21 February 2012

You probably have a parasocial relationship in your life. If you've grown up around television or literature it's a safe bet that you'll have encountered this concept, even if you didn't know what it was called.

Essentially it's a one-sided social interaction. Do you miss a TV series you used to watch? That's a parasocial relationship. You were never directly involved in the lives of the characters and they were not aware of you observing them yet you developed an attachment to them.

I feel that about various TV shows and find it somewhat disturbing. I do not tend to sit around the housing watching TV, however I have seen a frankly outrageous amount of content. Every Simpsons episode ever broadcast, for example (~500 at the time of writing). That's a lot of time watching characters and their lives and has affected my brain somewhat. I find watching The Simpsons to have a calming effect on me - the characters are familiar and positive (as in my perceived relationship with them) and it puts me at ease.

Similarly watching old episodes of Scrubs is a little sad, even though the plotlines pretty much resolved themselves. I watched the characters mature and grow over the course of nine series (I did not watch them year by year, but it was over the course of a few years). Now that their adventures are over there's somewhat of a gap in my life left by them. It's a bit odd and I'm not sure whether I am comfortable with the concept.

I suppose it's a similar phenomenon that drives people to be "supporters" of team sports clubs, although there are a great many other elements at play there.

Given the current issues I'm having with a few close friends at the moment it seems both natural and stupid to turn to these parasocial relationships for comfort. I'm doing my best to ensure that I do not turn to them exclusively as I feel that would be extremely unhealthy. It does make me wonder how many people inevitably do though...

I finished playing Psychonauts last night, having recently bought it in a Steam sale for half a pittance. Aside from a couple of frustrating moments (mostly in the final "level") it was a very fun experience.

The writing was excellent, the characters funny (particularly the shadowy G-men inside Boyd's head), and in the gameplay was mostly satisfying.

That's not what I'm writing about though. Whilst playing I noticed that the game, despite being released in 2005 has Steam achievements. I also notice that it had no problem supporting my native resolution (1920x1080). In a modern game that'd be to be expected but back then it was unheard of to have a monitor like that.

From what I've read though the game was distributed by a company for a number of years (I want to say Majesco?) but then the distribution agreement expired and those rights reverted back to Double Fine. So what did they do?

Well they fixed a load of issues, integrated it with Steam, added cloud support, achievements, and modern resolutions (I'm guessing on the last one) and re-released it. There's also a nifty iOS app with some artist/director commentary on some of the game's art assets.

I wonder if we'll see a bit more of this sort of thing given the way modern gaming has become established. I doubt it because I'm feeling cynical but there's certainly the possibility.

My only complaint is the inability to return to the map hub after the suitably named "Point of No Return". I wanted to finish things up and then return to sort stuff out. Alas it was not to be and I'm not willing to go that far back.

However perhaps soon I'll be playing Psychonauts 2. Make it happen, Mr. Schafer!

Taking action in Glasgow

11 February 2012

As I write this, dear reader, I'm sitting on the train on my way back from Glasgow where I was attending a protest against ACTA. I was not alone but the turn out was nowhere near as large as the Facebook event "going" numbers suggested it would be. I'm unsurprised, frankly.

Why would that be, Ben, you cynical misanthrope?

That'd be because I've become accustomed to the sickening apathy of my generation. Nothing poses any real, tangible threat to their ways of life on its own. However over time their liberties are being eroded and yet they are unwilling to even consider speaking out.

I have several theories as to why this might be, although I doubt it is any one thing. Something new flew into my factors today based on something I listened to some time ago.

Mobile phones.

I have no real issue with them, I've had one since I was sixteen, etc. etc.. This isn't a post to rally against them, it's more a spot of finger in the air speculation.

Prior to the ubiquity of mobile phones there were greater social consequences for not attending something. One could not call an hour before and tell someone that one would be unable to meet them. They'd already be on their way there, or at least unreachable. These days one can send a text at short notice and whilst there is still consequence one did still provide some notice, rather than none at all.

Essentially it has become a lot easier to avoid committing to social engagements. One can sit on the fence until the last moment, sometimes beyond.

The other thing I would comment on is the peer pressure social media creates. I don't see many strong opinions posted in my Facebook feed, I see mundane matters. I don't tend to hesitate about being outspoken about issues that get to me yet I find myself cautious about posting things to my Facebook feed. If I find it that difficult who is to say how difficult it must be for those who are less gregarious than myself?

Of my Facebook "friends" only one came to the protest today and he's someone I only know through politics and so would probably have attended regardless of my own actions. None of them even offered an opinion on ACTA, let alone asked to come along (or better yet, told me they'd be there).

I find this extremely disappointing yet it is also the response I expected.

What needs to happen for my generation to actually consider that these things affect them and can be changed?

Why is it that it is almost taboo to take action amongst mainstream culture?

On doing business my way

01 February 2012

It's the middle of the night and I'm fairly tired and yet can't sleep.

Inspired, I know. It's not my worries that are keeping me up, it's something else.

I was supposed to be going to some sort of business workshop in the morning starting at 0945 or so. Not too early for some of you, I'm sure.

However it's a bit too early for me.

I don't mean I can't be up by then, it's more a case of me having issues with other people messing with my schedule. In this case "other people" refers to the various people I'm having to deal with to keep paperwork sorted out.

I tend to get up at some time between 1000 and 1300 and then work throughout the afternoon and evening. I was sculpting until 0030 and that was an early finish by my standards.

I work best at those times for some things and not others. I'm much better at doing accounts during the day but I struggle to sit down and sculpt until the evening.

This week I had two meetings on Monday, a meeting today (well, yesterday now), and a meeting of sorts "today" (Wednesday). You know what I'd really like?

To get some bloody work done.

I've got a kit I've been working on for some time that is starting to really come together. I can only work on it at intervals on account of the curing time required by my materials. You know what interferes with that?

Frequent meetings with people who barely understand what I do for a living. Some are understanding and friendly, such as the very helpful Ann at the Job Centre (where I've had to report on occasion to ensure suitable schemes were traversed successfully).

Others are less helpful, such as the adviser I'm currently dealing with at an institute I will not mention the name of.

She is not actively unhelpful; merely aggravating. An apparent believer in truth by repetition, she reminds me of the fact that this world squeaks along on the backs of millions of barely competent office workers.

When I have someone explaining to me that the figure of 900 pounds comes from the 700 of equipment I just supplied the figures for and the 200 of cash I personally injected into the business as if it's difficult to grasp I sigh. Sometimes inwardly, sometimes audibly.

I'm 25. I have excellent GCSEs, reasonable A-levels, a decent undergraduate degree, and my own business. I can manage 7 + 2 in my head.

What I need help with is how best to process my accounts to comply with current legislation.

I could really do with someone to advise me as to why a growing business is considered "unsustainable". December aside I have made a solid profit in a fairly steep upward direction. At this rate I will be properly off the ground very soon. However the fact that I'm turning a profit at all in my first year during the worst recession in decades is a bloody miracle.

What puts a damper on this is some low level management droid demanding projections from me. It'd be fine if I had deployed most of my stock and had been in business for 6 months but I have not.

What I have done is built up a little following of friendly customers and sold much of my stock. I can project how long until I need to replace stuff, should I be so inclined.

What I can't say is how much I'm going to make from my own unique product range. The profit margins are much higher but I cannot predict demand.

This isn't catering - I can't see how another cafe is doing and how much I'm likely to make because no one knows.

Until recently it was barely possible to do these things. There's been an explosion over the last two or three years. Five years ago I was hard pressed to find anything of this sort outside of Forgeworld. These days I'm having to figure out how many third-party wheel options to offer!

On another note I was told that my profit margins are too low. I'm not going to give you an exact figure, dear reader, but my profit margins are most certainly not too low. What could do with improvement is my unit sales.

Overheads eat into profit margins, of course, that's why I basically don't have any.

My assigned drone does not seem to understand this. Hardly surprising, I suppose, given that she seems dumbfounded that someone might manage basic arithmetic without resorting to a calculator.

It's rather insulting to be this misunderstood by someone who is supposed to be able to offer advice and guidance.

I'm following my father's advice: no premises, no staff, low overheads. There's more to it than that, but the important concepts aren't difficult. Why do I take his advice?

Simple - I've watched him build a small empire on applied knowledge, pragmatic thinking, determination, and ongoing analysis and re-evaluation.

When a system is up and running he'll let it tick over for a while and do other things. Occasionally he'll check up on it, think about things, learn about other things, and then reassess the process to see if it could be done more effectively.

Some of the things I was taught at university as being cutting edge in the business world are things that my father implemented five to ten years ago.

By contrast my adviser bot seems confused and agitated when I explain to her that I'm more concerned about creative freedom and control of my company than I am about whatever monies they may choose to give me.

I am not interested in impressing them. I'm interested in running my own business my way. I'll comply with legislation where it applies but beyond that I get very cagey about organisations that have the audacity to lecture me on how to run my affairs.

It would be different if they could actually help but thus far all I've seen are off the rack things about generic business stuff.

"You should go along! It'll be good for networking!"

No. It won't. Not for this business.


Another simple one - the people I need to network with aren't there because they're spread across Europe. The people I need to know are in Lancashire, Krakow, and so on. I know this because I pay attention to the 'net and speak to people. I get to know what they're working on to see what I might stock from them. I keep track of their latest developments to see if there's things we might work together on in future. I check their sites and forum topics and talk to them and determine where to compete and where to avoid stealing their thunder.

I do these things because I know my own business and know the sector. Why?

Because it's my bleeding' job!

Sorry to rant but some things need to be said and I'm sick of dealing with incompetent morons who are baffled by the very idea of online business.

E-commerce is not some sort of bizarre curio for business to toy with, it's an actual thing. It's a very, very big actual thing. Even so these organisations act like it's 1999 and they're not sure if this whole internet thing is going to stick around.

Apparently there was a montage which they missed and suddenly the year is 2012 and the world is not the one they grew up in. I grew up in a world that changed drastically around me. These last five years have been fairly uneventful by contrast. I still have a smartphone, I still use the internet, I listen to music on my phone, and buy things online.

I shall put up with the bullshit from these people for a little longer to see if they can be convinced to give me some free money. I don't need it but I would not complain if I can get it.

In the meantime I shall have fun, play tabletop war-games, spend time online, and most shockingly of all, benefit from doing so as part of my business model!

It's almost as if I've carefully assessed which variables matter, which I have to pay for, and which I can exchange goods, services, or time for instead. As if I had a brain and an education or something equally insane.

Now I could really do with my muse back but in the meantime I shall make do with anger and intellect.