Saturday, 3 March 2018

Modern Reading

It is no secret the general reading habits of the well read have changed over this past decades or so. I do not count myself a well read person, but I recall the likes of Sam Harris noting how the frequency of finishing books went down over the past few years and how the task of reading a thick book seems way more daunting than it used to be just a few years back.
And I agree. On one hand I am reading more than I ever had, but on the other the number of books I have been reading has been decreasing from the paltry to the shameful. It’s actually quite a simple equation: between my RSS feeds (yes, I’m old style, I use RSS rather than social media to drive my feeds; I get to choose what comes in, rather than a commercially interested algorithm) and my podcast listening, I get to spend the bulk of my leisure time reading short articles and the bulk of my non leisure commute time listening to stuff of, frankly, not too dissimilar a nature.
Whatever time is left for books is rather minimal. More interestingly, the books I choose to pick and read in the first place are usually books that I have read about in my feed or books I have heard about in those podcasts that I listen to. Not surprisingly, given the nature of my feeds and my favourite podcasts, these tend to narrow on the non fiction category.
Yet there is much amiss here. I noticed, for example, how reading those non fiction books cover to cover does not tend to enlighten me significantly more than that article I already read or that podcast I’ve listened to already did. Given how valuable my book reading time has become, and given the value I still credit book reading with (despite my actions saying the contrary), I concluded it’s time to change.
So I’m thinking of an overhaul. Instead of focusing my book reading on the non fiction department, I will leave non fiction [mostly] to articles and podcasts and focus my book reading on fiction instead. To kick this off, I am looking at some of the books I loved the most as a child: we are talking science fiction books, mostly, but also fantasy, from an era when books did not have to weigh a ton and a book did not have to be a part of a trilogy. I’m hoping this would let me over the ditch I find myself stuck in with contemporary science fiction.
We’ll see how it goes. Preliminary reports indicate that a great book can work wonders on my mojo, but a meh book can work the same way - albeit in the opposite direction.

Monday, 5 February 2018

A Tale of Headphones

When asked, I openly admit to keeping my distance from fellow Israelis. Unlike other Israelis I know in Australia, who lead a life identical to that they had in Israel in everything but the physical location copied many thousands of kilometres across, I shy from the Israeli.
It has been very hard for me to explain why, though. However, the following story might shed some light. It does not offer an explicit explanation, but it does say most of what there is for me to say on the matter. I call it: a tale of headphones.

Last time I left Israel from a family visit on my way back home, I sat on board an El Al 747 jet. I wore my wired Bose QC25 headphones, which I greatly admired for their noise cancellation (on which I counted for the long flights ahead) and comfort, but generally disliked for their sound quality (admittedly not the biggest of problems in the noisy environment that is the inside of an old jet crowded with Israelis). All of this took place shortly after Bose had announced their then latest model, the QC35 headphones, which were essentially the same headphones with slightly better noise cancellation and - the Crown Jewels - wireless operation via Bluetooth.
As the plane was getting ready to take off, a guy I never saw before and will almost certainly never see again walked across the aisle and stopped by my seat. I looked up to see him staring at me, and took my headphones off so I could hear what he was trying to say to me.
“Oh, best headphones in the world. For wired headphones”, he said in Hebrew.
And he walked away.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Civilization 6 for the iPad: Personal Recommendation

Yesterday I woke up to the news Civilization 6, the 2016 game that is one of the best strategy video games ever, has been released to iOS. It’s a full port, you get exactly what PC gamers got on Steam (minus the expansion packs and the mods, the former are said to arrive eventually and the latter incompatible with the Apple way). Personally, I was ecstatic with the news; games like Civ 6 are the epitome of tablet playing. It is as if the gods intended for such games to be played on a tablet.
This could have been the one game to rule them all, at least as far as I was concerned. My appreciation for games I can play any time I feel like when I have a minute here and a minute there is immense, given the fact I hardly get a minute there or a minute here; plus the fact my iPad & I are rarely far apart. Most console or full on PC games port poorly to mobile, because they were never designed to be played in short bouts; Civ games are the exception because of their turn based nature. That is, as long as the game always lets you save. And as long as you can get over the need to have just one more round…
Skepticism crept in once I realised Civilisation 6 is a free game with in app purchases. That is almost always the universal sign for trouble. Turns out my skepticism was well founded!
Allow me to therefore explain why I, or for that matter, you, should not buy Civilization 6 on the iPad even though it could well and justly claim to be the best game on the platform. Because, at least for now:
  1. It is quite buggy. I hope and assume they will fix it, but be prepared for some frustration.
  2. I don’t know what the game’s rendering story is, exactly, but on my 12.9” iPad the game does not play at the screen’s native resolution. It is still a fine looking game, but text does look a little on the blurry side and there is definitely eye fatigue as a direct result. [You can even witness the effect yourself if you magnify the attached screen shot.]
  3. I have a problem with the history of Civilization’s particular publisher on iOS. Their games are abandoned shortly after release, and fail to get the updates necessary for the game to continue running under new versions of iOS. As examples, I will cite Side Meier’s Pirates (buggy for a couple of years before it was pulled off the AppStore entirely), Civilization Revolution 2 (Civilization’s former mobile port wasn’t as good as the real thing but it was fun; alas, it was never updated to 64 bits, as Apple required for iOS 11), Sid Meier's Ace Patrol (formerly available under separate premium and freemium versions, neither got an iOS 11 update), and the original XCOM (probably the contender for best iOS game upon its release, XCOM was never updated for iOS 11 either).
  4. Which brings me to the elephant in the room. Cost: after 60 rounds of free play, Civilization 6 asks for $47 to completely unlock the game. That’s more than any other game I know of is asking on iOS, and by a very wide margin. What’s worse, that’s actually a 50% discount price that’s supposed to go up to its full $94 glory as of 4 January 2018.
  5. Given the way in app purchases work on iOS, this unblocking fee is not family shareable. In my case, it means that each family member that wants to play Civ 6 would have to pay separately.
  6. Lest we forget, Civilization 6 is a two year old game by now. No one is expected to pay full price for it anymore on any other platform.
So there you have it. I argue that I, and so should you, need not bother paying $47 or even $94 for the privilege of playing Civilization 6 on an iPad no matter how glorious the experience is. A financially successful release here would spell a dangerous precedent.
Note I am not arguing against fully priced games; I think the devs need to earn their money. However, Civilization 6 on the iPad does not deserve to be a fully priced game: it is not a new game anymore, it is technically flawed, and it comes from a publisher who has a record of contempt towards iOS users.
Recommendation: Avoid Civilization 6 and wait till the publisher regains their sanity.

23/12/2017 update:
I caught some flak, some justified and some less so, on my arguments above. So I will correct and/or clarify myself:
First, I was informed that Civilization Revolution 2 for iOS has been updated to support iOS 11. According to the AppStore, that update has been made 3 weeks ago (whereas iOS 11 has been out since September). Pickings aside, I think it's a great mobile game, have reinstalled it, and see myself playing it a lot until Civilization 6 is adequately priced. And probably even afterwards, because Civ Rev, while clearly an inferior game, is a more mobile friendly game.
Second, it was pointed out to me the publisher of Civilization 6 for the iPad is not the same publisher as the abandonware games I have cited. That is true: the publisher specified on the AppStore for Civ 6 is the same publisher behind the wonderful port for Knights of the Old Republic (if you don't have it, drop everything and get it now!) as well as Jade Empire (which appears to be well done as well, but I haven't played it much - yet).
However, 2K Games appear in the credits of Civilization 6 for iPad, and they are definitely to blame for abandonware. More importantly, with the exception of XCOM, all the games I have cited as abandonware are Sid Meier games. Civilization 6 also happens to be a Sid Meier game.
I will therefore argue that if the producers of Civ 6 want me to pay full premium console price for their game, breaking all AppStore traditions, the least they could do is let us know how long they are planning to support the game for. As it is, the record stands firmly against them.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Simon Joslin interview

I recently interviewed Simon Joslin for Digitally Downloaded. You can read the interview here.
Simon is the main guy behind the Train Conductor series of games, games that left me with some dear personal memories (of the family type). I met with Simon at last year's PAX and we had a long chat; he definitely is a nice guy. As you can read in the interview, he's been doing interesting things and has plenty of interesting insight to share.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Standing Out

We were talking at work about how hard it is to engage someone you don’t know into a meaningful conversation that would, eventually, lead to work getting done. It’s not only that it’s hard to “crack open” (in a very positive way) someone you don’t know; it is just as hard to find the inner resources required to open yourself up first.
For one reason or another, this discussion made me ponder a phenomenon I encounter infrequently on public transport.

As a non Anglo Saxon living in Australia, I generally stand out from the crowds. People notice me more.
The manifestation of this, when it comes to public transport, is that usually the seat next to me on the train is the last to be taken in the carriage. People are afraid of the unfamiliar, and to the majority I look unfamiliar: even fellow minority members prefer to seat next to members of the majority before they’d risk sitting by me. Sure, it is sad, but at least I can understand where they’re coming from.
Things are even worse with women. As much as it is rare for a man to end up sitting next to me on public transport, having a woman sit next to me is the equivalent of winning the lottery, odds wise. I can understand the reasons for that way better than I understand the general case, given everything women have to go through in this world; let’s face it, Weinstein and Trump are far from being the only predators around.
What happens next is the infrequent phenomenon that triggered this post. I had found, on several occasions, that once a woman sat next to me, she will not hesitate to sit next to me again the next time we bump into one another. Even if the seat next to me is not the last remaining seat.
I find this interesting, because of the things it indicates at. Firstly, it makes it evident I definitely stand out from the crowd; they remember me. And secondly, it shows that once it becomes clear I am a rather benign person whose public transport escapades are usually consumed reading, I no longer inspire fear among my fellow public transporters.
Quite interesting, this inherent fear of the unknown.

Monday, 23 October 2017


It appears we have reached the end of the season for the Strange Man in a Strange Land podcast, and to end things on a high Ike has decided to go with a short episode dealing with one of Australia's finer contributions to common sense: it's handling of tipping.
You can listen to the podcast here, on iTunes here, or simply with this player right over here:

Monday, 16 October 2017

Aussie Sports

This week's episode of Strange Man in a Strange Land is about Australia's fetish with sports. Ike glosses over some of the popular sports here, and speculates on why it is that sports are so important to Aussies.
Have a listen here, over on iTunes, or using the big player below:

Monday, 9 October 2017

Australia's Education System

This week's episode of the Strange Man in a Strange Land podcast offers a review of Australia's education system, from childcare through university.
Have a listen here, on iTunes, or simply through the player below: