Becoming a Gamer – My Brief History #2

I believe the term “gamer” is relatively new and while playing computer games has been part of my life since the mid-eighties, I have never thought of myself as a “gamer”. First, I am sure the term has not been widely used until recently (checking Wikipedia, the term is known since 1422 so I may be wrong, but perhaps it is only with the recent mainstream focus on eSports (outside Korea) that usage has spread), second, I have suffered from a misconception that being a “gamer” is mostly a young man’s game, mainly for those a strongly focused enthusiasm…

Actually, one reason for starting this series of posts is that I finally realized (accepted) that the label applies to me as well, just as much as I am a gardener because I tend a garden and I am an aquarist because I keep an aquarium. I play, ergo gamer.

My brief history of gaming #2 – Next was Amiga

In 1990 I upgraded and replaced my Commodore 64 with an Amiga 500. The natural upgrade path at the time if you were on the Commodore track, at least if you hadn’t passed by the Commodore 128 along the way. I didn’t and I know very few who did and they all booted directly to C64 mode anyway.

So I got the Amiga and wasn’t really blown away. “of course”, you might say with the eyes of today – switching to a 3 year old model must be underwhelming, but coming from an 8 year old model, by today’s standard you would expect more? It would be like upgrading from an iPhone 5 to iPhone 8. Or, if you into Android, from a Galaxy S3 to S8 or A5 (2017). I never had an iPhone, but I tried both Galaxies, only recently having had to replace the absolutely adequate if unspectacular A5. “absolutely adequate if unspectacular” probably describes my A500 experience pretty well.

I had the A500 for 3 years and what I primarily remember or for is my first run at serious computing, doing both text processing for school (Kind Words” on a CRT screen) and my first database to keep track of Ultima V npc conversations. The Amiga was actually the place where I finished Ultima V (yes!) and a couple of SSI gold box games.

This may be unfair statement, but I don’t recall the Amiga as revolutionizing gaming (and my viewpoint is certainly based far from the main industry and press). Of course graphics improved, but I don’t think gameplay changed notably. To me the A500 is more memorable as a transitional platform at the time: if you needed powerful machine in 1990 and the budget was tight, then it was a viable solution. Also, who had foreseen Commodore crashing and the boring PC being Doom-ed suddenly to become much more soon after. I’ll get back to that in future posts.

Memorable games

My list of memorable Amiga games is surprisingly short. It is not that I kept playing on the C64 because I sold that one, instead it must be that I simply played less. My Amiga years cover my age between 15 and 19 years old and I am happy to have made that discovery! As a teenager I must, after all, have been into school and friends.

  • Ultima V: I finally completed this excellent game
  • SSI Gold Box Games: Curse of Azure Bonds and Champions of Krynn (maybe Deathknights too): Some fine Dungeons and Dragons Games
  • Sidewinder: My favorite Amiga shoot’m’up
  • Millennium 2.2 and Deuteros: Two resource management and exploration games, the later a sequel of the former. Actually, this type of game may have something new on the Amiga and they were great to play.
  • Logical: A fine puzzle game and something I hadn’t seen before either (there is a C64 vrsion, but I nver played it). Googling around I am happy to see several remakes/clones around for PC : )

Featured image

The sun setting over Riga Airport.

Related posts

Thoughts of Games – My Brief History #1

How to Sort Email – (my) Pro Edition

I started using email in 1993 when I had my introductory computer science class at the university. Using email was a requirement for us to turn in homework and so we had to learn it. With only a handful of assignments throughout the term I must have written 50 mails at most and received about as many that year. Sweet! How little did I know what the world would look like in 2019.

Much e-ink has flowed since then about the advantages and disadvantages of email and what to do about it, and this post is my drops into that ocean. I will not proclaim myself an expert on the matter. I am just another user who needs to deal with the incoming flow of information as well as possible, so here is what works for me today in my particular professional context.

My context

I work as a technical project manager in an fairly large IT organization where I am usually involved in 2-4 different projects with project teams spread across locations. I received about 100 emails on a typical day and On a typical day I receive about 100 emails and write 20-30 myself. Microsoft Outlook is the email client of choice.

Mail treads range between the single announcement mails over 3-5 mail back/an/.forths to long exchanges with 10 or more people involved and 10s of mails in threads that may even branch out. Most threads live for one to at most two weeks.

Regarding Outlook

Microsoft Outlook is a powerful email client that can do much more than receive and send messages and put them into folders.

Key features that I depend on in my daily work is:

  • Categories: Email categorization is integral to both my reading and sorting workflows. More about it below.
  • Customized search, that allows me to search for a very specific terms by using keywords [link] – a search can be across folders
  • Rules, that automate sorting and assigning categories
  • Cross platform access: Apart from the desktop client my mailbox can also be accessed via a powerful web-client that has similar functions as the desktop version(at least as my usage goes). On Android there is a mobile emails client called Nine from 9folders that supports most of my favorite functions as well and well worth the price for an ambitious mail user (Microsoft’s own Outlook for Android, on the other hand, is reduced to almost only basic mail functionality).

According to various websites the maximum number of emails that a folder can hold is 100,000. In my experience (with my hardware and my emails) I have experienced degrading performance when the inbox folder contains more than 4-6,000 items, so I need to sort and archive regularly. Since I receive about 100 emails per (work-) day, this means that I can have about 2-3 months of mail in my inbox.

Reading workflow

My reading workflow focus on ensuring that no actions are left behind. Since many of my mails are not just simple Q&A exchanges but can be longer discussions where different people contribute and responses drag out because people are busy with other things than this particular thread, I need a system where I can track an active thread over time.

I rely largely on the a combination of the unread mail filter, subject sorting and category of assignment; with the category only being assigned when mail has been read and no further action is required.

Here is what I do:

  1. In chronological view, pick a unread and categorized email.
  2. Switch to subject sorted view, review thread and take actions as needed, mark items as categorized according to content (cf. the outline folder structure below).
  3. Repeat steps 1-2 as many times as time allows or until all email has been handled.
  4. When done, mark all categorized mail as read.

I use the category marker to indicate when a mail has been processed and then combine it with the unread mail

Folder/Archive structure

For many years I used to build detailed and deep folder structures for my emails and then spent ages archiving mails, followed by occasionally spending ages finding them again, because I couldn’t remember where I had put that particular mail on that day. The point to remember is that most emails can be sorted according to several different criteria, and those criteria may even change after arching. Imagine for example an emails about a release 2.2 of a product. Perhaps the scope of that release is later changed to release 2.3 because other scope is introduced in release 2.2 or perhaps the matter discussed in that particular mail is moved to another release. Regardless, the odds of finding that email again is small, not because you didn’t archive properly, but instead exactly because you archived it in a very specific place. To avoid this, avoid folder hierarchies and embrace the search functionality provided by Outlook.

Here is what I do:

  • Inbox: All mail resides here until archived
  • Project folders: Projects where I contribute actively for an extended period has a folder. IN addition I have a folder for projects I am not involved in and possible one for programs that my projects are part of. All these folders have a prefix ‘_P’ to ensure that they are easy to find on any client (note the underscore that ensure the folders go on top in alphabetic lists)
  • “Info” folders for non-project related mail, organized to reflect the organisational structure, with Info corporate and then breaking up once the team structure is relevant for me. So:
    Info: Organization
    Info: Department
    Info: Team
    Info: Miscellaneous
  • “Newsletters” for newsletters
  • “Admin” for various administrative messages that relate to simply being employed, such as travel expenses, time registration, appraisals, training
  • “People” for tasks related to people management, including hiring/firing, 1:1 follow-ups and appraisals
  • “Private” for emails and content that might as well have been handled in personal mail
  • “Miscellaneous” for everything else

The list above reflects my current needs and is not supposed to be the final, ultimate and exhaustive list. For example it could make sense to have a folder set up for activities like art corporate club memberships (art society, fitness activity) or social activities like organizing the next x-mas party.

I use the Outlook categories to categorize emails in the same way. That makes it easy to get a view on all email related to a single product and make the archiving incredibly smooth.

Sorting/Archiving workflow

As mentioned above, my personal experience is that the Outlook inbox performs less well when it contains more than 5000 mails, so with approximately 2000 emails received monthly I need to archive regularly and the easiest way for me to do that is to keep archive once per month and hold only mails for last and current month in the inbox.

What I do is simple:

  1. On the last day of the month click Outlooks inbuilt “received last month” filter to show just that in my mail box (if you missed the date, just write “received:june” (if in August) to get all emails from the almost last month).
  2. Filter on categories (note that filter only returns 250 items, so this may have to be repeated several times for each category)
  3. Move all mails of a given category to the corresponding folder (note that the move is not instantaneous but one can switch between categories and filter one while the other is still moving)
  4. When all “last month” mails have been sorted, apply the ‘Categorized mail’ filter to retrieve all categorized mails. Sort the search result and clear the category from all folders expect the inbox

Featured image

Last night’s sunset seen from the garden.

Thoughts of Games – My Brief History #1

I just made my first game Steam purchase purchase in 2019. For mid-August that is quite unusual, because ever since joining Steam in 2012 (Skyrim was first), I have accumulated games at a steady pace, in particular during the various sales events up to a point close to the GAMBLE state (i.e., Games AMassed Beyond Life Expectancy). Now it seems that I have stopped buying. Partly, I am sure, because I realized that spending money on games I will never play is sort of silly, and whatever game I am interested in, it will always come on sale again, and buying one game that I play at full price is a better deal than buying 4 games at 50% of that I won’t play. However, to fair to myself, I have been aware of this fact for a while, but maybe I just couldn’t stop just kept collecting stuff, like all the Beamdog remakes of Infinity engine games (which I probably won’t play anyway, but I already own them on CD/DVD and played through them and AD&D 2nd Edition hasn’t aged that well, but I still bought them once more). But partly also – I believe – because now I am actually playing something specific, instead of thinking about all the games that I might play if only I had/took the time to do it. And that is great!

And there is always another Steam/GOG/Epic/Ubi/Origin/Humble Store sale coming…

And whatever I do, there will never be a complete collection of remastered infinity engine games, because the Icewind Dale II source code seems to be lost forever

Now, speaking of games, why not share my story of gaming?

My brief history of gaming #1 – It began with the C64

Well, it actually began with the few arcade machines that stood around the town where I grew up. One in the hallway of the sports center had games like Scramble, Bomb Jack and Buzzard; from the grillbar I remember Ladybug, Xevious, Xain’d Sleena, Silk Worm and Flying Shark. All very exiting and very expensive for a pre-teen (sadly, I never excelled in any of those games). After seeing a friend’s Commodore 64 I quickly calculated what an excellent return I would have on that investment and started saving up (Sunday newspapers..). In March 1986 I got the machine and Press[ed] Play on Tape for the first time. I had the C64 until 1990.

I learned BASIC (yes : ) programming on the C64 and briefly saw the desktop future in GEOS, but it was mostly playing games and sharing that excitement with friends that I did. It was a great time and it is fun to think back on the friends and the games we used to play and which, it turns out, formed me as a gamer.

The RPGs

  • Wasteland, many times over and over until I found Base Corchise and could finish what I started.
  • Ultima V, though a broken floppy disk stopped my progress. I handed the game back to the store and got the Gold Box Champions of Krynn instead. I eventually finished Ultima V on Amiga.
  • Bards Tale 3 (maps, maps and maps on checkered paper) and Dragon Wars (built-in discovable maps, pretty cool

The Shoot’m’ups

These games that originally drew me to home computers. Many enhanced the shooting gameplay with excellent music. Xevious was underwhelming, but several games I rememeber fondly:

Other games

Stuff I missed

I never played an Infocom text adventure game; I briefly tried one of the Magnetic Scrolls adventures (probably The Guild of Thieves), but I don’t think I had the necessary language skills or patience at the time to dive in.

Apart from listing games I didn’t play I might also do a section of computers I didn’t own or even try. Being older and wiser now, I would love having had both a ZX81 and a ZX Spectrum (whether I would have loved having them at the time is another matter). I am not so sure about the Amstrad CPC (which I thought would be my first computer for a while, before ending with the C64), whereas the Apple II would have been a natural first step, had I been older. And then there were all the other home computers of the day, many of which that are mostly forgotten now, like Microsoft’s MSX, the Enterprise etc… I’d love to see those in action or at least in a museum.

Afterthoughts

Those were great years of games and computer fun, and I often miss that old machine. Of course, the odds that it would still work after 30+ years are slim, with its datassette and 5¼ floppy drive. And judging how long time I linger whenever I load up a C64 emulator (not long), it is probably fine like that,

Featured image

Dark clouds and a newly harvested field close to home; picture taken on a recent afternoon walk.

Microsoft, Linux, Love

Yesterday it hit the news that how Microsoft is joining the Open Invention Network so that Microsoft’s collection of patents can now be used defend (instead of attacking) Linux. Poss and comments about embrace/extend/extinguish and flying pigs. I guess we are still getting used to this behavior from Microsoft, but really, when you think about it, it is probably just Microsoft being good at business – as is usually the case. Also, the warming relationship between Microsoft and Linux isn’t exactly news. Back in 2016 Microsoft joined the Linux Foundation and similar stuff was posted and googling a bit led back to a 2014 press conference. But is still feels unusual.

Back in my early computing days (1990ish), it wasn’t obvious (to me at least) that Microsoft would become the monopolistic giant it was 10 years later. Sure, the IBM compatible PCs were running MS-DOS, but there were other platforms, and I happily did whatever I needed to do on a Commodore Amiga, with KindWords being my text editor of choice. We also had an Apple Macintosh in the house, which to me worked pretty well too. In the PC World there was still WordPerfect and Lotus 123 around, and the next big thing was to be OS/2.

Things always look clear in hindsight, and I don’t know if anyone had really anticipated how things would develop during the 90s. Personally I became increasingly wary of Microsoft’s growth, probably in part by seeing the alternatives fall away, partly by spending much of my time as a student in a Unix-based universe.

I wonder how much of what happened in the 90s was part of a grand master plan and how much was good fortunes for Microsoft. Probably a bit of both, because fortune favors the well prepared. Of course, if there had really been a grand matter plan, then things would have gone differently in the 2010s, where the rising power of mobile platforms and the cloud meant that once more a Microsoft platform is not the only choice of technology stack.

Featured image

A shot from the park near the Citadel (Kastellet) in Copenhagen.

Chains (, Block-) and Bands

In December 2017 the value of the blockchain-based bitcoin cryptocurrency peaked, and for a short while everyone seemed to want to do something-something blockchain. It all reminded me of the business plan presented by the South Park gnomes:

  1. Steal underpants
  2. ??
  3. Profit

with Cartman’s underpants replaced by the addition of blockchain to whatever the company’s  product was. For example HTC’s ‘Exodus’ blockchain phone.

Since then the blockchain technology seems to have passed the Peak of Inflated Expectations and are now sliding down in the Through of Disillusionment, the value of bitcoin sliding with it, now at 1/3 of the peak value. This is not to say that all business plans involving blockchain are bad, I am just suggesting that not all of them may survive the trip up to the Plateau of Productivity.

I have become an insider also, working myself on a blockchain related project, where the blockchain itself is just a small part of the solution (but of curse a selling point), but the internal logistics of the solution what makes it interesting.  Time will tell whether blockchain will eventually be the silver bullet that proponents claim, or if it is really just a solution in search of a problem.

MI Band Update

Since January I have been in an on/off relationship with my MI (2) fitness band. Getting a good understanding of my daily moves has been interesting and it has been a good way to remind myself to have a healthy day. However, the MI Band just isn’t that charming an accessory and it doesn’t work as a wrist watch either -in particular not on a sunlit day. An analog watch-face is hard to beat.

Having realized that, I briefly tried a combination of devices, using Google Fit as the consolidator: Wear the MI bank at home/off work in situations where I would neither wear my wristwatch or my phone, then use my phone(s) as step counter when moving around especially at work. That  setup didn’t even last for a day – after walking 10,000+ steps during the day, I came home, connected the MI Band and whOOP! The step count was back at 500-some. Not good and since then the band has been off. I can live without each and every step I take being registered.

Featured image

A witch-hazel in fall colors.