The VR Wars

“Whatever you do, don’t die.”

The words echoed in Rory’s brain as she stood outside the non-descript building, her new place of employment. She drew in a long breath, filling her lungs with oxygen. This often helped to calm her down. It was her first day reporting for duty after months of training.

The advice of her friend, Tinto, had been on her mind for days. She and Tinto had met playing video games together. What started as an online friendship had turned into a real life one when they met for the first time at a game conference. Rory had surprised everyone by winning the big competition, beating out a cadre of mostly male contenders, many of whom were more experienced than she was.

It was at that same conference the two of them were…noticed. It was well known in the gaming circuit that conferences were a good way to get recruited, if you were into that sort of thing. Rory was always undecided about how she would feel if she were to get recruited. She never really thought she had a chance of being noticed, so it wasn’t something she spent time thinking about. Tinto, however, dreamed of being recruited. He knew there were risks, but also the potential for big payoffs. Money that he could use to help support his family.

Tinto and Rory had been celebrating the big win when a friendly man, with a trim moustache and a thick, bush of dark brown hair approached them. Right away they knew what he wanted, to enlist them in the government’s digital war training program.

Information about the program was carefully controlled by the government. People that had gone into the program, many of whom came out again, were sworn to secrecy. There were rumors about what it was like and what happened when you fought a war virtual-reality (VR) style. But nobody on the outside knew for sure. The added mystery heightened Tinto’s curiosity making him eager to join, but it had the opposite effect on Rory.

She was cautious by nature, it’s what made her a gaming champion. She evaluated risks and options differently than Tinto, assessing before deciding.

In the end, Tinto signed up that day with the recruiter. Rory started the program a few months later, after careful consideration.

How did one prepare to fight a VR war? Rory would find out.

Summer Reading Update

In June 2018, I ambitiously decided to spend the summer getting through all the unread books in my bookcase. (Read about it here.) At the start of the project, I had 28 books to get through.

I now have 22 unread books remaining, but three were added over the last year. From last year’s original count of 28, I have 19.

I have to admit, I pretty much failed with the project. It seems now, looking at my bookcase over 1 year later, that the pile of unread books hasn’t changed that much.

In reviewing my year of “reading,” I realized I got sidetracked by a couple of things.

  1. I finally got a new ereader last October (2018). I wasn’t able to resist the allure and convenience of reading on it, compared with an actual paper book. This is especially true for the super thick hardcover books that are on the unread shelf. I do love paper books, and I would be very sad if we didn’t have them anymore, but the ereader is so small and versatile. It makes reading on the go really easy.
  2. People kept giving me new books to read, which for some reason, made it to the top of the unread pile. So while many of the books look the same as the ones from last year, it’s because the new ones were processed more quickly. I also acquired a few on my own.

A few months ago, I did end up going through the rest of my bookcase and donated some books, so that cleared up some space.

Even though I failed with my little project last summer, the approaching long, dark, cold winter months in Canada will give me ample time to start the project again. I usually don’t move around as much in the winter, so it’ll be a good opportunity to tackle the really heavy, large, thick hardcover books. I definitely don’t want to be reading those on the subway.

It’s now become a new Winter Reading project.

Iceland: Elves, ATV Rides, and the Blue Lagoon

Our last day in Iceland was eventful and action packed. Throughout the trip I’d been doing my best to see elves and huldufólk (hidden people) in the many majestic landscapes we visited. Luck hadn’t been on my side but on this last day, our guide took us to a special beach and gave us all a “pill” to grant us powers to see the elves.

I didn’t see any elves, but the seascape was spectacular. Even more magical was having the sun come out for a brief period of time, a rare and welcome treat.

the Elf Beach

After the beach we headed to Grindavik, a town in the Reykjanes Peninsula. We toured the Search and Rescue center, where we heard from a volunteer about the different sorts of rescue missions performed by the center.

Following the tour, we suited up for an ATV ride through the lava fields.

My mom was in the back seat of the ATV and I proved to be a terrible driver. The ATV was clunky to steer and I veered off the path once or twice. The terrain was bumpy and full of muddy depressions making it challenging to stay on course. At the midway point, we stopped to take pictures of an abandoned ship.

Following the ATV ride, we had lunch, then headed to the famous Blue Lagoon spa for a relaxing afternoon soak in the mineral-rich waters.

I felt a bit conflicted about the Blue Lagoon because it’s a manmade natural wonder. The Blue Lagoon, we discovered, was created from a geothermal power plant’s seawater run-off. As I learned during my trip, Icelanders love a hot soak and I suppose the local residents couldn’t resist the allure of the heated, turquoise waters surrounding the power plant. They started bathing in it and discovered that the mineral-rich waters had restorative and healing properties.

Although I normally prefer swimming to lounging around in hot waters, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Lagoon. The spa consisted of one giant pool, but temperatures varied in different places. Plus, it was really cool to feel how the mineral deposits created a smooth, enameled surface on the lava rocks and crevices filled with soft, silty mud.

Feeling refreshed and rejuvenated from my soak, I boarded the bus. We headed back to Rekyjavik for a farewell dinner and one last magical night in Iceland.

Banks and Automation

Although I’m usually pretty quick to adapt to new technologies and automation, I’ve been a holdout with the banks. The rare time I get a check, I still prefer to go into the bank and endorse it in front of a teller. I usually handle cash the same way.

I’m not sure why I cling to my old-fashioned and outdated modes of banking. Now it’s possible to deposit a check from anywhere by taking a picture of it with your phone. And most ATMs now accept cash and check deposits without an envelope. The first time I observed my partner, a modern and updated bank customer, seamlessly deposit cash without an envelope, I was kind of impressed with how well the system worked.

Prior to that, having to find an envelope and a pen to make a deposit, was always kind of annoying. Often the ATMs wouldn’t be stocked with envelopes making it impossible to do a deposit. I remember remarking once to my partner that he should just carry around some extra ATM envelopes so he always had one. But then the new system arrived providing a paper-free experience with ATM deposits.

Now I was ready to embrace ATM deposits, a seamless experience without the hassle of envelopes and pens, and long awkward waits at the machines for people to count and prepare their deposits. I would just leapfrog ahead from my ancient dinosaur, luddite methods of banking straight to the most modern and slick option. But alas, the new system at the ATM has failed me on a number of occasions.

Some months ago, spying a long line inside, I figured I would use the ATM to make a cash deposit. However, the machine wouldn’t accept any of my bills, something that never happens when you hand cash to a person. When I finally reached the teller, he explained that sometimes the ATMs refuse cash if it has little creases or bends in it. This seemed like a pretty serious design flaw to me as people rarely deposit cash in mint condition into an ATM.

The ATM deposits are mostly a seamless experience, but every once in a while, the machine refuses to accept a certain bill, making me long for the good old days of tellers or cumbersome envelopes. Options that accept your deposits in full, wrinkled and creased.

Not Built for Deletion

A lot of apps that we use come equipped with default options to save everything. For example, removing the inbox label from an email in Gmail automatically results in the item being “archived.” Or with my iPad, when I delete photos from my Camera Roll, they are automatically saved to a temporary album called “Recently Deleted” photos where they will remain for 30 days. I always have challenges with this because my iPad automatically backs up the last 1000 photos I’ve taken, which includes the deleted photos stored in this temporary album. I deleted the photos for a reason, to make space for the photos I want to save and back up.

When I first noticed my deleted photos were being backed up on my iPad, I called Apple about this. It made no sense to me why valuable backup space was being used for things I had intentionally deleted. When I mentioned to the customer service rep that it didn’t seem like their systems and platforms were built for people like me who prefer to delete and organize, she agreed. She explained that when they didn’t set it up that way, people had called in a panic because they had deleted all their stuff by accident.

And yes, the accidental deletion is very upsetting and panic inducing. I know because I’ve done it a few times. I still feel a little hesitant using Google Note because it autosaves changes so fast and there’s no “undo” feature in case of an accidental deletion.

Though it seems to me like we’ve employed an extreme measure to safeguard everything. Is the best solution to accidental deletions really to save everything?  All the time? And sometimes without people knowing that their deleted stuff is being saved or “archived”?

When I delete something on my computer or from my email, my assumption is that the item is actually being purged, or expunged. I know on my home computer deleted items sit in my “trash” area for a designated amount of time, but eventually they get overwritten. They’re not secretly saved or “archived” somewhere that I don’t know about, to account for the rare time when I may have deleted something that I actually need years later.

So what’s the solution? As always, The Deletist advocates for strategic saving. Know what you have, identify what’s important, and devise plans/strategies to take care of these priority items.

Facebook’s App Developer Investigation

Facebook recently posted an update on their app developer investigation. After the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, Facebook decided to take a more in-depth look at how app developers were using users’ information from the platform.

One of the main points with Cambridge Analytica is that they were able to gather user data not only from the people who filled out their surveys, but from all of their friends and friends of friends. The goal was to try and determine personality profiles based on the data points gathered. The reach was far and invasive, in my opinion. In an effort to prevent developers from gaining broad access to the Facebook social web, Facebook decided to launch an investigation of existing apps and developers.

Some of the main challenges with allowing developers to connect applications to Facebook is that the definition of personally identifiable information is blurry. Many companies now collect dozens, if not hundreds of data points on us. Most people would probably recognize a few obvious examples, such as, SSN/SIN, phone numbers, birthdates, etc. as being personally identifiable, but lots of other bits of data are not so distinct.

Sometimes data points can be taken in aggregate and become personally identifiable. For example, some algorithms can determine a person’s sexual orientation based on their likes/dislikes. Or when a woman is pregnant based on her purchases. When these disparate data points are combined together, it can result in unintended consequences, such as someone being “outed” in a place where it isn’t acceptable. So unless these kinds of issues are identified and regulated, it will be challenging to properly protect peoples’ data.

Facebook, and social media in general, is in a tough position with these kinds of issues. Facebook was originally created with the idea of sharing openly and connecting with anyone and everyone. Part of the strategy was also to allow companies to send advertisements to targeted audiences based on their profile data. This was to keep the platform free for everyone.

However, the ramifications of having an open platform with communications going in every direction weren’t fully considered. Or how to manage these things on a global level.

The rapid expansion, and lack of attention towards privacy and regulation, resulted in a lot of challenging situations for Facebook and other forms of social media. I’m not sure what the resolution is, but it’s encouraging that people are finally paying attention.