Reach for the Sky – update 1

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I’ve done a weekend of work on this, but almost none of it is visible.

Internally, this is not just a toy now. I can play with the environment, background, rocket attributes, physics, engines and so on very easily. Instead of a single big file, I have classes for Ship, Engine, World, View, Particle, Emitter, RocketEmitter and so on.

This is the latest Mac build, watch out, this rocket is a lot more powerful. The gradient sky came about as a result of a nice tip from Paul Pridham (@madgarden on Twitter) – thanks Paul! I will experiment with this in later builds. The gradients are important because the object of the game will be to ensure that you reach the “sky” (the dark bit) and of course, the sky will become a narrower band as the levels progress.

Next week, there will be levels and more than one rocket to control. Eventually, you’ll be able to level up your rockets with multiple staged engines, but it will become like playing the keyboard, so later levels won’t be easy. You might need a friend when it gets up to 8 rockets on the screen with each of them having different attributes!

Download ReachForTheSky-0.02.zip for the Mac here.

Sorry I haven’t got a PC build ready. I’ve not had time to build the Cinder environment for my PC laptop yet.

Reach For The Sky

This is a toy that took me a weekend and a bit to get going. I’m using the Cinder library, which for the most part keeps itself to itself, and C++, very badly abused C++ at that.

It’s only on the Mac at the moment. I’ll see if I can get it going on the PC and upload a build here if I can.

Grab the Mac build here.

Unzip it, stick it in Applications or something and remember to sort out your security settings to allow running something by a nobody. (After you’ve run it, do remember to restore your security settings, OK?)

Do Next to Nothing for Maximum Growth

I rose, bleary-eyed at 5:20. Optimistically, I’d set my alarm for 4:30. I knew it was optimistic. I didn’t beat myself up for “sleeping in”. Beating yourself up gets you nowhere. So does riding a bicycle on a turbo-trainer indoors, but that’s a much better kind of nowhere. So I headed for the bicycle and set my tea-timer for a strong brew (4 minutes). I turned my trusted La Pavoni on and climbed onto my Cannondale and spun the wheels at a low resistance until the team timer went off.

That’s it? Four minutes? Call that exercise? Yes. For a sedentary man, this is enough, to begin with. Crazy is what I did decades ago; after a period of sloth, I’d throw myself into an intensive exercise session and then spend a week broken and forget about exercise for a while. If you want something to stick, reduce the resistance. Make it impossible to sensibly avoid.

My target for tomorrow morning is the same. 4 minutes. I don’t care how comfortable I feel at the end of the four minutes. This is not about ramping up. It’s about building a valuable habit. When the habit is fixed, I can increase the duration. The habit is all that counts. We are creatures of habit. We walk without thinking. We talk without thinking, hell, we often work without thinking. We use patterns of patter, muscle memories and ways of working. When I exercise as casually as I brush my teeth, I can up the duration. That will work.

There is almost nothing this idea can’t apply to. Want to save money? Commit to putting away one pound a day. Can’t afford that? No problem. Commit to putting away a penny a day. Make it a conscious routine to say you’re going to save some money when you’re putting that penny away. Save it. Every day. Same time. Set the alarm on your phone. Before you know it, it will be fun, and you will find ways of saving more. In the same way that for a smoker, a sneaky extra cigarette feels naughty, but nice, so will exercise, so will saving.

Want to be happy? Make a habit of smiling at people for no reason at all. Obviously don’t be a creep about it. That should go without saying. Don’t stand outside someone’s window smiling. That’s not happy, that’s erm, against the law I think. Just think about smiling with someone genuinely, warmly, the next time you speak with them, no matter who. When you are asked how you are, don’t search your feelings, announce your feelings to yourself and to your conversation partner. Respond with “I’m great!” or “Fantastic” or “Very well, thank you!”. Pretty soon, you will feel great. You will feel fantastic. You will feel very well, thank you! Before you know it, you will be a happy person. Works for me, and I was the most miserable bastard the world has ever known. Ask my friends. I was funny, but I was miserable. I was kind, but I was miserable. I was generous, but I was miserable. I didn’t want to be miserable. So I announced, on a daily basis, that I was happy. Now I am pleasantly surprised when people say they are inspired by how happy and positive I am. It’s true. I’m positive. I’m happy, but it started with just a smile a day, a response a day.

Valleys don’t form out of rock overnight. Drops of water do that over aeons of time. One drop doesn’t make the valley, but it is drops that do that. And the drops become a torrent become a river become carver of majestic, sweeping valleys.

You can’t climb Everest in a single bound, standing in the foothills of the Himalayas. But you bloody well can climb Everest if you really want to!. You learn to climb. One step at a time. And one day, like me, you are at the peak, every fibre of your being humming with gratitude for the journey you committed to taking, one tiny step at a time.

Give Up on Your Dreams

“Is your deal on the Emu XL–1 Turbo with all the add-on cards still on at the same price?”

Many of my conversations with the staff of what used to be Soho Soundhouse and subsequently Turnkey took a similar turn. I spent a small fortune on music technology as it evolved, and even went there for my guitars, culminating in the purchase of a Paul Smith Standard 24 with the bird inlays at a cool £2,000. The journey began so long ago, as far back as the mid 1980s that I genuinely don’t remember my first purchase there. Like other firsts, it was hurried, clumsy and forgettable. It might have been a Roland TR707 drum machine, then over £450, and like most music tech, now worth £4.50 no doubt.

Every day a part of my consciousness acknowledges the rack containing the Emu with its sister-wives, the Roland JV1080; the magnificent, warm and unparalleled Roland Super JX, AKA MKS–70; the Alesis Microverb; the Emu ESI–4000 and the e-magic Unitor MIDI interface. I acknowledge the remnants of my dreams every day, a reminder of how I didn’t “succeed” in music, knowing full well that had I persisted, I would have.

Ohh the opportunities were there. In the late 1980s, Ben Wardle, an A&R man at Warner, liked what my band (Life in the Bus Lane) was doing, but we stopped. We had a contact with the CEO of CBS at the time, but we stopped. Then later in the late 1990s, I tried again. I started singing. My voice was untrained, the demos were rough, but people liked it. I got a good demo sound, not production-quality by any stretch, but good enough. I wrote some good songs, and recorded a handful. Then I stopped.

Every day I pick up my Dean acoustic fretless and I practice, and every day there is a part of my subconscious that is trying to push the “you could have done this” message to my conscious mind, but my conscious mind left that behind and moved on.

I never admitted that I’d failed, because I used to think that failure was shame. It isn’t shame. Failure is the only time we learn. When a child learns to walk, it fails again and again. It never beats itself up. It never chides itself. It smiles, picks itself up, loves the process and learns to walk. There are probably fewer skills harder to master than walking, but most of us do that without fuss.

I didn’t fail at music. I just didn’t keep going. If I’d kept going, I would have succeeded. What I have learned is that I wasted a lot of time thinking I’d failed. Failure is not shameful. The only thing I’m ashamed of is wasting so much of my time thinking there was no way forward. There isn’t always a way forward, but there is often a way around, or over, or under. There is a way.

My dream was to be a writer of great songs and a recording artist. I never gave up on that dream. What I did was pursue something else. Video games. I kept going and I kept going. I never stopped. I paused, but I never stopped, even when I thought it was over.

I thought it was over for me in 1984 after Jet Set Willy. I didn’t take Richard Jones’ offer of £3000 for Baby Starts Walking on the C64. That was youthful pride. And so I tried to make another game and got nowhere with it and thought it was over. Then I saw Knight Lore and knew what I wanted.

Then in the late 1980s, I thought it was over after a successful stint making games that Telecomsoft published. I’d had a great time and I was on top of the world. After Pandora, I thought I’d blown my chance with the Stampers, and that it was over. Then I got into music and started making music for video games. That led me to my gig at BITS where I spent a few years, after which I went on to Virgin Interactive, Hasbro Interactive and finally START! games where I was on top of the world for a while. And then START! stopped, and I thought it was over. Not just career wise either. Divorce, homelessness, no job, no money, crushing debt, ill health, I thought it was definitely over. After enduring that period as gracefully as it’s possible for a broken man to endure and gettnig by with some contract work for a while, I joined Sony Computer Entertainment at the back end of 2005, 8 years ago this week in fact.

By the tail end of 2005, I thought it was over again, but this time, I knew how to pick myself up. I never gave up the fight. I committed myself fully to work. I threw myself into work with zeal and passion. I found a new remit and a new focus. I totally transformed my life with energy and passion that I might previously have said was impossible. I worked insanely hard, stayed incredibly positive, stayed profoundly happy and with my colleagues, delivered, delivered, delivered. The run continues and I intend to reach new highs.

You see, if you are willing to put three decades or more of effort into something, you are going to be really, really good at it, but only if you care. If you go through the motions, you are doing a job. If you put yourself into it, you are following a calling. There are few forces in the world as powerful as the softness of water on the apparent immovability of rock over the aeons of time. Don’t be the rock. Be the water. Be the drop and fall. Again and again and again.

If I want to be “successful” at videogames, and success can be defined in so many ways, then I have to focus on videogames. Today is a great day for me to give up on my dreams, the dreams that were not meant to be, and to continue to kindle the fire inside that has led me to success I could never have dreamt of. A success that is its own reward. Of pride in my work, in my colleagues, my company, my partners. To deliver work that has moved people, enriched their lives, made them happy, in a way that they admire and aspire to. That is success. Today I give up on my dreams and hold onto that which becomes more and more real every day.

Audi and Apple

I had to go to the Midlands and back to help somebody in distress today. It would have been an ideal time to listen to an inspirational audiobook on my iPod Classic. It’s also on my iPhone 5, but I had no way of interfacing the phone to my Audi’s stereo system. I realised that there was also no obvious way to connect my iPod Classic to my car’s stereo either, despite the salesman at Finchley Road Audi assuring us that a simple cable would make this possible. We’ve looked for this mythical cable, but find it elusive, as do Audi, and we don’t have a clue where in the Audi we’re meant to connect it.

In the old days, you just stuck a tape in the cassette deck and it worked. Then there were CDs, and if you had your own stuff, you ripped it onto CD and played it that way. It just worked.

We also have a pretty expensive bluetooth system in the car, but guess what? This doesn’t connect to my phone in any obvious way. We bought it a year ago and to this day, I’ve never managed to connect my phone to the car’s system.

Another option would have been to use an SD card, but I didn’t have time before I left to copy across a bunch of files. It’s 2013. I have the files on a number of other devices, I shouldn’t have to muck around with copying large groups of files. We have this thing called The Cloud too. Surely, it should just work?

I also have an iPad mini retina, with a 4G cell connection and I thought, worst case, I just play the audiobook via iTunes Match (which I subscribe to) over the 4G connection (which I subscribe to). Guess what? iTunes Match, as I onyl discovered once I got to my destination, doesn’t sync or even recognise audiobooks. These have to be manually synchronised via a computer with iTunes.

So I neded up listening to something else on the iPad mini instead, which I inserted clumsily into my top jacket pocket so that I could hear the spoken word loudly enough over the road and wind noise. That kind of failed half way to my destination too. I haven’t a clue why. I was more annoyed at not being able to use my car’s decent audio system for any of my audio, or even my phone.

There is a lot to be said for progress, but there is a lot to be said for simplicity too. I used to listen to a lot more music. I chucked some CDs in the car and off I went. Nowadays, I listen to nothing when I’m driving. This is a minor tragedy, because I only ever got singing practice while I used to drive. I haven’t had any singing practice for a decade. I place the blame squarely at the door of Apple and Audi.

I don’t believe in moaning without deciding on a course of corrective action. I’m just going to bite the bullet and ensure that when I chop the Audi in for something else at some point, it has amazing connectivity and audio, and is configured properly to play all my music from a cloudless device, like my iPod Classic, from the get-go. Oh, and the Bluetooth will actually work with my phone. Maybe I will abandon the Apple and find another solution, and maybe I will try a different car after this, my third Audi, which of all the Audis I’ve had has been the worst connected for audio and phone that I’ve had thus far. Now that really isn’t progress!

Health Update

As I lay on the floor, my consciousness receding, my body heavy, sweat pouring off me like I was emptying myself of life itself, I looked up at my child and felt regret. Regret not at the life I had led, but that I might not be able to raise my child. I recited the shahāda just in case, because you just never know.

My wife found me and called the ambulance. After a few minutes, we were able to get me off the floor and into the nearby bed. One minute I had been raring to go, set for another Friday in the office, my day planned out and my goals set. The next, I was on the floor wondering if this was it. Life can be like that.

When the paramedics arrived, I was already thinking about whether I could make it to work or not. I was still determined to go. Meanwhile, my wife was calling my boss to let him know that despite my ill-informed protestations, I wouldn’t be going in. I accepted that so long as I didn’t have to go to hospital.

The paramedics were as usual, excellent. They ran some tests. They could barely detect my pulse. My blood pressure was very low, which is odd because I’ve been taking medication for high blood pressure since the late 1990s. They ran an ECG and found abnormalities consistent with the ravages of long-term type 1 diabetes, but thankfully, no sign of a heart attack, though I’m pretty sure we all thought that’s what it might be. They stayed for a while and carried on running tests and my pulse became stronger and my blood pressure though still low, was at least better than when they arrived. I signed the disclaimer for hospital admission on the understanding that should my condition deteriorate again, I would not hesitate the next time. Thankfully, thus far, that’s not been necessary.

It’s too early to point to any one thing, though it wasn’t my diabetes. I’m intimately familiar with the symptoms of a hypoglycaemia, and my blood sugar was perfectly normal. I had no chest pains, just a ringing in my head that I’d experienced the last time I was suddenly unconscious about a decade ago. Was it a virus playing havoc? I don’t think so. There’s no point in speculating. Some have pointed to stress. I have never been less stressed. As you all know, the last two years have been the most enjoyable period of my working life, and although I’ve certainly worked very hard, it rarely feels like effort. I only understand “overwork” in the context of activity that is not enjoyable, so I don’t think we can point to that.

What I can say is that I could probably use more sleep, so I have been sleeping more since this episode, and today I tried to do more work than perhaps I should have and suffered two ocular migraines, the second turning into a full blown migraine, so I need to easy back into things.

I’ve been profoundly taken aback by all the messages of support on Twitter, both from my friends, and those who barely know me. I feel enormous gratitude for that. I’m also looking forward to getting back to my full schedule, but I will ease back into that, listening carefully to my body and ensuring I make my health my number one priority. It’s probably fair to criticise me for not always putting my health first, but that’s always been my choice, and not a wise one at that. I will adjust my values accordingly.

It’s a testament to how fantastic my work environment is that upon regaining my wits, my first thought was irritation that I was taking my first sick day in the whole year. That’s three in two years. Anyone know knows my medical history will realise that this is quite outstanding and a better record than most. I’m also grateful that none of these three days have had anything to do with my diabetes, which I’ve been looking after better than at any time in my life.

I don’t have answers, but that’s OK, I’m used to not having answers. To be able to operate comfortably from a position of discomfort is an important part of success. I’ve got a lot better at that. I will visit my GP to make sure everything is OK and I look forward to operating with my usual energy levels very soon.

Thanks again for your support and love. It means a lot to me.

Twitter Isn’t a Holiday Destination

Twitter has become my default destination, my starting point, my notebook of thoughts and my conversation centre.

I find it harder and harder to write blog posts, because it’s so much more convenient and immediate to kick things off on Twitter.

Twitter has become the ultimate procrastination tool. Why finish anything, when in 140 characters, you’ve devolved responsibility to the global, social thought stream?

I’m supposedly on holiday, but thanks to Twitter and email, and despite my BlackBerry being turned off, I’m never far away, which means I haven’t switched off. Now two years ago, this would have been a tragedy that I would have railed against. Now, things are markedly different.

My job’s one of the coolest in the world. That wasn’t an accident. Two years go, I was ready to quit Sony. One day, I might not be at Sony, and that might well be the time to tell you why, if anyone’s still interested, but it’s really not that interesting.

I decided to put everything I had into the job. Everything. I’ve been a voracious reader and learner for years. I started reading again. Looking back, I acted on the advice of a man who I had yet to read, whose words I had yet to hear. Jim Connolly. I didn’t know Jim back then, but he said it best and when I heard his words, telling me that the quickest route to success was to put everything you have into what you’re currently doing, the hairs on the back of my neck rose in recognition. That’s exactly what I’d been doing for the last two years, and exactly why I’d managed to make so much progress. Massive action; the willingness to go the extra mile and beyond; a focus on serving others; massively positive, can-do attitude; the confidence to aim beyond what others are satisfied with and laser focus on results; all of these things work.

I started wearing suits again. I started playing table tennis, and I got pretty good at it. I lost a lot of weight – about 20 kilos. I got my diabetes under excellent control. I reduced the number of hypoglycaemic attacks I used to suffer.

Then things got really interesting. I got the opportunity I had been looking for, a move to a new department and a new challenge. I seized it with both hands and gave it everything and when I thought I’d given everything, I gave more. I defied convention and delivered with a team that shared my passion and commitment. They deserve the real credit. Thank you Lorenzo, Spencer, Tony, Robin, Nainan, Setsuo. And thanks Jim for believing in me.

And more recently, things have gone spectacularly well. Again, this didn’t happen by accident, but I feel no less blessed for the recognition and love.

Twitter has been there all along. I use my personal account. I speak in a relatively unfiltered way. That works. Obviously I’m not stupid about it.

Although at first, I spoke little of work except obliquely, I had a lot of experience on Twitter and started using it more for work. This was unorthodox, but I was delivering at work and I kept at it, refining my approach, refusing to take away the rough edges that make me human, but nevertheless, polishing those aspects that needed attention. I’m still working at it. The point is that Twitter has become an important part of my “job”, seeing as my life and my job have blurred boundaries.

That’s made it hard to switch off after an extraordinary Gamescom. (I’m about 52 minutes in by the way.)

What does switching off even mean in today’s world? More and more people talk about disconnecting digitally. Switching off email and social media and just going on a digital fast; digidetox if you will. I’m not sure if that’s the problem. I think the problem is living unconsciously.

We accumulate a lot of default behaviours over the course of our lives. Many of these are genuinely useful, but their execution not always optimal. An example of this is typing and mouse use. If we don’t use our bodies optimally, we set ourselves up for injury, even if we feel like we’re typing fast and mousing around like Jerry. Do it long enough, badly enough, unconsciously and you will get RSI, carpal tunnel syndrome and all manner of other problems.

If we sit at our desks with poor posture, we might not feel anything at the time, but one day, years from now, we’ll want to know how to get rid of the back pain that has “suddenly” crept up on us. So off we go to people who charge a lot of money to try to find a fix for a side effect of modern life. For what it’s worth, I got myself a good Alexander Technique teacher twelve years ago for about a year. From time to time, I still need to “give the orders”.

Using Twitter is also a habit, and not always a good one, though I think at the moment, the upside of Twitter vastly outweighs the downside, providing one uses it consciously. Given that my style is unfiltered and flowing, it’s not clear that being totally conscious would help, but it’s not the content over which I need to be totally conscious, it’s the moment before the tweet that is important.

Alexander Technique as taught by a good teacher shows you how to become much more sensitive to the feedback your body is constantly giving you, to use your body consciously. Once you have used your body consciously, the right way, for long enough, then good alignment becomes a habit again. I don’t have an Alexander teacher for Twitter, but I do have the next best thing – a holiday.

Driving is the same. We all think we’re fantastic drivers. I’m going to level with you. I’m not a fantastic driver. I know my technique leaves a lot to be desired and much of it is down to the erosion of good form, and the establishment of poor habits, but who is going to re-learn driving? It’s not cheap! I do think we should probably all go on refresher courses, but I haven’t a clue how we’d go about paying for it.

Habits are vital. They allow us to function without cognitive overload. If we had to consciously evaluate every decision in our extraordinarily complex lives, our decision-making reserves would be exhausted in no time and we probably wouldn’t even make it out the front door in the morning. What’s important is to occasionally have a conscious re-evaluation.

Holidays are really, really good for that.

Tomorrow, after the Friday prayer, I’ll be going to some wild, open space, near water, with a Dunhill Thames Oak pipe, filled to the brim with some mild tobacco. And I’ll be looking at those aspects of my life that I’ve been unconsciously suboptimal at and trying to be a bit more conscious.