The 4th Floor's Podcast

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Time and Perception

It's been a long time since my first trip to a psych ward.  Nearly nine years ago, I went off the deep end. I spent nearly three hours in the house I was staying at trying to set all the clocks to the exact same time.  I went from clock to clock trying to change the time.  Each time was met with utter failure as the clock in the previous room still had a different time.  I recruited my ex girlfriend to help alleviate some of these problems, yet nothing could fix the feeling of panic as I was faced with a concept that wasn't constant.

I have a problem with things that aren't set in stone, as I find myself constantly battling with friends and family over start times and dates for events.  The problem is to me that time is short.  We only have a set amount of time to live the life that we are given, and in that time I want to experience as much as I can while there's time.  I wouldn't suggest that people get as OCD as I do about time.  I went to my therapist's office once, and literally told them that they needed to fix the clock on their wall because it was wrong.  Another week went by , and once again the time was wrong.  The looks that were aimed in my direction as I changed the clock to the time on my phone were quite comical, but it was something that must be done.

This isn't the focus of this blog, the focus of this blog is time.  Time is a mysterious force, while there is such a thing as a universal clock, time really is one of the most subjective and personal experiences we face everyday.  We've all been asked an ETA at some point in our life, and my answer from the same location to the same destination will differ from your answer.  Not only that but look at the closest clock you have that was set by your own two hands.  You got that time, now take a peak at the computer screen, chances are it's different as well.

Time can be completely different.  My 2PM is not your 2PM and the examples could go on and on.  Despite all this we try to control time as much as possible. Whether it be through plastic surgery, hair styles, clothing, or a number of various cosmetic ways of hiding the time we have been on the earth.  As we age we try to reverse time, and as we're young we pine for the time when we can have the freedoms that age grants us.  People are almost never entirely satisfied with time.  Some find pleasure in the uniform schedule and others enjoy the rampant chaos that comes from time and a hectic schedule.
Time is a good catalyst for how the world works, the business day is 9AM to 5PM bars close at 2AM in Maryland, and your cable is set to a time.  Without this purely subjective and man made phenomenon we wouldn't be able to handle much of the tasks given to us.  We could, but there would be no deadlines, and some people need a method to know when to get things done.  The problem though is that it's all man made.  Time doesn't exist, not in it's form today.  No one person mentioned time before people assigned a numerical value to it.  There are scientific formulas for how we got the 24 hour cycle, but all in all that was not how the world was designed to work.  If it was, there would be no time zones.  Everything would be set to the same time, and by arbitrary means that would be the time we worked.

For example, if we set the system up so that everything ran off EST, then the business day in California would start 6AM.  The time zones were created as a way to allow people to work in California when it was light out rather then in the middle of the night.  At the same time, time is no different then language. It's a symbol for the rotation of the Earth, just as language is a symbol for the various objects and communications that we need to provide to our fellow members of the species.  It's unique to us, but we created the English language.  It was a mix of several different dialects that eventually became what we know today.

The purpose of this blog is struggling to be found, but I suppose you could leave it with this message.  Reality is only what you perceive to be true.  If you believe yourself to be a dog, and truly do so, then you are a dog. If you believe that you can understand the difference between a rose, and rose then congratulations we share a sense of reality.  Otherwise just remember the American reality is just that; The American Reality, and doesn't belong in other cultures, their reality is that way for a reason, and their reality is their own to perceive.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Sony: How to Relieve Customer Concerns

It's been nearly a month since PSN went down, and in that time, there has been great concern over consumers information being stolen off the network.  While there isn't much that Sony can do to alleviate most of the damage that has been done to their image, there is a step that can be taken to assuage any lingering doubts in regards to the customers information, primarily their financial information.

Paypal is a great service, while it's not perfect they do offer plenty of services that can help the consumer identify potential fraud.  Their level of security does make them a target, however most times when a person's account it is because of spyware and site mimicking that allows a hacker to obtain the consumer's financial information. Netflix allows it's users to use Paypal as a payment source for their account, I've switched to this method for a myriad of different reasons.  All of which can be applied to Sony in their current situation.

Primarily, adding Paypal as a transaction source for PSN would require the potential hacker to hack your Paypal account rather than going after Sony and their servers.  This would make hacking your financial information from Sony problematic in two ways.  The first being, since most hacks of Paypal come from spyware and site mimicking, and PSN doesn't have any viruses as far as I know, it would mean that your information is secure if Sony is hacked.  It would also make it difficult for a hacker to record your keystrokes on your computer.  Secondly, it requires the hacker to follow two different sites.  Assuming that you aren't completely unaware of internet security risks, such as using the same password for multiple accounts, the hacker wouldn't be able to obtain just your PSN password and have access 
to your financial information.

Given that Sony doesn't require you to pay for basic service on PSN, there would be nearly no need for you to store any personal information on their network.  Even if you pay for PS+, you can use Paypal to monitor the transaction.  The only information you would need to give to Sony is an email address and your desired user name for PSN.  This eliminates any chance of Sony being hacked and your personal information to be leaked.

At this point, Sony's job is to show it's customers it's serious about protecting their information.  What I have proposed on paper sounds like admitting defeat, however at this point they must do something to show that they are a secure network.  Even if this entails giving customers the option to trust someone else.  I'm in no way suggesting that Sony only allow Paypal, but to say to the customer "We know we messed up, and we admit it could have been prevented.  We have taken necessary steps to protect our customers and understand the problem this has caused. We are now offering an extra step for those who wish to take it to protect themselves."

The business of today's video games with DLC and other online transactions being so prominent requires at this point for Sony to take a step in one direction or the other.  I don't think that merely saying that the problem has been fixed is going to persuade many people to trust them again.  This is merely an idea for them to consider to boost customer confidence, and attempt to relieve some of the customers concerns regarding their information. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Original Portal: A Puzzler that Delivers as Promised

I know 2007 was four years ago, but I just recently completed my first play through of Portal on the Orange Box.  Portal was originally a student's thesis and Valve thought the idea to be original and game play unique enough to develop the game professionally.  When I had first heard about Portal the game was simply too intriguing.  Given my situation, however, I wasn't able to play the game and the game and the rest of The Orange Box was placed on my video game bucket list.

I bought the game Saturday, and within a few hours I had already gotten through a significant portion of the game.  Sunday I got to test chamber 17; Monday I got stuck on test chamber 18, but managed to push through the problem.  Finally on Tuesday I beat the game.  The fact that I used not one FAQ or video to solve any of the games puzzles is one of my top achievements in gaming this year, and the sheer knowledge that I was able to confront that challenge boosted my gaming ego significantly.

For anyone who hasn't played or heard of Portal.  Portal is a puzzle game in which you are given a gun that can shoot portals.  These portals will make up the basis for how you solve the various puzzles in the game, and being able to figure out how the gun and portals work is not only challenging, but surprisingly incredibly fun to learn.  The story for the game pits the test subject against the super computer GlaDoS, and the test subjects escape from the Aperature Science lab.

The test subject doesn't say a word, and the real star of the game lies in the maniacal super computer.  Throughout the game you are treated to fantastic dialog as the super computer falls further and further into madness.  If you don't find yourself laughing at some of the dialog, then you have a serious issue with humor.  Even the gun turrets provide great sources of comedy as you proceed through the lab.  The world is presented as mechanical and sterile, and yet because of the dialog from the turrets and GlaDoS the world never feels dead.  This sense of life becomes greater during the final chapters of the game as you make your way through the test chamber factory.  The palette change and new obstacles provide movement and a greater sense of desperation, then was previously given.

Controlling the test subject is enjoyable and makes sense, but there was a lack of shadows in the game that made certain jumping puzzles hard to get through.  In some instances you have to fall from a height to jump through a portal, in order to launch yourself further ahead.  Without shadows, on several occasions I found myself not being able to adequately judge where I would land, which lead to having to retry jumps over and over again until I got it right.  A minor inconvenience, but something that doesn't lead to any excitement for a second play through.

The problem with doing a second play through, unless doing a speed run, is that you already know how to solve the puzzles.  This leads to destroying that lack of discovery, and those great triumphs from figuring out the puzzles.  A small complaint to say the least, but something that you should be aware of.  Luckily the disc continues 4 other games, which will assuage any lingering buyer's remorse.

Overall, the game is a definitive must play for anyone who considers themselves a gamer.  Even if you only have a slight interest in gaming, this game can easily provide enough entertainment.  I give Portal 5 AI incinerators out 5 for being the definition of solid game play mechanics mixed with a story that keeps you entertained.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What does it say about a company when you can use them as an excuse for being late for class? Yesterday Comcast was scheduled to come to my new place to install internet and TV, and naturally showed up roughly 5 hours late.  This of course threw off the rest of my day, but that isn't shocking.  What's shocking is that my professor and classmates weren't in the least bit surprised that Comcast had caused this problem.

I understand that there were mistakes made on the direct sales representative's side, namely the wrong address.  But the problem is that the company is so inconsistent in its ability to maintain a schedule, that not one person I've talked to seems to think my story is unusual.  The only concern then lies in the fact, that Comcast really isn't apt to fix the problem completely.  Especially given that their biggest competitor in the internet field, Verizon FIOS, isn't available to people that live in apartment buildings.  In terms of television, there are options, but some complexes don't allow dishes to be on their buildings.  This leaves Comcast in this area capable of forcing you to deal with their complete lack of satisfactory service.

Let's apply this to another company.  Sony, as some of you know, has been experiencing a severe network outage for the past 3 weeks.  This is due to hackers who have managed to infiltrate their network, and I rather not get into the issue of PSN (Playstation Network) being down, and how personal information has been obtained for potentially millions of users.  Rather, I'd like to look at the way Sony has handled the situation from a customer service stand point in terms of meeting deadlines.

When the service went down three weeks ago, Sony said that the service would be restored in a couple of days.  A week later and the service still being down, Sony announced that they were completely overhauling the network, and that the following week it would be up.  A week later (are we seeing a pattern yet) it was announced that PSN would be down until the end of May.  Today it was announced that it would be a "few days" until online was restored.

It's interesting to note that Sony didn't include what "online" was exactly.  At the least costumers can only hope that online will include the ability to play games online and sync their growing number of single player trophies to their PSN account.  I don't imagine that the Playstation Store will be up or will the various other services involved included with PSN.

My concern though is that Sony is going to end up going back to their original date of the end of May.  While it isn't unusual for companies to miss deadlines, if Sony begins to make a habit out of missing these deadlines, and so far they have, then they may see a backlash.  The problem for Sony, unlike Comcast, they have solid competition in Nintendo and Microsoft. Sony can not sit on their laurels and believe that their consumer base will stand with them through this.  The poor handling of releasing information regarding the network intrusion, caused enough problems with consumer trust, but add to the problem continual missed deadlines and Sony may be looking at trouble beyond just winning back customers.  They will be looking at an issue of finding new customers as well.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sustainability in Movies

The world of film is heading for disaster.  More and more there has been a call for new ideas in films.  We hear far too often that a certain movie is just like another movie, or that we didn't need a remake of a certain film.  Yet despite these complaints, the movie audience continues to support these movies.  What cost does this hold for the film market moving forward?  Are we heading for a collapse of the film market similar to the collapse of the video game market in 1980's before Nintendo revolutionized the industry?

At this point finding excitement for upcoming films is hard to follow.  While certain movies peak my interest, most times there will be a trailer for a movie on television to which my response is simply "Wait for Netflix." I could attribute this to a lack of funding for a trip to the theater.  But more often than not, it's a matter of just not having any excitement for a movie.

I could also give credit to my 27 years of watching movies, and not feeling all that surprised by twists in a movie.  But the plain fact is that new movies just don't hold my attention.  I can remember a time when I was a teenager and every movie that came out would excite me.  That excitement would undoubtedly lead to a trip to the movies on a Friday or Saturday night.  Of course in my teenage years the price of a movie for a non matinee trip would cost about 6 to 7 dollars a ticket; gas was cheaper; and I didn't have any bills to pay.

As people get older they demand more from their experiences, we want something unique that we haven't seen before.  Otherwise we're paying 10-15 dollars a ticket for an experience that our monthly cost of Netflix can deliver in 4 to 5 months.  This sense of desiring unique experiences also lends our hand to what we want to buy outside of just film.  You only have to look at gimmick food places to see this in practice.  Cold Stone Creamery offers ice cream just like any other ice cream parlor you can find.  The only difference is that they mix the ice cream with its ingredients on a cold stone for your specific order, hence the Cold Stone Creamery. Despite being nothing more than just ice cream mixed per order, people continue to flock to these parlors because it offers something you can't find elsewhere. You also end up paying more for merely the experience, and not necessarily the product.

Film makers haven't had to set themselves apart from anyone else, because there is still a growing number of teenagers with disposable income who will flock to the movies for the latest film.  At the same time, there is a growing amount of resentment towards the Oscars for nominating films that meet with little commercial success.  These two differing opinions on what makes a good movie is at a need to compromise between the two.  The problem is that most blockbuster movies, don't offer the same kind of deep storytelling that you can find in the Oscar films.  While it is important for movies to make money, what many fail to realize, is that most movies do not make their money in the theater.  The movie only makes a slight percentage on films in the theater, while the majority of money is made on smaller venues, such as airlines.

The problem with the movies, much like anything that needs to be sustained, is a lack of will.  A blockbuster movie is guaranteed to make money in the box office, while a great tale of the human condition might make some news and receive great reviews. If film makers are serious about maintaining an audience of older generations, they need to begin to shake off the stereotypes of blockbusters.  Yes movies are entertainment, but some people don't want to be entertained, we want stories, and you can't get those at the local multiplex.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Bureau of After Life Affairs

People wait their whole life wondering what happens when you die.  I’m fortunate, perhaps even unfortunate if you look at it one way, to know what happens. You can forget Saint Peter, pearly gates, and angels.  Dying is just like sleeping; you wake up in a place you aren’t sure of; you’re in pain; and everything is hazed over.  “Waking up” is what we call it here in our little city.

                There’s no Heaven or Hell.  It’s just one big city; some areas better than others.  The worse areas of town are where all the deadly sins collide into one big ball of anarchy.  My job is to try and rescue souls who have wandered from the order.  I work for “Management” I’m a bureaucrat in the Bureau of After Life Affairs.  My typical day is peering through television screens all day keeping reports on those who have followed a petition for a reassignment in living conditions.

                A resident may apply for reassignment when they have managed to be clean from their vice for a time equal to their total time among the living.  Sometimes a resident can ask for a reassignment for another resident, in either direction based on what they know about the person from their time amongst the living or amongst their fellow residents.  Due to the increase in human population over our existence, Management isn’t capable of keeping tabs on every person.  We just don’t have the necessary staff to perform this function adequately.

                Every once and a while a resident is able to slip through the cracks, and the registration process fails.  We end up losing track of these residents and have no way of tracking them.  We normally only know they haven’t been registered properly when their family joins them in the after life.  The family will usually ask to see where their loved one is to be joined together.  Part of my job is to find them, and if they aren’t registered, then I have to hit the streets.  This is exactly why I am currently standing outside this run down bar; I’m waiting for the tracker.

                The rain kept most of the residents who had lost their way inside the bar.  The sound system was pounding out some obnoxious heavy metal song, and the residents had already taken to betting on a fight between two men.  I could hear the thuds and cracks as flesh met flesh.  There was an obvious victor, the man with short cropped blonde hair stood easily 6’8 and weighed 300 pounds of pure muscle.  He must have been a soldier in his living life, and he obviously enjoyed it.  The other man was short in comparison, with long black hair, and on any given day could take out any one of the other residents.  He was however, untrained and the blonde took his time dismantling his foe.

                The fight ended with good solid punch to the chin of the man with long hair. He hit the floor with a solid thud and blood spilled out of his mouth from the man biting his tongue off.  The blonde raised in hands to celebratory cheers from those who had made the right bet. The man grabbed up his own winnings, placed a long coat over his shoulder, and calmly lit a cigar.  There was a drink waiting for him at the bar, he downed it in three gulps and headed in my direction.

                “You Anton?” his voice was gravelly and his breathe reeked of liquor and cigar smoke.  His eyes were a bright blue, and he had a scar running from one his left ear to his nose.  This man had seen his fair share of violence.

                “I assume that you are Mr. Keller?” it was always best with the trackers, to establish that you were the authority, and that they worked for you.  If you didn’t handle the situation right, you could end up with more than enough paperwork to last you 5 years.

                “No reason to get all formal, who are we looking for?”

                “The resident desired to be located, is a Ms. Powell. She died 10 years ago at the age of 19, and her parents recently deceased after a plane crash over the Atlantic.  They want us to locate her.  We have only a brief file on Ms. Powell from her life, she got lost when the office in charge of those with mental illness experienced a sudden increase of suicides after September 11th 2001.  She was diagnosed schizophrenic with an addiction to pain killers, around that time.  Based on the information the parents gave us during the location request, they explained to us that she overdosed on painkillers and alcohol on the night of Halloween in 2001.  Based on this information, and given that she was not properly registered, we have reason to believe that she would have ventured into this area to maintain her addiction. Management wants her found and reunited with her family.”

                I showed him a picture of Ms. Powell.  She was a heavy set brunette, with long curly hair and a dead stare on her face.  Her eyebrow, upper lip, and nose were pierced with tiny studs and her green eyes showed an age not usually seen in someone so young. His mouth gave away the look of lust in his eyes. 

                “She’s cute, and I’ve heard of an unregistered matching these features working the streets at Sherrie’s Showroom, a few blocks over.  I’ve dealt with girls like her before though the chances that she’s working there still are slim to none.  They scatter every few weeks.  I can guarantee that she owes someone money.” He grabbed the picture from my hands folded it up into a tiny square and placed it forcefully into his pocket.  “Give me three days. I’ll give you a ring when your resident is found, and I’ll gladly hand her over.  Your department will receive a bill when your resident is found.”

                He began to turn away, “I’m sorry that won’t work.”

                “That’s too bad, I work alone, and I’m not about to be held back by some paper pusher who will want to follow the rules. I go alone or you find another tracker, of course by the time you find one she’ll be gone again.”

                His ignorance and pride were too much for me to handle, I gave him a soft chuckle. “You’re the last tracker we have tried, and her family is getting impatient.  To top it off Mr. Keller, her family is political, they are tied to Management.  By not complying in joining this investigation, or the regulations that follow with this investigation, you are at serious risk for losing your assignment.  A tracker is a good place to be in Mr. Keller, you get the freedom to do as you see fit to further Management’s goals, and that comes with the perks of being in their good graces.  We can always set you back to reassignment of a recently deceased.” His look said it all, he was going to comply but it would be on his terms.

                “Then follow me, but stand in my way, and Ms. Powell never gets found, and need I remind you it’s her choice on whether she goes to be with her family.  Lest you not forget as well, that if I shall determine that she is not to be found in compliance with Management’s request that as a tracker I am to terminate her contract with Management.” It was a threat, and a weak one at that, a tracker hasn’t eliminated a resident in over 300 years.
                “Very well Mr. Keller, you lead the way.” He seemed satisfied with my response and offered no further resistance.  We headed for Sherrie’s Showroom, the areas on the way are dangerous for those in the Bureau; the residents in these areas don’t hold someone in my position with great regard.  They have been turned down time and time again, and every time they go further and further into their vices.  Luckily for us the worst vices were tied to prostitution; revenge killings and robberies were the call of the day usually. Seeing as how I didn’t owe anyone money, I had nothing to fear. 

                Sherries Showroom is the absolute definition of a rundown shady strip club.  Prostitutes and one guy dressed in a fine silk shirt and pair of pants stood around the Showroom for those who can’t afford the girls inside the club, while the girls inside the club turn their tricks for those with money.  Mr. Keller spotted the man and nodded in his direction.

                “He’ll know if Ms. Powell was here.  These ladies here work for him.  If he doesn’t know anything then we’ll have to try another place. Stay here, he’s more apt to talk if Management’s representative isn’t staring him down.” Mr. Keller ventured towards the man, putting his hand under his coat.  I knew he had a gun on there, I just hoped that my report wouldn’t include any violence.  I wasn’t comfortable not being there to question the reside Mr. Keller pointed out.  But given the need to resolve this investigation at an accelerated pace I didn’t follow.

                Mr. Keller walked up to the man in silk. I watched as he pulled his hand out of his jacket and flashed his gun in the resident’s direction. Panic struck me at once.  Within 30 seconds of pulling out the gun Mr. Keller had shot the man twice in the leg.  The man was screaming.  Mr. Keller picked him up from the street and slammed him into the wall. He shoved the picture of Ms. Powell in his face.  The man shook his head and urinated himself. 

                Mr. Keller the man twice in the head with the butt of his gun, and shoved the picture back in the man’s face.  The man said something else and Mr. Keller threw him to the ground.  The blood was everywhere.  I ran across the street.  It was too late and I was going to have to include a violence report as part of the final report.  It was too late.  I gathered myself and walked across the street.

                “That was entirely unnecessary Mr. Keller.  I hope it lead to good information.”  I gave a look to the man who was unconscious, he would probably die.  Again either a good or bad thing depending on how Management handled his case.  I imagine if it lead to the retrieval of Ms. Powell that he would garner some kind of credit for his death.

                “I got an address, and it is legitimate. It’s a house that that addicts and prostitutes stay when they are hiding from deranged clients and dealers. 1746 Springvale Dr.  It’s not the best area, and assuming that she isn’t too far gone in her addiction and disease we should be able to retrieve your resident Anton.”

                “Very good Mr. Keller, you lead the way.”  He placed his pistol back in its holster and motioned towards me due north. 

                “Springvale Dr. is three blocks that way.”  We walked the three blocks.  Springvale Dr. was a road where people hid, and the boards on the doors and windows showed that. The houses were run down, even with the boards and bars there were plenty of ways for those trying to hide to find a place to live.  Mr. Keller stopped outside a red brick building.  The door was made of plywood and had a small 3 foot by 3 foot hole cut out of it.  He raised a finger to his lips to remind me to be quiet and as quietly as possible removed the door from the doorway.

                The inside of the building was sectioned off with refuse and fabric to provide a sense of privacy for the residents.  We were in luck, everyone else had moved on for the day.  Alone in the corner we made out a female silhouette and approached cautiously.  Mr. Keller leaned in close to me.

                “You stay here,” he whispered.  “There is still a possibility that this is not the resident, she may also be dangerous.  It would be better if you stay here until I can figure out her identity.”  I saw nothing unreasonable with his statement.

                “Mr. Keller as long as you, do not turn this into a trail of blood looking for one girl, then I see no reason to object. Give me your gun.  I will not tolerate another scene like last time.”  He didn’t hesitate to hand over the gun. There was no sign of any kind of objection either.  It made me slightly nervous, but he agreed, and that calmed my nerves to an extent.

                He pulled back the curtain and stepped inside.  I could see the silhouette of him and the resident. His shadow showed him hunched over the girl. We was positioned in such a way that all I could see was his back and her legs.  The image looked awkward, the big hulking mass of a man cut at a 90 degree angle with these short plump legs.  I heard him whispering, but couldn’t make out what he was saying.

                There was some movement from the girl, she sat up and there was just Mr. Keller’s shadow.  I heard some more whispering.  There was some movement on Mr. Keller’s right side, and then a noise I didn’t want to hear.  The sound of sinews snapping and tearing, as well as a gurgled scream.  I stared in horror as the shadow turned into a black spray and blood washed over me like a wave in the ocean.

                Mr. Keller pulled back the curtain, I was still in shock.  I peeked into the room and there was the head of Ms. Powell laying on its side in a pool of her blood.  Mr. Keller exited the room; blood soaked with a hunting knife in hand. He looked at me, I looked at him. The look of recognition in his eyes, he smiled walked up to me and placed a hand on my shoulder.

                “She failed to comply. The bill will be in the mail.”