yourself. 

I think you will have a question about " where did i find yours email
address. I used a services of dating agency.

OK, I actually didn't have that question. I safely assume that because I've had this email address for a long time, it appears on a number of lists that I would prefer it NOT appear on. And while I've used dating agencies in the past, that was many years ago, long before I had my current email address. So you having acquired my email through one of those channels is just flat out wrong. Are you lying to me? Already? I'm hurt!

They asked me what kind of men i like, and then they offer me to start a
correspondence with you via email.

This carries the implication that I am the type of man you like, but you fail to detail exactly what that is. For all I know, you may like jocks with three inch thick chest hair and hung like a horse. In which case, your dating agency has some real credibility issues already. What agency did you say this was, again? Oh yeah, you didn't. You're asking a lot from me if you expect me to just trust this unknown dating agency, sight unseen.

This agency {%said|Has designated|Has offered%} me that your email address
they found at dating site.

Ahhh! Now I see, the dating agency is the one who lied about getting my email address...but wait, this is a dating agency who found my email at a dating site? So what does the agency do...troll other sites for email adresses? Also, what sort of dating site is this that gives out its members' email addresses? This is all starting to sound really shady! Also, I didn't understand when you said "{%said|Has designated|Has offered%}. 
It's clear to me that English is not your native tongue, so maybe this is simply "lost in translation".

As i said you before my name is Alena. And i am absolutely lonely girl.

There's that lower case 'i' again. I'm sorry you're feeling lonely. I know how cold and cruel life can be, sometimes. But hang in there, it's going to get better!

I was born and live now in Russia in small town in central part. The name
of my town is .

Ohh, Russia! How interesting. I've never heard of the town of . Are there a lot of people in .? I presume they speak primarily Russian in .

My birthday is on July, 31st. I have no children, but i love kids very

Hey, my son's birthday is at the end of July too! I love him very much. I think kids are great. :-) Hmm, don't say what year you were born...I really hope I'm not breaking any federal laws by talking to you.

Maybe learning more about each other we can have real relations, who knows.

Err, yeah. See, thing is, "having relations" is a euphemism for sex. I hate to rain on your parade, but I'm married. And as stated above, I don't know what age you are so I can't even go there mentally.

I am search for  my true love. I want
to have serious relations.

I hope you do find your true love someday. It's really amazing when you do. Although the "serious relations" does have a tendency to drop off in frequency. Just a friendly piece of advice: telling a perfect stranger you want to have relations with them is probably not a good idea. 

It is a little about myself. I hope it was interesting for you.
I will be waiting your answer very much.

You're right, this email WAS all about you, but it was marginally interesting, hence my reply. You likely won't get it because I'm choosing to respond via my blog, but it was a way to make my day not so boring, so thank you very much for that!

Yours new friend from Russia. Alena..

It's 'your new friend' not 'yours new friend'.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Are you an A-Ninety-Threeist?

Wow, it's been a long time since I blogged.

I was inspired to write this blog because for the past couple of weeks I've been seeing friends and others in my social media circles getting really confused about what the word "atheist" means. There's no shame in being confused about the definitions, as understanding it not only involves some measure of philosophical underpinnings, but also invokes and inflames people's passions because the word atheist carries negative connotations for many.

Put simply, atheism is a rejection of the claims in a deity or deities. That's it. Atheism on its own doesn't assert that there are no gods, it simply rejects existing claims for those gods that have so far been proposed.

The kicker, and the thing that confuses a lot of people, is that there are only two possibilities when it comes to these god claims: acceptance and rejection. Withholding acceptance of a claim is the same as rejection, and so what many people don't get is that taking a neutral position does not allow you to "bow out" of the proposition. If you do anything other than accept a god claim, you are an atheist regarding that god. To give an example: not many people believe in Mithra these days - we are almost all atheists if we are talking about her.

What this means, my friends, is that you might very well be an atheist even though you might not think so...but because that word carries so much baggage, you refuse to consider the idea or adopt that moniker, preferring to label yourself agnostic, undecided or "spiritual". The problem with this approach is that it muddies the waters of rational discourse, because it confuses belief with knowledge, which is sadly not uncommon. Knowledge is a highly refined form of belief, so some errors are bound to crop up when discussing such things, but I find it really important to try and foster understanding in this area, so I'll try to explain my meaning.

You might already be thinking that I'm full of hot air here, so let me simplify what I'm trying to say by using an analogy. First, I must apologize to Matt Dillahunty of the "Atheist Experience" public access show for stealing an example he used on their most recent episode so that I can expand on these ideas with a little thought experiment.

So let's pretend we have a jar in front of us, and inside that jar is an unknown number of gumballs.

Now, without turning it over and emptying the jar, we have no way to know with certainty how many gumballs are in the jar. But we can make any number of guesses, with various criteria, and that guess will be a claim, AKA a belief, about how many gumballs are in the jar. So here is my claim: I believe the number of gumballs in the jar is 93. I've just made a claim about the number of gumballs in the jar. Do you believe this claim? You might use your own judgment and reason to assess my claim, or you might just "go with your gut". But tell me: Are you, like me, a Ninety-Threeist?

Before you get too far down the rabbit hole considering my claim, let's stop and break this down a bit. I'm not asking you if you have a counter-claim about the number of gumballs. I'm simply asking, do you believe my claim that there are ninety-three gumballs in the jar? You only have two possibilities here: Either you believe my claim (you are also an Ninety-Threeist) or you do not (you are an A-Ninety-Threeist). If you wish to maintain the default neutral position about the quantity of gumballs, you are still an A-Ninety-Threeist because you do not (yet) believe my claim. Reserving or withholding your belief is a soft rejection of the proposition, but it is still a rejection.

Now, rejecting my claim that there are ninety-three gumballs in the jar does NOT make any kind of counter-claim about the actual number of gumballs. Being an A-Ninety-Threeist does not make you a Seventy-Eightist. The only thing that makes you a Seventy-Eightist is if you turn around and make your own separate claim, and state your own belief that there are seventy-eight gumballs in the jar. 

So to bring this around back to atheism. At some point in the past, a person looked up to the heavens and considered their position in the universe, and that person said "I believe we were put here by something. Some being that is greater than us, and created us." That person has asserted a claim. His fellows, gathered around the campfire for warmth, are now faced with a simple, binary choice. Either they believe the person who made the claim, or they do not. Some will believe his claim. Those who do not might simply leave it at non-belief, while others might put forward beliefs of their own. If one of those people wasn't sure if they believed yet, they have still chosen NOT to believe...yet. If that person who made the claim was the world's first theist, then everyone around who did not agree with the person's claim would be an atheist. 

Hopefully this has given you a clearer idea that atheism is simply the rejection of the claims made so far about a deity or deities. The simplest and most concise way of communicating the atheist position is this: 

"I do not believe in god(s)".

Yes, it is true that some, maybe many, atheists take it one step further to assert a more powerful phrasing, AKA a belief of their own, such as:

"I believe there are no gods."

The thing is - that position is one that is informed by atheism, but actually goes beyond atheism. Some people in the non-believer communities call it "strong atheism", or "anti-theism", others prefer to leave it unlabeled, as simply a conviction that their lack of belief is so close to the truth as to become knowledge for them. But this belief is not atheism. It exists in addition to atheism, and springs from atheism.

The bottom line TL:DR is: Atheism on its own is not a belief system or a counter claim to theistic propositions. It is a rejection of those propositions, but it can and does give rise to secular belief systems. Because there's no firm name that atheists have agreed upon for this counter-belief, it can indeed be confusing and ends up being associated with atheism, so I hope that this has helped clarify the situation for some of you. 

Next time you're in conversation with others, and someone says "I'm an atheist" what they really mean is "I do not believe in god(s)."  Maybe give some thought to ask that atheist "So, what DO you believe?". You might be surprised to know that with the exception of the whole "god" thing, we're pretty much just like everyone else. Thank you for reading! :-)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

An Open Letter to Reverend Leon Luis

To the honored Reverend Leon Luis:

My name is Matthew Medina. And I'm calling you out. You gave the closing benediction at Monday's presidential inauguration, and in the space of four minutes, called atheists and people of no faith everywhere hateful, arrogant, prejudiced, suspicious, despairing bigots. Let's go to the tape, shall we:

The Reverend tells us how he really feels

For those so inclined, here's the highlights of the points you hit. First, you trot out the standard Christian canard that all atheists are angry and arrogant:
"We pray that you will bless us with your continued presence, because without it, hatred and arrogance will infect our hearts."
Admittedly, upon hearing this, I felt pretty angry. But my anger had nothing to do with a lack of God's presence in my life and everything to do with the fact that you, Reverend, have been given a national platform to spew such ignorance with the implicit blessing of the President, sitting a mere ten feet away with his head silently bowed in assent. Yes, I said ignorance - for how else can I explain the fact that you think nonbelievers must naturally be hateful and arrogant because they don't believe in your deity? How dare you presume to know what's in my heart, or how much I can love? How about you ask my son if he thinks I'm full of hatred, and maybe ask my wife who's been by my side for almost 15 years if she thinks I'm just an arrogant asshole? Hmm?

Oh but it doesn't stop there, does it Reverend? Another gem falls out of your mouth:
"We pray for your blessing today because without it, mistrust, prejudice and rancor will rule our hearts."
Ah, yes - I'm completely and utterly incapable of trusting anyone, and boy you should hear the racist things I say throughout the day. And yes, the bitterness is just oozing from every pore. Ah reverend you know us atheists SO well! We're wretches who don't deserve to know friendship or kinship with anyone; we're so heinous and vile. You've seen through the facade of the atheist lies, to our true nature.

What else is within that sainted pate, my dear Reverend?
"We pray for your blessing because without suspicion, despair, and fear of those different from us will be our rule of life."
I'm sensing a pattern here, my man. Why, it's as if you've held up a mirror to show me my blackened soul, my life devoid of any goodness or light, and isolated by my depravity. What shall us atheists do in your view? Suicide seems a noble solution for those sins of ours! Pray, good sir, do you have another gem of wisdom to share about the lack of divine oversight in the lives of nonbelievers?
"We pray for your blessing, because without it, we will see only what the eye can see."
Uhh, OK. You've confused me on this one. Given that the eye can see many wonderful and glorious things, like sunsets and waterfalls and rainbows and grumpy cat, I'm not really seeing the downside of your argument here. Ah, but of course, you mean to suggest that you, as sacred servants of your god, can see BEYOND what the eye can see. Well, it's true, I myself cannot see beyond what my own eyes can see. Of course, that can change with the aid of a little tool I like to See, there's this thing called Infrared. Or Ultraviolet. Or X-Rays. Hell, there's an entire spectrum of electromagnetic energy we can see beyond what our eyes can perceive. Take your pick. We happened to evolve on a planet with a sun with a particular wavelength of light, so our ancestors only evolved enough of an eye to see what was needed to survive long enough to procreate. That includes you, by the way. Long story short, you, dear Reverend, still see with the same eyes as everyone else.
Anything else to share with us awful human beings (aka atheists)?
"We pray for your blessing because without it, we will only see scarcity in the midst of abundance."
The fuck are you talking about?! Seriously brother, it wasn't bad enough to insult our character, now you're going after our eyesight again? Oooh, I's a metaphor! You mean that we petty atheists are only capable of seeing the shallow surface of things, and how we can't possibly understand the subtle beauty of a child's smile, or the majesty of an inspired piece of art. How sad that without god to show me truth, I can only ever know the color of the forest before me, and not the grand history of the trees arrayed like silent sentinels, and I can never experience the enriching pleasure of the cool earth beneath my bare soles. If only...

Oh but wait, I skipped over something. Let's go back to this nugget of joy, shall we Reverend?
"But with the blessing of your presence, We know that we can renew the ties of mutual regard which can best form our civic life."
Humph. OK, let's set all the joking aside. I've been deliberately playing the "bitter, angry" atheist you seem to think we all are. In truth, all the comments above are pretty typical of what we hear again and again, and they've long since ceased to get under my skin.

So, up until now, I've been playing with your words a little, Reverend. Look, I know you didn't mean to belittle us atheists and our lack of a godly presence in our lives (but let's make no mistake, that's exactly what you did). I'd have even been willing to give you a pass on your other comments and call it ignorance, as it's very possible you don't actually know any atheists, other than the ones you might see on TV, who may admittedly come across looking angry, arrogant, and bitter (but as you can hopefully see from my words here, sometimes we have reason to be). But this implication - that only through the presence of a god can we best achieve a civic life? This...this is bullshit. Atheists, agnostics and the religiously unaffiliated make up a significant chunk of the American population. How dare you suggest that we are somehow inferior at participating in a civic fashion? This attitude is provincial, and backwards, and why most Americans say they wouldn't vote for an atheist for public office.

My dear Reverend, it's a good thing for you that I don't have hatred in my heart - I forgive you your ignorance of what atheists are really like.

And Mister President, lest anyone think I'm picking on the Reverend here, I must also say that I'm ashamed that you would sit there with head bowed, hearing these divisive and petty words, and remain silent. You're lucky you don't have to run for re-election, sir.