Cranky Old Gamer: The Technomancer 0

The Technomancer cover art

Spiders isn’t a AAA game company – and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

I played Mars: War Log a while back on XB360. It was ok, but not the kind of game that really dragged me in and made me want to see it through to the end. Spiders has released another game between then an The Technomancer, but I never got a chance to play that one. Reviews for the second game weren’t great (when I was still relying on them to figure out what to play), and it seemed to be just another medieval fantasy RPG.

When I saw the review titles for The Technomancer, it rang a bell. I remembered that Mars: War Log also revolved around a character type called Technomancers, and sure enough it was another game by Spiders. However, this one seemed to be much more fleshed out, more fully envisioned, than the earlier effort on the last-generation console. The reviews bashed it for being akin to early Bioware titles like Knights of the Old Republic – one of my favorite sci-fi games of all time, so I took the dive and gave it a go – and I’m very glad I did.

This second outing into the world of human colonies on Mars is seen through the eyes of the protagonist, Zachariah, the titular Technomancer. Think of them as fighters with a bit of electrical magic added in – similar to biotics in the Mass Effect series. Through the storyline, you’re introduced to the Technomancers of Abundance – one of several water companies that dominate the political and social landscape of Mars. Earth hasn’t been reachable for generations, entire colonial sites have been lost to history, and mutations have created a sub-species of humanity that is, to say the least, not treated well. Each water corp has their own Technomancer brigade, but unlike Aurora (another massive water company/nation-state); Abundance treats them as battle commanders in the armed forces – essentially weapons to be used by the state. Your character is no different, with the game beginning as they transition from being a trainee into their first military commission as a Lieutenant.

I won’t spoil the story for you, but suffice it to say you find yourself embroiled in the political intrigue of multiple powerful groups; and can – in the end – change the very course of history for the red planet. No, not the red-green-blue change the galaxy ending of Mass Effect; but actually change the entire society of Mars with your decisions. Granted, most of it is just spelled out in an epilogue, but frankly Dragon Age Origins did the same thing and it’s one of the most revered RPG’s ever.

What’s interesting about this game is that Spiders isn’t a massive game studio with hundreds of programmers grinding away at coding the next big blockbuster hit like Bethesda or Bioware. They’re not an indie group, but they’re small enough that the scope of both the game itself and the storyline within it are a refreshing surprise. Spiders has evolved a rather sparse Mars landscape found in War Log into a fully-viable planet stuffed with different experiences and personality. Each region is unique – with Ophir – a major city-state of Abundance – being a utilitarian, corporate behemoth of a building (no one can live on the actual surface of Mars due to solar radiation, so people live in naturally sheltered communities or massive enclave buildings like Ophir), while Noctis has an arabian-like vibe to it. You also visit Shadow Paths – points along rail-like transport systems that exist in naturally or artificially covered areas of the planet to protect from the sun’s rays; and long-lost colonial outpost domes from the original settlers. Unlike many of the AAA games lately, the scenery is very rarely re-used – it’s extremely varied and each area has some form of distinctness that keeps it apart from all the others. In short, this doesn’t feel like a dozen re-skinned dungeons, but individual areas created from scratch each time.

The people you meet also vary wildly. From the not-quite-all-there doctor companion Scott, to the intelligent mutant Phobos; each is given a distinct personality. Each also has side-missions that you can choose to undertake to get closer to each companion, and various perks (even romance) if you progress far enough with them. Non-companion characters central to the storyline also get their own personalities. From shady businessmen to impotent politicians, everyone feels like they had their stories written just for them.

Added to this, the world itself is incredibly believable. There’s no fantastic technology saving the inhabitants of Mars; as aside from some basic atmospheric manipulation decades back (to make the surface breathable), the planet is still about the same as it is today. There was some cataclysmic event that made the solar radiation outright lethal instead of just extremely dangerous as we know it – but there’s no magic going on here. The event caused a shift in the planet’s angle toward the sun, thereby making solar rays much more dangerous to humans – a potential event that science says could happen under the right (or wrong?) circumstances to any planet. The world of The Technomancer’s Mars is only slightly different than the actual Mars – and the differences are believably explained. I have to give Spiders credit for the level of research that must have gone into making that a possibility – a level of detail notably absent from many games that take place on earth, much less another planet.

The storyline is somewhat readable – you won’t be shocked by most of the twists and turns – but very enjoyable to play through. There’s an emancipation plot in progress, Secret Police who want to clamp down on everyone, back-alley mobsters, even a trade-hub of caravans with their own ulterior motives. While somewhat formulaic, the story does through a few curves in that you probably won’t see coming – and that I won’t spoil here.

This isn’t to say the game is without fault. The voice acting can be static, with characters voices failing to deliver emotion in many cases. There are two issues at play that cause this: First is the fact that the game was written in French, and the translation loses some of the emotion impact. Second, the acting talent probably didn’t work together on pre-recording reads and such. The facial animations are also not great, leaving characters speaking surprise without their eyebrows moving at all, etc. The issues distract from the punch of the storyline, but not enough to make the game one you should avoid unless those issues are your primary concern in a game.

Combat can also be unforgiving and occasionally just unfair. Even on Easy difficulty, you will find yourself outnumbered by damage sponges on multiple occasions. The combat itself is easy to understand, with three styles to choose from (staff-weapon moves, mace and shield, and rogue-like dagger and gun) plus the titular technomancy mechanic available to all three. The game handles combat well, and tends to be usually be fair but punishing. You can generally win out over your opponents, but you might have to re-try a fight or two due to just plain bad luck. The game’s camera follow doesn’t help it any here, and you will definitely find yourself having to manually move the stick to see what’s going on in the middle of a battle. I will definitely give the game points on the combat animations, however. Combat moves are fluid, and flow very well with only a few exceptions. Plus, the momentary slow-motion on critical hits makes them feel oh so very satisfying to land.

The lack of a fast-travel system is also painful. While you can travel by rover to outposts and cities, you have to traverse within the volume of those places (many of which are absolutely huge) on foot. This will lead you to go on mind-numbing runs through the same set of guards every time you have to visit a hostile location – over and over again. It doesn’t feel like lazy programming or filler or anything like that, it honestly just feels like an oversight where fast-travel simply wasn’t built into the game.

Overall, however, I’d recommend this one to anyone who likes deep Western RPG’s. The storyline is fun, and while usually pretty easy to divine what’s coming next, it will surprise you now and then. The combat is passible, though not exceptional; and the non-combat animations are fairly static. But if you like a good yarn and enjoy believable sci-fi universes, this is a game you should check out.

That’s it, I’m pissed. 1

You know, I was going to just offer some opinions on twitter and let the media rip our new President to shreds. However, today has changed the game.

Mr. Spicer – the President’s Press Secretary – has held a press conference to essentially declare open war on the press. He’s accused us of lying to the public (which admittedly has happened, but on both sides, no ones’ hands are clean here), of unfairly pillorying the man who is President, of over-stating the strength of a peaceful protest event instead of over-hyping the Inauguration. How we should all be ashamed of ourselves for not reporting only such information as officially given to us by his office at the request of the President. How we need to sit down and shut up for the next four years, or we will suffer the Wrath of Trump.

Well, now I’m pissed.

Mr. Spicer, I am a former (and shortly future) member of the Fourth Estate – the press you so vilify and want the people of this country to deny and destroy. Let me make a few statements right now to stand in loyal opposition:

First, sir, it is the job of the press to speak for all sides of a debate. To report on everything – good, bad, huge, tiny – it doesn’t matter. We (through the hundreds of differently opinionated outlets) speak for everyone. Yes, we choose sides. Yes, we shape opinions. That is OUR JOB. Your job is to relay information in a way that makes your boss look good. Our job is to relay information as we and our organizations see it. This doesn’t work if we don’t both do our jobs. It sure as hell doesn’t work when you openly declare that you despise us and everything we stand for.

Next, please realize you used your first press conference to completely alienate and distance the very people who you will be asking to trust you on a regular basis. No press? No Press Secretary. If you force us to deal with you only in an atmosphere of outright hostility, do you really think we’re going to give your words more credence than your numerous opponents’? I am NOT saying you need to be all buddy-buddy and happy with the press, far from it actually, but mutual respect is required here; and you’ve just torpedoed it on your first day.

Finally, Mr. Spicer, please stop embarrassing your administration. To call national attention to the fact that the President of the United States – perhaps the most powerful man in the world – has decided to proclaim that “his is bigger” is just… wrong. Come out swinging with details on how much better this Inauguration was. More important diplomats and delegates, more people in the parade, more gravitas and importance. Please don’t make futile attempts to disguise fears of impotence.

To the Trump administration: please stop pissing on the press in a horribly failed attempt to disguise the fact that an event you didn’t want to happen heroically out-shined the event you set up. We’re going to talk about the Womens’ March no matter what, and your acting like petty fools does nothing to diminish their triumph. If anything, we’re now going to highlight how many more people attended the March, just because you threw such a massive hissy-fit about how “yours was bigger”. Got that? You screaming at us that something was under-reported will just force us to shed more light on that topic. Learn how to throw a story out with the trash, and how not to draw every media outlet’s attention to it.

You don’t need to be our friends, but we demand respect. Give that to us, and we can all get along for the next four years. Keep this up, and ONLY the views of those who oppose you will ever make it on the air, online, and onto the front page.

A message to the protestors 0

Look, I’m just as pissed off as you folks are that we will have to acknowledge “President Donald Trump” very, very soon. I didn’t want this. I didn’t want Hillary either, but frankly she’d have hurt a hell of a lot less. I don’t want him as my President, I don’t want him representing us to the rest of the world, and I sure as hell don’t want the world that he’ll help shape.

But…

There are violent protests going on all over the United States right now. That has to stop. It has to stop now, and never resume. You will fail, you will hurt those who are trying to keep the damage to a minimum. You will destroy the causes you want to support. And most importantly, you will help Trump prove his own misogynistic, homophobic, homicidal, dumb-ass, short-sighted, anti-humanity ideas.

That’s right, you are helping Donald Trump continue in his plans.

Look, there are a lot of ways that you can stand against him without destroying your own movement:

March and protest peacefully. Hell, we’ve overturned some very deep-rooted and immobile laws and feelings in this country with that policy. It works, and it works incredibly well.

VOTE! over 46% of those eligible to vote in this country failed to do so this year. Let’s say that half of those were unfairly not allowed to – a percentage that would be considered by even liberal sources to be high, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. An additional 25% of the electorate participating would have absolutely changed the outcome. Maybe Trump would have still won, but at least there would have been one hell of a strong voice of opposition. Don’t stay home, don’t ignore the voting booth. Get out there and make your opinion count in the most powerful way the world has ever seen.

Finance organizations and volunteer. Planned Parenthood, Lambda Legal Defense Fund, The American Civil Liberties Union, there are a lot of them out there who are now under fire. Give them money. Give them time. They’re in desperate need of both, and that need is going to get more and more dire.

Stop those who would destroy your message. If you and your fellow marchers/protestors witness someone rioting or looting, surround them. Don’t put yourself in physical danger; just keep them from leaving the scene of a literal crime. Let the police in, and don’t let the criminals out. Force the news to report that those who stand in opposition to Trump will refuse to sanction violence and criminal behavior in their name, and force those who think this is appropriate behavior to recognize that it is not, and you will not either condone or assist them in it.

Finally, remember that Trump will be sworn in as president. We can’t stop that now. What we need to do is become what Britain calls “The Loyal Opposition.” Never let in or give up for a moment on your ideals or values. Never stop pushing (peacefully, effectively) against the policies you do not and can not endorse. But remember we are still all Americans. We are still all bound by the laws of our country and the leaders that are elected to make and uphold those laws. This isn’t a contradiction of terms or oxymoronic thinking, this is what our system of government was designed to do from the very beginning. Believe it or not, not everyone in Colonial America believed that secession and independence was the right idea. Some stood up in favor of remaining loyal to the crown. The did, however, still support the will of the people when the fledgling country decided on which direction it would move.

Teach people about the most powerful tools at our disposal to defeat bad laws: Peaceful Protest, Jury Nullification, Voting the morons out of office, the are a large number of them. Use them, teach others about them, but work within the system to change the system and the message will be broadcast to all the corners of the earth.

Riot and wreck up our cities, and not only is your own message lost, you support the very people you are trying to protest against.

We’re in this together. We will survive the next four years. Let’s not make the situation twenty times worse by fueling the very people and policies we stand against.

Fixing Stubborn Default App Issues With RCDefaultApp 0

RCDefault Usually, you can set default apps for certain file types right through OS X features directly. Email (in El Capitan) is done by going to the preference pane in Mail.app, most file types allow you to set the default by going to Get Info, etc. However, sometimes things go awry, and that’s where RCDefaultApp comes in handy – big time!

For example, I had been trying out several email apps to find a good “second app” that I could use exclusively for corporate email messaging. This seriously screwed up my default mail app settings, and nothing would convince OS X to not use Mail.app for everything email no matter what. I tried many suggestions found online, but most fixes either no longer existed in El Capitan (repair permissions) or were simply ineffective at fixing the problem. Then one of my Tweeple – @bynkii – suggested I check out RCDefaultApp.

I had used it some time ago (Snow Leopard days) and it worked well, so I hunted around and found it again. First off, make sure you download it from RubiCode’s site only. Other sites seem to only have the non-universal, PowerPC versions which will not work on anything past the Leopard family. Once you have it, open the dmg and then open the Preference Pane file. This will launch a mini-installer that lets you decide if you want to install it for all users or not. Note: one component (“DoesNothing”) will not run, as it is not signed, but apparently it does exactly what it says on the tin, and doesn’t actually do anything necessary to the software itself.

The app is simply a Preference Pane, so open System Preferences, and you will see a new pane called “Default Preferences” under Other at the bottom. This brings up the main window, which lets you set your default apps for a wide variety of file types, sub-types, and more. In my case, I had to change the default email handler, but also the extension for .eml – which is apparently what was causing all the problems for me. Once I made those changes, Airmail became my default email client for the entire system as expected.

So if you have files opening in odd applications, and the normal methods for changing the default apps don’t work, check out RCDefaultApp from RubiCode. It’s free, and worth far more than you pay for it =)

“The Division” Sucks for Casual Gamers 0

Photo Credit: Joe The Goat Farmer on Flickr
ThumbsDown As you folks already know, I’m not totally immune from liking first or third party shooters. I loved Mass Effect (up until the ending of 3) and I’m nuts over the Fallout games. So when a new 3rd-Person shooter based in the aftermath of a massive disease outbreak and resulting loss of society came out, and it was based in New York City, I was in. The game, however, really and truly sucks for casual gamers, which became painfully obvious within about 90 minutes of playing. Here’s why:

1 – The story is OK but not great. Ubisoft created yet another generic, voiceless protagonist who is about as interesting as dirt. Then they added a cast of milquetoast characters and a story made more to further the shooting than further the plot. That’s pretty much what we have here. Nothing pulled me in. There is no reason for casual gamers to want to play it, aside from hours of fun shooting people if you’re into that. I, personally, am not so much into that. I want to get drawn into the storyline of the game. I want to understand the reasons for doing what my character is doing other than “you’re the good guy, and bad stuff happened, now here’s a gun.”

2 – Mandatory, always on-line. Why would ANYONE still require this for a single-player game after all the fiascos in the last 2 years? Because Ubisoft, that’s why. You need to be always on-line because the game tries CONSTANTLY to matchmake groups. So as far as having a playable single-person storyline, that’s a big red flag. Now let’s add in queues to enter various areas because the game is tracking simultaneous users so that it can attempt to matchmake you. There are games that get this right – like the Borderland series – and there are games that get it totally wrong, like this piece of… code.

3 – Difficulty spikes from hell right after the tutorial. Great, you finish the tutorial – which is very much single-player but still tries to matchmake you (see #2) – and get to Manhattan. At which point, you *will* die on every single mission. Every one. Granted, I’m not an expert at cover systems, but I managed to get through Mass Effect 2 and 3, and several Gears of War titles without major issues. I died on and off, there were harder-than-average missions, but the gameplay was enjoyable and not so hard on “normal” that I wanted to fling the controller across the room. Here, it’s constant “reloading at last checkpoint.” Wave after wave of guys shooting at me, hurling grenades while their buddies shot at me, finding new ways to shoot at me. That, alone, isn’t abnormal, but when you finally do best them, guess what, there’s 10 more coming after you. I’m one guy with one gun, but for some reason this game thinks I’m an army with a full artillery squadron. I soon also realized that the enemies took about 3x the number of shots to die compared to me, so add that in too. It’s beyond “good AI” or “challenging missions” and right into “the computer is a cheating bastard” territory.

4 – It’s not actually a single-player game. It’s not, don’t let anyone tell you that it is. Get a group or get annihilated. I don’t have a problem with this on it’s face, but why bother to even pretend there’s any point to this than grouping up and playing a co-op shooter? As with the other reasons, this alone isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many games are challenging for a single-player but much more playable with a group. There’s a line between that and “just give up unless you have a group,” which is what we have going on here. So, of course, unless you have 5 hours to invest and want to completely give up your life, good luck enjoying the game. You’ll be stuck in pick-up groups from hell, and I challenge anyone to say that a PUG game is fun for casual gamers.

So, if you want a hardcore shooter that requires a group to avoid frustration, this is a great title for you. As for me, I’m heading back to Fallout 4, where things can be quite challenging, but at least there’s a semblance of a reason that you’re fighting against Super Mutants, and you can – if you work at it – beat the odds.

The Search for Workable Information Worker Software 0

HNCK2695 Email is – for the most part – the stuff of modern productivity. Begin able to send and receive email, along with the calendars, contacts, and tasks that it brings; is essential to getting work done these days. When you use the native Mac apps, everything is fine. When you need to use 3rd-party tools, things go sideways in a hurry.

For example, I work – as most do – with email, calendar, task, and contact apps on a daily basis. To keep my personal accounts independent from my work accounts, I use the native OS X apps (Mail, Calendar, Contacts, etc.) for my own stuff and 3rd-party apps for everything else. While I was working for a company that used Exchange/Office 365, this was easy to do. Native apps for personal, Outlook for work, and everything went relatively seamlessly. Granted, Outlook has issues, but it worked.

For my personal stuff, all the apps talked to each other and would share data with each other. Accepting an invitation in email put the resulting appointment into the calendar. With 3rd-party apps, the wheels fell off the wagon insanely fast.

After much searching, I gave up on a unified app like Outlook. There are a few out there, but they either rock at email and totally suck at calendars, or vice versa. None could handle everything. Since I now use Google calendars, Outlook for Mac was right out – it doesn’t support CalDAV, which is required for Google Calendar functionality.

So, it’s now 3 different apps – one for email, one for calendars, one for tasks. While not optimal, I can live with that, if they’d actually talk to each other!

I went with Airmail (US$10 in the App Store) for email, Fantastical (US$49 in the app store) for calendars, and todoist (Free with paid features in the app store) for task lists. This was after much experimentation and finally gave me the integrations I need, but there was a TON of trial and error to get to this point.

I tried one email client (Postbox) that worked really well for email. The layout was perfect for me, it allowed me to archive messages to something besides the “All Mail” folder, and it didn’t appear to be a resource hog. Problems arose, however, when I found out that pretty much every *other* vendor decided to stop supporting it for integration and shortcuts. It operated horribly when it came to calendar invitations, sometimes not bothering to tell the calendar software it got one, other times refusing to open the invitation at all, and always spewing out a ton of garbled text instead of the body of the invitation itself.

Then I focused on the calendar. One software package (BusyCal) was great in terms of layout and syncing with Google, but couldn’t handle HTML in invitations. I’m not sure why that was the case, as it’s 2016 and HTML-based invitations have been around for literally a decade now, but whatever. Since 80% of my invitations were for Webex or otherwise included a lot of HTML, this killed the usefulness of the app entirely.

OK, how about tasks? Miserable. Either they have so many features and “Getting Things Done” rule-sets that they’re unusable for someone like me (classically trained in the Franklin/Covey method); or they were just simple task lists with no flexibility at all. One was so complicated that after a week I gave up even trying to figure out how to move a task and just “completed” it so I could start over and create a new one.

So, I figured a “if you can beat ’em, join ’em” approach and tried out a couple of apps that simply framed up the Gmail website into the app itself. While they both worked, they also both refused to talk to anything except themselves. That meant I was stuck with Google’s horrible calendar interface, or nothing. Not a good trade-off for me. Of course none of them allowed for offline support either, which makes traveling painful when I can’t get wifi. To add insult to injury these apps, while essentially being an HTML wrapper, didn’t support any of the Gmail plug-ins that others in my company use regularly. So I got all the headaches of the web interface, and none of the benefits.

Finally, someone suggested Airmail. It does only mail – nothing else – and is a great hybrid between Gmail features and usability on the desktop. The app doesn’t support plug-ins from the Gmail site, but it does have offline sync, handles HTML mail/invitations well, and plays nicely with the OS X Notification Center. That’s about all it does, but it does it very well, and serves its purpose.

Fantastical gave me a great calendar experience. Showing the week-at-glance in a way that was readable, and easily figuring out what an HTML invitation was. It’s functional, readable, and flexible enough to deal with most common calendar scenarios. The price is rather high, but worth it if you need an independent calendar.

Todoist is the glue that holds it all together for me. It integrates with Airmail (and about 20 other apps) and can easily handle flipping tasks around, shifting priorities, and knowing when I need to see things. On the road, I can email things to Todoist and it’ll throw them in the inbox for me to sort out later.

It’s taken over a month of trial and error, but I finally found a set of apps that give me a workable solution to what should have been a no-brainer situation. I’d really like to see someone come up with a workable all-in-one app for Mac-based Information Workers like me, but I guess there just aren’t enough of us to make it financially workable for someone to do it.

Review: Amazon Prime Streaming iPad App 0

Photo Credit: PicJumbo
IMG 7422I was an early adopter of Amazon’s Prime Video service. They’ve offered tons of free content and a massive library of purchasable content for years now, and some time back the Amazon Streaming Video App for iPhone/iPad was released to allow folks to take the show on the road – literally. I’ve been a user of that app for about two years now, and the latest update brought a LOT to the table to make it even better.

First things first, if connected to WiFi, you can stream anything in Amazon’s catalog. Search for a show, tap the movie or episode in question, and away you go. Granted, this takes a lot of bandwidth, and you can be sure it’ll be blocked on public and in-flight WiFi services. Many are even getting smart enough to block it through VPN’s, so good luck with that.

However, one of the most interesting functions of the app is to let you download anything you’ve purchased for offline viewing. Get on a good connection, download whatever your device and hold, and you can watch it any time, even without a live connection to the Amazon servers. There was one issue with this feature, however, until recently you could not download anything but paid episodes and movies, no Prime shows or movies at all – that was streaming only.

The latest version of the app changed that to now allow any video in the service to be downloaded for offline viewing, with only a periodic re-connect to the service to verify your continued Prime subscription. Details on how often this happens is scarce, but I have gone several days without being online and had no problems at all. This opens up thousands more TV shows and movies that you can now take with you for anytime viewing.

All in all, if you’re looking for an alternative to iTunes video for long-haul, disconnected travel, Amazon has you covered. Happy viewing!

Zoey Tur and Ben Shapiro – Facing a Troubling Fact 1

WTF OK, for the first time… well… ever… I have to actually agree with something that came out of Ben Shapiro’s mouth. This is not a comfortable situation.

Before we begin, let me say that Ben Shapiro is a misogynistic, short-sighted, borderline bigoted mouthpiece for the right-wing media. I consider myself a centrist, but for the most part, the stuff he comes up with still doesn’t land on my radar. I will defend to my last breath his right to say what he believes, however – no matter how much I can’t agree with it.

A short while back, he was on the Doctor Drew show with a panel discussing Caitlyn Jenner’s ESPN Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. To absolutely no ones’ surprise, he was totally against it. While Mr. Shapiro did indeed spout off with borderline bigoted comments, what happened during the show deserves further attention, and is being largely ignored and/or used to highlight Mr. Shapiro’s bias in many matters. The problem with this is that the incident has nothing to do with his short-sighted opinions, and more to do with a threat made against him on national television.

Here’s the relevant snippet of the show:

YouTube Clip

While I applaud Ms. Tur for standing up for her rights and opinions, the way she did it is unacceptable, inexcusable, and not helping anyone.

The discussion was heated, with Mr. Shapiro flat out refusing to use feminine pronouns to refer to Ms. Jenner; even going so far as to repeatedly refer to transgender identity as delusional. He was crude, impolite, and politically incorrect – but absolutely none of this is either out of character for Mr. Shapiro, or reason to threaten the man with physical harm. Ms. Tur specifically, and with no room for mis-interpretation, threatened the man with bodily harm on a nationally televised program. It’s there, on film, with all of the previous events leading up to it and none of them justifying it.

Mr. Shapiro has indeed requested that law enforcement investigate the matter, and I’ve got to say that’s about the most responsible thing one can do under the circumstances. He didn’t retort with his own threats, he didn’t storm off the stage as so many others have done in similar circumstances, he didn’t even take a cheap verbal shot at her. He just continued on with his – granted, ill-received – argument as if the threat didn’t occur, then followed the appropriate course of actions and brought the matter to the attention of the police.

Say what you want about Mr. Shapiro’s opinions – and I will do so continually – but no one should be threatened with harm because of an opinion. That’s what lead to the Danish Newspaper Cartoon killings, the attack on Charlie Hebdo, and so many other incidents it is sickening. The saddest part of this whole thing is that people proclaiming “Jes Suis Charlie” after the shooting are amongst the same people saying that Ms. Tur was reacting appropriately.

I agree with, and applaud, Mr. Shapiro on this one topic. We don’t see eye-to-eye on nearly anything, and actually don’t even see eye-to-eye on the topic he was speaking about when the incident happened. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that he was threatened with bodily harm. No one – not even those we vehemently disagree with – should ever have that hanging over them.

Encouraging and exploring free speech is a double-edge sword. It only becomes one sided when actual swords start rattling over it.

On Changing from We to They 0

Photo Credit: PicJumbo
IMG 9748 Jumping from one employer to another is never easy, but doing it after over a decade with your former employers can lead to some very interesting issues. Not the least of which, for me, is suddenly finding yourself in the very odd position of moving to knowing that people you’ve considered part of your work life for years and years are no longer “we.”

Back in my days of so-called wolf-packing from one startup to another; none of us were around one company long enough to truly get the sense of “we.” Any time you approached that level of corporate identity, you either jumped ship because your wolf-pack colleagues were building up a new startup, or because the one you were in was going under. Thankfully, those two scenarios only intersected in my career once, but that was – in the general marketplace – another common reason why “we,” never really latched on to any of us. When I found a home for so many years I found not only new technology platforms we built becoming standards but other employees who were there just as long as I was, “we” became me.

It was an odd feeling for those of my generation in technology. Other verticals, like healthcare and financial firms, do tend to have folks who sign on board and end up staying in the same company their entire careers, but tech moves and changes so quickly and so often that long tenure isn’t typically even an option, much less a common occurrence. Most people I know in the field stay at one company for a maximum of three to five years, and so many co-workers come and go during that time that a collective noun just doesn’t get a chance to stick.

So, when I did finally step out of a long-standing employment gig, and into a new one, for the first time in so long; I suddenly realized that I had become part of the proverbial “we,” and more unnervingly I had to deal with the issue of that life becoming a “they” overnight. It’s not a comfortable position to be in, and thankfully my new co-workers have mostly come from the same situation and are able to help me deal with it, but it is what it is. “We” have become “They” – and I can’t do much but hope to get used to it quickly and move on.

How do you deal with that change in your work life? How can you force your brain into wrapping itself around the fact that the internal communities, political cliques, and personal relationships that defined your day-to-day are now something you exist outside of? More importantly, how do you deal with the fact that it isn’t who you are any longer? After all, melding to become part of “we” changes you to the core, and now that core is gone.

For me, the process is on-going, but I’ve found a few ways to help hurry it along so I can move on and get on with new adventures:

1 – Acknowledge that it won’t be easy. You’ve worked with these people, places, and policies for a chunk of your life. They’ve changed you, and you’ve changed them in at least some ways. Recognize that the transformation from seeing them as part of “we” to being “they” won’t happen overnight. Beating yourself up over it won’t make it any easier, and will make the whole process take a lot longer.

2 – Don’t constantly correct yourself out loud. In your head, make sure to mentally correct yourself when you accidentally say things like “We do it this way” when you meant to say “They do it this way,” but don’t immediately and constantly re-state your statements out loud. First, it’s insanely awkward for everyone listening to you. Once in a while, it’s funny and charming. If you do it every single time, it becomes annoying. Your co-workers know you’re going through one hell of a transition, they know what you mean when you use the wrong pronouns, and as long as they can still see you’re trying to shift your mindset, they’ll let the mistake slide.

3 – Do mentally correct yourself whenever you can. I find that if I’ve said “We do X this way” out loud, a quick mental note that “THEY do X this way” in my head doesn’t break the flow of my thoughts, and reinforces the desire to get the pronouns right over time. You should mentally check yourself and correct the statement in your head, training your brain to pick the right pronoun the next time you have to make the sentence come out of your mouth.

4 – Mentally note when others do it. If you’re in a situation where there are other employees in the same boat, make sure you mentally note when they use “we” instead of “they.” This is not an exercise to see who does it more, but rather a mnemonic you can use to help yourself. By noticing when it happens to others around you, your own brain can form more concrete pathways that help you also start using the appropriate pronouns yourself.

5 – Don’t go correcting others when they do it, at least not as a rule. Again, once in a while, reminding someone that it’s “they” and not “we” can be a good thing, but don’t be that guy/girl who constantly harps on it. First, you look like a douche, but more importantly it doesn’t help either of you. I have a few folks at my new company who remind me once in a while – when it’s appropriate or funny or will break tension. That has been a huge help for me and them alike. But I’ve worked in places where someone will religiously correct the new guy who uses the wrong pronouns, and they just look like assholes.

Finally, remember the immortal words of Mrs. Hughes from Downton Abbey, “There’s no shame in feeling homesick. It means you come from a happy home.” Keeping good memories of where you came from and who you knew there and considered “we” is nothing to be ashamed of. Over time, your brain will recognize that “we” have become “they,” and in the meantime, start finding your new “we” and you can begin to move on.

10 hours in the air 0

Photo Credit: PicJumbo

IMG 9426

You folks all know I travel quite a bit. Planes, trains, and automobiles – though regretably without John Candy as a sidekick. Recently, I was trapped on a 10 hour flight overseas, and frankly I am not impressed.

Years ago, when I did such a trans-continental flight, the coach seats were slightly more roomy than coach on domestic flights, and the whole business of charging for “extra” legroom (a total joke) was not a consideration. Flying United to Tel Aviv has shown me just how far long-haul flight experience has tanked in the intervening years.

Let’s start with boarding the plane. If course the first class, disabled, uniformed, and other people get on first. That’s actually fair, and I have no objections.

Then it all goes to hell.

Between the priority boarding for credit card holders, frequent flyers, and pretty much anyone who has absolutely any claim at all to it; 3/4 of the plane boarded before us shlubs who had just normal tickets even had a chance to see the gangway. By the time I got on, 90% of the overhead bins were full, everyone was already seated around me, and it was pure hell. Now, I was in the middle of the plane, so theoretically first class, and everyone behind me should be on, but not everyone around me and in front of me too.

So, I get on the plane, sit down, and realize that the extra legroom seat I did shell out for (it being a really long flight) was pretty much the same as any other domestic plane pitch from as little as 3 years ago. God help everyone who didn’t get extra leg-room, I can only image the hell of 10 hours with their knees jammed up against their chests.

In flight service was actually pretty good. When cabin service happened, real meals were served, you could ask for a can of soda or bottle of water instead of a cup of the stuff that’s 90% ice, and the staff were pretty friendly. But the constant movement of beverage carts up and down aisles that were barely big enough to manage that made it impossible to get up and stretch your legs. This became even more critical considering the abysmal seat pitch we all had to put up with. Deep Vein Thrombosis is a very real and very deadly medical condition undeniably tied to being jammed in airline seats for hours on end. The inability to move – pretty much at all – is just the airlines begging for massive lawsuits.

Added to this, it was literally hours between visits by any cabin crew. Granted, I can’t expect them to be continually roaming the aisles; but seeing one of them check in on things every few hours might be nice.

Listen up, American air carriers, it’s time to get in-step with your overseas counterparts and stop treating your passengers like veal – penned in and miserable. Widen the isles, increase sit pitch so the guy in front of me doesn’t lean his seat back into my lap, and start understanding that we’re human beings who deserve at least the most basic levels of respect and dignity.