Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The Desegregated... Gamer?

Hi folks.

Yeah, I've been away for a while. I just haven't felt motivated to post much about cycling recently. I guess I kind of feel like I've said what I needed to say.

I've been wanting to branch out with blogs focusing on other areas of my interest, but until now, I was thinking of doing that in unrelated blogs. But I've decided, for better or worse, to keep it all here.

So here's my first game review. I tend to give critical reviews - I see no point in sugar-coating a review - game companies' marketing departments do that job just fine without needing me to add to the hype. So without further ado, here's my critical review of:

"Abzu" is a game of underwater exploration. It is a sort of sequel to 2012's "Journey", which is an almost abstract game in which the player journeys towards a distant mountain peak. In Abzu, the player is a diver who explores a mysterious underwater world while solving puzzles and bringing health and balance back to the damaged ecosystem. The game was published on 2 August 2016 and is available as a digital download for the PC and the PS4. I played the PS4 version.

I liked this game overall: it is not your average video game, as it gives the player a beautiful and generally non-threatening environment in which to play at his own pace. It's a game that many non-gamers might enjoy, as it requires neither fast reflexes nor the puzzle-solving skills of a rocket scientist. Everything happens at a slow pace, and while it has puzzles, they are simple, as the game is meant to be an experience and not a chore. While most modern games are almost like reality filtered through the mind of a deranged crackhead, Abzu is a little like reality filtered through the mellow mind of a guy who has had the best trip imaginable using magic mushrooms.

However, I couldn't help comparing Abzu to Journey, because it's scene-for-scene pretty much the same game, and for me, Journey is better, with more compelling ways of telling the story and with elements that show the player how he's progressing in terms of the collectibles. For example, where in Abzu is the in-game feature that tells me which shells I've collected? Journey had a little area, off to the side of one of the environments, which showed which collectibles were missing, so we could search in one area for a missing artifact, without having to look all through the game for it. And where is Abzu's equivalent to Journey's scarf, which told players how well they were doing in terms of gathering resources? These flaws made Abzu just a little frustrating, and that shouldn't happen in a game that is clearly intended to give players a peaceful experience.

Also, I couldn't help feeling geographically constrained by Abzu, especially in the later scenes, where you can see interesting areas ripe for exploration, but the game won't let you go there. This was compounded in the ending, which places you in a credits scene which allows no movement beyond the camera's focus. And the credits are unskippable, not just the first time, but every single time we play the game! It's just poor design.

Then there are the loading screens. I get that it's graphically intensive, so the loads between in-game stuff was fine. What I don't understand is why it should sometimes take over 30 seconds to load up a menu screen! 30 seconds to transition to the meditation menu screen, which is basically a screen with 12 static selectable images on it - what's up with that? Whereas Journey was 100% smooth from beginning to end, Abzu is broken up into chapters and menus that plunge the player into seemingly endless black loading screen after endless black loading screen. I wouldn't mind if the developers had given me something pretty to look at while the game is loading, but they haven't.

Finally, the lack of multiplayer definitely hurts the game in comparison with Journey. I see no reason why this game couldn't have a similar multiplayer mechanism.

But for all its flaws, I still enjoyed the game. I even played through it a second time, and a third to get all the trophies. I'm even planning on doing a fourth playthrough to concentrate on finding all the wall paintings from the ancient civilization, to see if I can piece together the story of how, and for what purpose, the vast machines (the game's antagonists) were built.

I loved Journey - it is an A+ in my book, whereas Abzu gets a B+. It's basically Journey underwater with better graphics, but I feel it's been stripped of many of the things I found most fun in the earlier game, while some design decisions are questionable at best. My verdict: by all means buy it, but be aware that it has some flaws.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Bishop charged with manslaughter in death of cyclist Thomas Palermo

So while Episcopal Bishop Heather Cook was driving drunk and texting, she killed Tom Palermo, a cyclist who was in a bike lane, then she left the scene of the accident and drove home. At least this time the offender has been charged - usually they get off with a warning. Now we just have to wait around 18 months to see her get a 6 month suspended sentence and community service.

From the reports I've read, it seems it took the police at least an hour to give her a breathalyzer test, so the fact that she was nearly three times the legal limit at that point indicates that she was very drunk when she hit and killed Tom Palermo.

The thing I've found most interesting about this story is that, as the story has played out in the media, I actually haven't seen many comments urging cyclists to stay off the road. Instead, I've seen a lot of misogyny, anti-episcopal rhetoric and homophobia (she is rumored to be gay). I guess all dead cyclists need to get fair treatment is for their killers to be from "outgroups" too.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

"Victorinox" Delémont Evolution S17

This is my "everyday carry" Swiss Army knife - it has the Victorinox logo, but in most respects it's a Wenger knife.

I love lost causes, and this is my latest.

I've been using Swiss Army knives for over 30 years - I've used both Victorinox and Wenger knives, but I have a soft spot for Wenger - they always seemed like they were willing to change and innovate, whereas Victorinox seemed staid and monolithic. Still, most of the time I bought Victorinox knives, probably because their marketing worked on me.

I hadn't been keeping up with developments in the world of the Swiss Army knife (there's no real need to because these knives are made tough and don't need replacing very often), so it was only recently that I found out that Swiss Army knife manufacturer Wenger is now effectively extinct. After Victorinox bought the smaller company in 2005, they promised that Wenger would be kept intact ("that's great," I naively thought - "maybe co-operation will improve both brands"), but as of January 2013 that is no longer the case. All that's left of the knife making part of Wenger are some of their knives, which have been rebranded and are now being sold under the Victorinox name. In my view, a classic case of a better company being overwhelmed by a more regressive but bigger company's ability to fund more aggressive marketing.

Yay capitalism!

So the knife in the image may have a Victorinox logo, but to me, that's always going to be a Wenger knife: the ergonomic handle, the main blade, the cap lifter, the corkscrew, the scissors, the saw and the nail file were all designed by Wenger. Victorinox have added their own can opener (which is definitely not an improvement - Wenger's was less intuitive but it opened cans faster). On the bright side, Victorinox also added their own awl, toothpick and tweezers, all of which are admittedly improvements, and which is why I use this knife rather than hunting around on eBay for a "real" Wenger.

I guess I should be happy - after all, the result has kinda given us the best of both worlds (albeit in a two steps forward one step back kind of way), but I just wish we could have gotten here without hardworking people having to lose their jobs, and without a beloved brand name going the way of the Dodo.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

We drove to Walt Disney World

We drove down to Disney World this month - that's nearly 2,000 miles of driving that my wife did (I don't drive). We took the 95 almost all the way and in nearly 2,000 miles I never saw a single motorist obeying the speed limit except in traffic jams or exiting the freeway. In all that time (24 hours of driving), I saw only one motorist getting a ticket. We even got honked at a few times, because we weren't going fast enough for the driver behind.

On a related note, this month we also had a karmic moment, when a motorist overtook my wife's car unsafely, forcing her to jam on the brakes. About a mile later, we saw this same car pulled to the side of the road behind another car - apparently the idiot had rear-ended someone.

And motorists say cyclists are the scofflaws!

Friday, 22 August 2014

Degenerative Disc Disease

Whoa! It's been a long time between posts. But now I finally have something to write about.

I have degenerative Disc Disease - kind of an invisible illness. I've had it for about 15 years and unfortunately, I'm one of the few who has chronic pain because of it. I'm not on disability - not sure I could even qualify for a disabled parking sticker - haven't even tried to get one (I don't drive anyway).

As regular readers know, I'm a commuter cyclist and I'm very lucky that I have no pain while riding - it's the only time I'm (thus far) guaranteed to have no pain at all. So I'm often seen riding around my neighborhood like a totally fit athletic person, which I am while I'm on the bike - I can cycle for 60 miles or more, no problem. But recently my illness has become worse - another disc gone kaput - still no problems cycling, but if I walk more than a couple of blocks, I need a walking stick; if I walk for an hour or so, I need a back brace, and if I'm out for more than an couple of hours, I need a wheelchair. I avoided even considering a wheelchair until my wife suggested I use one while we were at Disneyworld (they rent them out for $10 per day - pretty good deal, so I went for it), and afterwards I was convinced, because it made it possible to join in all-day family activities that I had subconsciously canceled from my routine.

So I just bought a wheelchair for the first time today, yay! But I'm a bit worried about what friends and neighbors are going to think of a person who's out and about on a bike 5 days a week, but who occasionally uses a wheelchair. When I rented a wheelchair I was even kinda embarrassed to get out of it and stand up or walk around for fear of being labeled a disability scammer or a joyrider. There's a lot of ignorance out there about disability - for so many people it seems like there are only a few kinds of health states - amputee, paraplegic, quadriplegic and perfectly healthy. If you don't fit into the first three categories, because your illness is invisible, that means you're fine. It's nuts, but I'm anticipating puzzled looks and perhaps even questions.

Anyway, just thought I'd share. Does anyone have any thoughts? Any similar experiences or friends with similar issues?

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Motorists' Sense of Entitlement

Yup. It's that time again. Time for the perennial patent pending Desegregated Cyclist anti-motorist rant.

Speaking as a person who has received training as a cycling safety instructor, speaking as a person who knows the laws and rules of the road and puts them into practice every day without fail, and speaking as a person who has been commuting by bike for over 30 years, I have to say it's getting ridiculous for cyclists out on the road these days. Motorists seem to be getting far worse - I estimate 90% or more don't have a clue as to their responsibilities or even the rules of the road (and they talk about "scofflaw cyclists" as if motorists never speed, never talk on the cellphone while driving, never drink, never run red lights or stop signs, etc., etc., etc.). With that overwhelming ignorance comes a sense of entitlement a mile wide and an arrogance that often seems to lead to violence.

I find 90% of motorists to be disgusting and frightening (by which I do NOT mean they frighten me by honking or buzzing me - I mean that they don't practice the rules of the road because they don't know them, nor do they care to know them, which means they pose a real danger to cyclists on the road). That's something I would never have thought 20 years ago, but today's motorists appear to be a different breed: they seem to have no consideration for other road users, and they seem to act as if the road is their private property rather than a facility that exists for everyone to use, no matter what vehicle they choose to use on it.

The problem, I think, is that there is nowhere near the same respect for cycling that there was 30 years ago. Today's motorists don't have a grounding in cycling culture - many did not commute to school by bike when they were kids and many now view bicycles as mere toys rather than transportation, so they view cyclists as errant children rather than equals on the road. The prevailing attitude is that cyclists are joyriders, whereas the reality is that we are engaged in the very same commuter activities as motorists. The only difference is that when cyclists disobey the rules, they aren't driving a 2-ton chunk of metal that can easily kill. That difference is why motorists should be held to a higher standard. I think the fact that they are, all too often, NOT held to a higher standard is shameful.