21 April, 2008

Game Chef Part 3

It's a few days into the design part of the Game Chef contest. I'm a little annoyed that it took so long for someone to be inspired by my artwork. But in the end someone did take on my girls, so I guess things could have been worse.

Now I'm busy writing a game based on dark-gothic imaginary friends, and how they survive in a world where innocence is in short supply.

17 April, 2008

One Hand Clapping

I'm starting to get a bit slack with my posting, but I'm still trying to keep up the blogging habit.

Time to look back on a couple of the things that I've promised to observe and make comment on.

Religion, Commerce, Human Nature.

I haven't started with the small ones.

Today I'm going to look at one of my favourite aspects of any religion; Zen koans, kabbalistic riddles and those ancient questions that are designed to make people think outside the square.

Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand?

If a tree falls in the forest and no-one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

It is possible for the creator to create a stone so large that even (s)he cannot move it?

Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?


I came to a great conclusion that covers every single one of these questions, it stretches back to Confucius.

I'll be paraphrasing here, but one of the first things that Confucius stated was that conflict often arises through a lack of clear communication. At the time when he was alive, Confucius inhabited a China that was beset by civil wars and turmoil. He envisioned a world where everyone spoke the same language, and kept to a common set of laws under a unified empire and the "Mandate of Heaven".

The first step toward developing that unified vision of the future was to establish a unified written language. A written language which pretty much remains intact to this day, still used after millennia even though the vocal dialects of China are arguably completely different vocal languages.

A belief in a natural order that should be obeyed is a strong tenet of Taoism as well, so I may be confusing the two ideologies. But given their similarity and the fact that Chinese are often able to view them interchangeably, I hope this error isn't too grave.

Anyway, back to the point.

All of the great questions resolve themselves as soon as they are appropriately defined, and in most cases they are revealed as red herrings once the definitions are put into place.

What is the sound of one hand clapping?
  • What is a clap? The rapid collision of two hands, resulting in a shockwave that resolves into a sound when it hits the eardrum.
  • If you need two hands to clap, is it possible to clap with one hand? No.
The whole question is rendered null and void, and it is the misconception of the terms that make up the question that end up causing the intellectual dilemma.

If a tree falls in the forest an no-one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
  • What is sound? If it's a shockwave of air that will result in the vibration of eardrums, then yes, this shockwave occurs. If it only counts as sound once it is perceived through the vibration of the ear-drum, then it doesn't cause a sound.
Actually now that I think about this example more carefully, I'm reminded of Shroedinger's cat. So the tree makes a quantum flux of "sound" and" no-sound" until someone is present to collapse the probability wave. So from this interpretation, the answer is both yes and no.

Again though, it all comes down to adequate definitions. I think this is where science and religion should never have parted company.

It is possible for the creator to create a stone so large that even (s)he cannot move it?

This one usually ends up getting fixated on the concept of whether the creator is all-powerful or not. But that's the wrong question. Other definitions throw the question into new perspectives.
  • Is the creator separate from creation?
  • If the creator and the creation are separate, then how does the creator exist outside the creation?
  • If there is something beyond creation then what is it? and what could have created it except for a proto-creator.
This is where the gnostics and a few other heretical groups got hooked up on some concepts that made them a bit unpopular. It seems to be a common theme through many of the cults and pseudo-religions of today as well. It's a cyclical argument that cannot be resolved. So we must work with the concept that creation and creator are one, from it's own thought the creator perceived the universe. Through this cycle of imagination and perception reality was born.

But how about defining this...
  • What is a stone? If the stone is so large that it encompasses all of reality, then all of reality would be stone. It would be impossible for us to know the difference between "stone" and "non-stone" because everything we know would be stone. The question becomes irrelevant, because if everything was stone then there would be nowhere for it to move. It would already be there.
If the reality that was "stone" was moved, then all of reality would move with it and we would see no change because we had also been moved.

Once the elements are correctly described, the question becomes irrelevant.

Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?
  • First consider what you think Buddha nature is.
  • Is it the ability to know wrong from right?
  • Is it the ability to learn from mistakes?
Once you choose your definitions, you know the answer of the question as far as it applies to you.

If someone tells you that your answer is wrong, ask them to explain their definitions to the various parts of the question. It will invariably be the differences in definitions that result in the differences in the answers given.

12 April, 2008

Game Chef Part 2

I thought I probably should probably show two of the images I submitted for the Artist's Section of Game Chef.

I hope someone can do something interesting with them.


Game Chef

After having some fun with game design contests over the last few months, I've decided to take part in one of the biggest ones.

I've entered The Game Chef's contest for 2008.

The last contest of this nature that I entered resulted in a game about time-travelling, swashbucklers and quantum mechanics. Something that is nearing the final stages of self publication for a release date in July.

This years Game Chef contest is called "Artists First" and the basis is that artists produce a small string of illustrations to evoke a setting and mood, then a game designer produces a complete result from the artistic basis.

I've looked at some of the artworks being submitted and while some of the work is pretty average, there are some absolutely astounding pieces. I'm not sure at this stage if designers will be randomly allocated images to work with, or if they will be able to choose from those available.

I can see benefits and flaws to both options. If we get randomly allocated images, there are a few where I'd have a hard time doing something that I'd enjoy writing. But if we get the choice from all possible options, I'd have a hard time choosing between some of them.

I guess I'll find out in the next couple of days as the artist phase of the contest ends and the design portion begins.

10 April, 2008

Comparison 1

Nothing too long or dramatic today...just an observation and comparison.



United States protecting its interests in Iraq with a "pre-emptive war" during the 2000s.

vs

Nazi Germany protecting its interests in Poland with an "annexing" during the 1930s.


Shock and Awe???
It might require a bit more historical research, but the cursory stuff I've been looking at today shows a lot of similarities.

07 April, 2008

On Human Nature Part 1

The Seven Deadly Sins.
Lust (Latin, luxuria)
Gluttony (Latin, gula)
Greed (Latin, avaritia)
Sloth (Latin, acedia)
Wrath (Latin, ira)
Envy (Latin, invidia)
Pride (Latin, superbia)

Ever notice how the seven deadly sins are all forms of self indulgence and one of the key points of Christianity is to value to community over the self?

"Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."

In studying several different religions I've noticed a common thread across them all. Each religion basically has the same ideas in place, they just say them in different ways. The three Judaeo-Christian religions (Yes, I'm including Islam among them because it has the same core origins as a religion of the book, founded by the figures Abraham and Moses.) have the Ten Commandments, each of which is a rule that puts the selfish goals of the individual behind a more community oriented goal. Buddhism has a tendency to claim that the very concept of self is a lie, and only by transcending the goals of the self will enlightenment be achieved. Numerous other religions have the same values at their core.

As far as I understand things, the very concept of religion is a method to push community values over individual values.

"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people."

- Karl Marx

I've always held the belief that religion isn't merely a new set of rules to obey. It is a way to develop a sense of community when human nature is the tendency to abuse such a community for personal gain. Hence the reason why concepts like the seven deadly sins have developed, each of these forms of self indulgence does nothing to assist the community at large.

From this standpoint, religion isn't a method of finding God. Religion is merely a method to establish a community of like minded individuals. Religion is the rituals that the community follow, and the framework for the ethics of the society.

Perhaps in ancient times, a religion needed to establish a firm grip on the minds of the people because it was such an unusual concept. It would establish this grip through claims of vengeful gods and spirits. Oppressed people are always willing to believe in something if it gives them the idea that their oppressors will be judged by a higher power, through this community spirit the oppressed rise en masse. Oppressors fear the strength of numbers and the religion gains credence.

No religion grows by catering to the oppressors. Whereas cults, ideologies and heresies grow most rapidly when they offer a way to restore the balance.

Of course, I believe that human nature plays a strong part here as well. Many cults cater to the human conditions of greed, pride and other deadly sins. They offer something to the individual that they can't get elsewhere, whether that be secret knowledge, wealth or power.

If you look at things this way, Capitalism is a cult with advertising executives as it's priests. Bodybuilders could be considered a cult with their own rituals dedicated to honing the body to "perfection". Anything that takes the drives of the individual and focuses them in a new direction could fit this category.

I want to be better, what can I do?

Join the cult of Capitalism and if I buy new things then my status will improve...

Join the cult of bodybuilding and dedicate hours each day in the gymnasium to make my body more buff and toned...

Join the local masonic lodge to gain access to secrets passed down for generations...

Become a born again Christian so that all my old sins will be forgotten and I instantly gain a clean slate whenever I need one...

Join the cult of fame, because famous people seem to lead such wonderful lives and maybe we can end up like Mr. Black in yesterday's rant.

It seems that all of the successful religions play a balance between the extremes of catering to the individual and placing laws that moderate the values of the community. Each has it's own values and it is through the interaction of these values that conflicts arise.

Maybe that's where I'll head with tomorrow's entry.

06 April, 2008

Capitalism Part 1

I've got a dozen ideas going through my head at the moment, ideas and observations about belief, spirituality and the whole answer about what is wrong with the world, but the problem is that every time I try to focus on a single point to begin my ideas, a dozen new ideas immediately link up and chains of thought push into new directions.

I guess that following on from my previous post might be a good idea, as this can be used to link into more esoteric concepts later on. Corporate chromatography, thermodynamics and the problem with capitalism as an economic model. It almost sounds like the title for a post-graduate thesis.

The pie chart is a great way of explaining things, it is used frequently throughout economics. It's all about describing a chunk of the world as a whole unit then dividing up the parts according to the relevant players in a particular field. We have $100 between us, I've got $50 and you've got $50, we each have half of the pie. We expand the economy out to a small isolated town, or an island deep in the Pacific Ocean. Two hundred people each have $50, so the whole economy of the island is $10,000.

You do a bit of work, you expect to be paid for it. You get paid $1, but where does that dollar come from. It comes from the person who wanted you to do the work. Suddenly, you've got $51 and the other person has $49. Your skill has proven that you are worth a little more in the scheme of things. I do a bit of work, I make a loaf of bread. I need to spend 50 cents on ingredients, power and just to cover wear and tear on my machines (this will be distributed out among other folks on the island later). I sell the loaf of bread for $1 and you buy it. Your sum of money drops back to $50, and if you want it to go back up again, you'll need to do some more work. My value goes up to $50.50 and five other people get 10c each once the costs are balanced out.

It sounds like a simple and valid concept. The value of people fluctuates as they do work that is valued by the people around them. But let's say someone gets greedy. They want to improve their wealth without doing a lot of work for themselves. They may specialise in one particular task that doesn't have much intrinsic value in itself. Let's call our hypothetical person "Mr. Black", and say that his skill is finding other people with useful skills. He'll charge you fifty cents every time you need to find someone with a particular skill, he doesn't do anything himself, he just knows a lot of people and what they are good at. You need three loaves of bread, Mr. Black refers you to me for fifty cents then you still have to pay me $3 for the loaves.

Mr. Black does this one hundred times and earns $50. Suddenly his value is $100 and he hasn't really had to work for any of it. The rest of the community has $9,900 to go around 199 people (their average value drops to about $49.50), and Mr. Black hasn't worked for any of it. Or has he?

Now that he has more than twice as much money as most people in our closed economy. Mr. Black has a couple of options available to him. Firstly, he could spend the money on loaves of bread, other foods, goods or services to improve his comfort and survivability. Secondly, he could spend the money on a party, or some other method to improve his social standing in society (after all, the more people know about his services, the more useful his services become). Thirdly, he could hoard away his money and lord his wealth over the other inhabitants of the island.

If he follows the first option, Mr. Black distributes his wealth back into the economy. He suddenly has more food, a better shelter, he might even provide for a family. He won't improve his social standing though. Mr. Black will still need to do footwork to stay in contact with the people he knows. Suddenly I stop selling bread and become a butcher. Mr. Black needs to be aware of the changes in the world because if he sends you to me for bread while I only have meat, you won't value his services as highly any more. You'll start searching for your own people to meet certain requirements and Mr. Black is out of a job with no real talents of his own.

If he follows the second path, Mr. Black becomes famous for his abilities. People get free feeds at Mr. Black's place once a month, and his parties are usually talked about for weeks after the event. Mr. Black might even offer donations to members of the island with lower wealth and suddenly he is seen as a philanthropist. He gives $10 away, it's nothing to him, but his social standing rises dramatically (does this sound a bit like celebrities in Hollywood). All the lower wealth people want to know Mr. Black because he might give them the $10 this month, and suddenly he knows plenty of new people with services he can refer on. By following this path, Mr. Black doesn't need to do much except organise parties once a month and people come to him for the rest. In fact Mr. Black probably knows a good party organiser as well, so he doesn't even have to do that.

If he follows the third path, what happens to the money? Everyone knows that Mr. Black is the richest man on the island despite having no real talents of his own. They try to get on his good side in the hope that he may release some of his money by buying their services. This is where human nature comes into play and the downfall of the utopia. Who is Mt. Black going to spend his money on? He has to spend it one someone, and since he has the most money of all the people on the island, when he does spend it he'll probably spend quite a bit of it. People get greedy, I'm selling bread and Mrs. White is selling bread. Mrs. White wants to be known as the person who got Mr. Black to spend his money, so she offers a cheaper price on the bread. Suddenly, even though he has more money and could afford to spend more on bread, he's being offered bread for 75 cents a loaf. It doesn't make sense that he is now paying less for bread despite having no real talents of his own. It's not as though he is going to us the bread for more benevolent or altruistic purposes than the next man. Everyone on the island starts doing the same sort of thing for Mr. Black and he actually gets to keep more of his own money despite purchasing the same goods and services.

The cycle continues. People trying to get on Mr. Blacks good side because he has most of the money on the island. They want a bit of it for themselves, and they want a bit of fame for being associated with the richest man on the island. They might even start offering their services as 2-for-1 deals or even for free, anything to be first out of Mr. Black's mouth when he offers advice on who has the best services. I guess this is the basis of advertising, everyone is greedy and wants a bigger share of the pie.

Mr. Black continues to sell his services, and refers people a few hundred more times (let's say he spends a bit of his money on food to stay alive and to get a nice island shelter of his own), the rest of the island ecomony has been fluctuating as well and a few other people have decided to follow Mr. Black's lead since he seems to be getting a very good deal out of being the richest man on the island. After a time, Mr. Black has $350, Miss Rose and Mr Indigo have $250, Mrs. White has $150 , a ninety-eight people are fairly even at $60 and the remaining ninety-eight have settled as the lower classes at around $30 each (on average).

Mr. Black is still paying 75 cents for a loaf of bread while the lower classes are paying $1. Then let's look at it another way, Mr. Black is paying 0.2% of his total wealth for a loaf of bread while the lower classes are spending 3.3% of their wealth on the same thing.

A government is established on our hypothetical island. Mr. Black is caught disturbing the peace late one night, he is forced to pay a fine of $10 (2.8% of his wealth). A lower classed individual with only $30 does exactly the same thing in the hope that emulating Mr. Black might lead to them getting a bit of fame or island notoriety for themselves. They cop the same fine $10(which equates to 33.33% of their entire wealth). Why should the lower classed individual suffer so much more heavily than the wealthy individual?

One of the Scandinavian countries (I think it's Sweden) has a great system where fines are indexed according to the individual's income. If I remember correctly, they consider themselves as a socialist country, rather than a capitalist country. Because they see that Mr. Black's dominance of the economy isn't matched by an appropriate level of responsibility in most capitalist nations. We're seeing the opposite in nations where the capitalist ethos reigns supreme. Consider a country like the USA, where celebrities get prison sentences measures in days and hours, while regular people get sentenced to weeks and months in prison for the same offences. It's just like Mrs. White and her cheap bread again, only this is teaching those with the money even less social responsibility.

If we apply this type of concept on a more global scale, with the global economy equivalent to the monetary vales of the individuals on the island. The first world nations have the largest share of the pie while the third world nations struggle over the remainder. They desperately try to get "Mr. Black's $10" and offer their services to the first world at budget prices, not realising that their efforts to do this only push the imbalance further toward those who are already rich. The costs of medicines for them are far more in comparison to their meagre wealth, the levels of poverty are far greater because everything just costs more in perspective.

It's odd that the US has outsourced most of it's industry to foreign lands, except the entertainment industry which it proudly proclaims to the rest of the world (through award shows, syndicated television programs, blockbuster movies and music studios, ). It's almost like Mr. Black trying to justify his existence to the rest of the island while providing no useful services of his own...just sitting there and saying how good he is because he's rich and everyone owes him favours for being so nice to them.

Is it any wonder that these poorer countries are exploited, and that they are doing whatever they can to restore a level of balance. I'm not saying that America deserved the 9-11 attacks because of the values of Christianity versus Islam, but I think it was inevitable that the US was targeted by a group of militant extremists who have grown up in a desolate land which they perceive to have been "raped by the ways of capitalism".

I'm sure there are valid points for and against the illustrative points I've mentioned above. I won't claim to be infallible, these are just some pieces of observation so far.

05 April, 2008

Corporate Chromatography

Scientists use a process called chromatography to separate component parts of a mixture. I'm not going to get into a whole lot of detail about this process, there's a decent article in wikipedia about it and I'm sure there are plenty of other articles scattered across the web. I'm no industrial but the analogy fits my rant for today...so bear with me.

Chromatography basically works on density, with the component parts of the mixture dividing themselves out into bands of like-substances over time.

My experience with the corporate world strangely seems to reflect the chemical process of chromatography and I'm starting to wonder if the process is some kind of universal constant that applies as much to social and ideological interactions as it does to chemical interactions.

When you talk to someone who has been successful in the corporate world (or any other social field for that matter), they love to use the phrase "the cream rises to the top". I've heard it used by numerous people in plenty of different fields, I can only guess that some motivational speaker must have said it in a corporate seminar and it spread from there. [Before we go much further, I am aware that this phrase has origins far older than the current batch of motivational speakers and self-help ideologies...but it seems strange that so many people have been using it recently in this manner.]

The intention of using this phrase is to make the listener think that the best people rise to positions of power. If anyone puts their mind to it and becomes the best person that they can, then they'll naturally rise to the position they deserve. The first thing I think of when I hear the phrase is "Pond scum floats on the surface as well".

In my experience, there are far more people who have risen through the ranks of the corporate world being slimy than there are those who've risen through hard work and actually being good at what they do. In fact, the only people I've met in positions of power who actually seem to be competent are either the 2-I-C to slimy individual, or they are about to be betrayed by another slimy individual who is rising just as quickly behind them. I may be wrong, and I sincerely hope that I am, but my experience hasn't differed in this regard.

Those who act with integrity are viewed as fair game, their honesty, honour and ethics are seen by corporate climbers as a crutch that will only slow them down.

Those who act as dynamic forces within their jobs are scorned as renegades and trouble-makers who aren't towing the corporate line, which seem to always tend toward conservatism and avoiding change at all costs.

Those who show any sign of weakness or who may make even the slightest mistake are seized to give the slimy corporate climbers another rung to climb up on their ladder to success.

As time progresses, those with depth of character sink to the bottom of the talent pool, while those who play the superficial and shallow game of corporate etiquette end up rising through the ranks despite having no aptitude for the roles they may actually be in [Eye candy rises even more quickly; but given how vacuous those individuals tend to be, it just confirms my corporate chromatography theory].

I can only imagine that the same sort of theory applies to the public service, as my encounters over the last few days have proven. The receptionists in the Job referral centre seem to know what they are doing, the case officers lose files left and right, the managers of the office are unable to actually deal with problems and hide in their glass walled offices, peeking glances through the shuttered blinds fearful of the world outside.

I'll keep observing this phenomenon and see if any changes need to be made to my theory.

03 April, 2008

Bureaucracy

I'm sitting here typing away at a computer as I develop a website as a part of a year long course at Padstow TAFE. For those who don't know what a TAFE is, it's a technical college.

The reasons why I'm doing this course are long and complicated, as are the reasons that I find myself writing this first post in my blog.

I'll try to sum things up in some short points.

  1. I am no longer employed by my former company, having lost my job in the week before Christmas 2007. (Describing the events around this could involve a long and complicated list of posts in itself, some of which would seethe with venom, while others would be insightful comments on the human nature, greed and ego.)
  2. Very shortly after I lost my job, I took up unemployment benefits knowing full well that Christmas is a difficult time to find employment. I had hoped to find something, or return to study if I had not.
  3. I started doing some casual work to help make ends meet around the house, while I frantically worked on some artworks and projects that have sat on the back-burner for far too long.
  4. After 3 months on unemployment benefits in Australia, a person has to start going to a job referral centre, or must pursue some means of self-improvement. After two months of unemployment, a new college semester was starting, so I chose to study Information Technology, specialising in Website Design.
  5. At this stage I was working casually 2 days per week and studying three days per week, yet I was still expected to look for work by the government division looking after unemployment benefits. 4 jobs a week, not too bad. I decided to look for work in the IT field to match my studies. I gave my relevant paperwork to the government unemployment office, who sent me to the job referral centre.
  6. I have now found myself in a position working for a company specialising in retail price ticketing, they generate self contained programs that provide full pricing solutions to stores. This job is fairly stable, 2 days per week, and between this and study I'm busy from Monday to Friday. I notified all the relevant people of this change as well.
  7. Three months have elapsed. The job referral centre has lost my paperwork proving that I now study. The government office says that I do not need to look for jobs, I merely need to inform the job referral centre of my change in circumstances.
  8. On Tuesday of this week I went to the job referral centre and they said that by studying I had met my obligations for social benefits. I should head to the government office. The office booked me in for an appointment this morning (Thursday) to take care of the details.
  9. This morning I headed in to the office to confirm what was happening. I was told that they couldn't help me and that I had to head back to the job referral centre as they were the only ones able to determine if my workload met certain eligibility requirements. I was told that I hadn't.
  10. Now I have to look for several jobs each week, I need to attend study, and I need to go to my casual job. Somehow I need to fit in interviews with the job referral centre, and need to make myself available if another job interview should come my way. Between study, work and other commitments, I now find myself occupied over 36 hours per week, earning barely a quarter of what I had earned in my previous job, where I was working about 38 hours per week.
I was told this morning that my case was complicated. Apparently, a person isn't supposed to improve themselves through study while doing some part time work on the side to make ends meet. I have to seriously wonder how "dole-bludgers" get away with abusing the system, when I'm trying to do the right thing and getting screwed from every angle.

At least I can get a bit of angst out through the blog.