Thursday, September 20, 2012

Freedom & The Smartphone

Whatever happened to just being out? Like out and about? More importantly, out of reach?

There are many parts of my childhood that were governed by one simple difference from today's lifestyle; I had no cell phone. And of course, I didn't. They were not available in the late 70s and early 80s. At least not the way they are today.

I recall having briefings from my mom who, as a single parent, had to make sure all three of her boys could be where they needed to be when they needed to be there. Before leaving for the day or dropping me off somewhere, she would tell me where to be and when to be there. Period.

If I went over to a friend's house to play, then I needed to be home for dinner. There was no calling home to ask for more time or mom calling me to tell me that she was running late. Nope. Everyone had to reconvene at the appointed time and place. No exceptions.

Now while that may sound rigid and structured by today's standard, think about what else that meant. Once I was out playing with my friends, I was out. Once my mom was out running errands, she was out. Everyone could count on getting back together later in the day. Between those two times, we were on our own. What a concept.

There was no checking in every hour. There was no midstream change of plans. A plan was a plan. If everyone was not on board with the plan, someone was gonna get lost or worst, busted.

Even as an adult, it was not until I was almost 30 years old that I became a regular cell phone carrier. And yet somehow my life seemed to progress just fine. In fact, for every occasion that it has been handy to have a cell phone, there have been just as many when I wish people did not think they could just call me at any time.

Don't get me wrong. I realize this is where I start to sound like "Old Man Esben" who is afraid of modern technology and pines for the good old days. Maybe I am. Either way I say that there is a price we pay for all of this connectivity.

I mean, how independent are we when we are voluntarily wear an electronic leash?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Games & The Killer Instinct

So yesterday, I was meeting with a group of fellow gamers. We have a group that meets to discuss how we can integrate gaming theory into educational settings. (Yes, this is 73 Percent Nerd for a reason).

This group is made up of primarily traditional gamers who like such diversions as World of Warcraft, Diablo, Guild Wars, console games and the like. More recently, we have added folks who play all sorts of games from old school board games and card games to the newer smartphone-based app-style games.

One such member expressed a concern over video game violence. We were discussing the new WOW expansion and it rolled straight into a conversation on the various approaches we employ as we play the game. Our non-MMORPG friend was clearly horrified at the casual way we discussed dispatching thousands of mobs and even chuckled at the thought of how easy it was to seek revenge on those elite mobs that had thwarted us on the ladder to level 85. (Blog note: if any of this 'graph is not making sense to you, it's okay. We will pick you up in the next one)

Hearing such gleeful banter about smiting foes and leveling hapless opposing armies, our non-MMORPG colleague had to (ironically) enter the fray.

Non-MMORPG: I don't know about all that violence. It's sick.

Guild warrior:      Well, there's no blood.

Non-MMORPG: Oh great, so then kids learn all about killing without the consequences of killing?

Guild warrior:      0_o

Okay, so awkward, right? Well, as it turns out, our friend, since she is our friend after all, emailed us all to say that she had had a think about it and she felt bad. She did not mean to judge us and realized that she was guilty of slaying a few hundred zombies and/or plants herself.

As with many things in the media, and especially technology related, video games become a target whenever acts of violence erupt. However, as many people before me have pointed out, if simply witnessing violent acts, watching violent movies or playing violent video games made people violent, then we should have riots every single day.

Maybe our over sensitivity to violence is an ironic reflection of how peaceful our lives actually are. Year in and year out, we get statistics that tell us that we all perceive our country to be far more violent than it actually is. Those of us who have studied media know that the incidence of actual crime is far lower than the perception of those crimes based on media influence. (Good article here: )

There is one interesting statistic I like to trot out when a friend starts to worry unnecessarily about being murdered on a business trip to a new city. I tell them that they are 5 times more likely to be murdered by someone they know than a stranger jumping out of the bushes.

I once mentioned this to a friend whose college-aged daughter was hiking the national parks on the West Coast with a new beau. I ended with, "If I were you, I would be far more worried about the boyfriend."

This did not go over well.

The point is that it has been decades, if not centuries, of society blaming other parts of society for making people violent. The truth is that the jury is still out on the actual effect these diversions have on any one individual's violent acts.

More to the point of games and violence is that this exchange among my friend highlights that we truly don't believe there is a connection between video games violence and actual violence. If there really was a connection between violent games and people being violent, wouldn't it be foolish to antagonize them? As our colleague illustrated, no such fear exists. After all when was the last time you heard someone say, "Don't mess with Billy. He's really good at playing Mortal Kombat?"

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Time & A Passport

So the other day I was talking to a student at my college. She was following along on Facebook with the updates her friends were posting from Las Vegas.

She was lamenting her choice to stay home and work even though she knew that she really needed the money for college. I told her that I could relate. I, too, am often wishing to be off somewhere new and seeing the world. I told her that it was okay and that she will have plenty of time to go on trips in the future.

If anything this made me think about what an interesting time we live in. That terrorism notwithstanding, this is probably the greatest time ever in the history of the world to live if you want to travel. Right now, if you live within driving distance of an airport, you can effectively go anywhere in the world.

Assuming you are not a wanted fugitive, you can take your passport and your wallet and head to the nearest airline ticket counter, pick a spot on the map and say, "I want to go there!"

Now mind you, this does require two luxuries that not all of us have: Time and money. But if you can work those two things out, you can go. Just go.

On my one and only trip to New Zealand, the time between deciding to go and actually going was a mere five weeks. My good friend had asked me earlier in the year if I wanted to join him while he worked on a doctoral degree in Auckland and I wish I could say that I jumped at the chance. Instead, I weighed out the time and the money and pondered if I could spare either or both. I thought about it all the way until it was just more than a month to the departure date before I took the plunge.

It's funny now to think about that since it was by far the best trip I had been on in my pre-marriage life.

But perhaps even more pivotal than making the decision to go was being prepared to go. That meant having a passport. About a year earlier my mother, who has seen quite a bit of the world, urged me to get my documents in order. At the time I hedged and balked at it. I didn't think I would have any use in the foreseeable future, so why bother? Given the fact that it was only five weeks between ticket purchase and "last call for boarding Air New Zealand flight 9 to Auckland," it was crucial that I had a passport in hand.

Given that my life has taken off in a number of ways since that fateful trip eight years ago, it is conceivable that had if I not gone then, I may not have gone at all. And that, would have been unfortunate.

The lesson I learned is that you can always make the time, but you have to be ready when the opportunity comes. So now whenever I see someone thinking about traveling, I can't help but ask them the all important question, "Do you have a passport?"

Monday, September 3, 2012

Unhappy Men & Happy Women

So recently there was an article about the correlation between men's and women's happiness within a relationship. (Read here: In a nutshell it says that women are happier when they know that their partner is upset or unhappy because it means that he is committed to the relationship. Meanwhile, men are happy when their woman is happy.

The article does go one to describe the differences between men's and women's perceptions and how that each can be happier by being more sensitive to each other's feelings. While this is interesting, it is not very helpful. So I thought that I would summarize the cycle and that this might shed some light on things.

The relationship cycle:

Man Unhappy = Woman Happy.
Woman Happy = Man Happy.
Man Happy = Woman Unhappy.
Woman Unhappy = Man Unhappy.

So there it is. After all of these years, some evidence to support what we have all experienced and known to be true. But like many things, it has been hard to capture or record into a pattern. Thanks to the Journal of Family Psychology, we now know officially why there are ups and downs in a relationship. 

But what does this mean to each of us who are trying to successful navigate the waters of a relationship with our significant other? One the upside, I suppose it says that men and women do indeed balance each other out. It also suggests that life within a relationship will be both happy and unhappy. Maybe it lets us off the hook from thinking that a relationship needs to be happy all of the time.

However I offer this, perhaps it means that we can feel comforted to know that the bad times will be fleeting since men and women are not meant to be unhappy together for long and that next good time is just around the corner.

Linear Time & Being 73 Percent Nerd

So today turns out to be the day.

It's the second day of September, which is the best month of the year. There are many great aspects to this month and my birthday falling in the middle of it just happens to be one of them.

September welcomes the best season, autumn and celebrates my grandparents' wedding anniversary. I know, I also have to give a shout out to my parents for getting together to make sure I would exist, but since my grandparents were together longer than any other couple I have ever personally known, they take the prize.

But today ends up being the day that I officially launch this here blog, 73 Percent Nerd. The savvy among you will notice that I started this account about two years ago and only started posting last month. True and true. Let's just say that I had a really prolonged and extremely soft open.

One of the many reasons it took me so long to go from registrant to actual blog poster is that I was stuck on the name. Names are very important to me. I think they can make or break many things. And as I guy named Esben who grew up in Hawaii who seldom gets his name spelled correctly by baristas anywhere (more on this later) can tell you, names ARE important.

The name of this blog, 73 Percent Nerd, came about in the best way possible for my own naming proclivities. It was one part inspiration and about 72 parts serendipity.

I had settled on the fact that embracing my inner nerd was part of what makes me a Gen Xer. And not only a Gen Xer, but one who spent his formative years squarely in the 1980s. But I also knew that I was not 100 percent nerd. Not simply because I had taken a nerdity quiz (which by the way is like putting your name on the SAT. If you can do that part, you are already scoring points) but also because I know much more complete and complex nerds whose nerdom dwarfs my own. So I am as advertised, not as nerdy as others might think, but nerdier than I imagine.

However, the 73 part did not come about arbitrarily. I knew that my writing would be more than 2/3 nerd but probably not as high as 3/4. As I sat on the couch watching The Big Bang Theory, it came to me.

There was Sheldon quizzing the group on what was the best number. It was 73. While I could sum it up, rest assured it's true and if you are a skeptic, then go here:

Then finally, being born in 1973, it was a lock.

I mention the idea of linear time right up top. This is a nod to the fact that I am not the most organized nerd you will meet. I often have to tell people to remind me to tell them something after I finish telling them the first thing because I just thought about it while I, myself, was talking.

And so it goes with this blog. I knew I had to introduce myself and these meandering thoughts at some point. Turns out that about a dozen posts in is the time to do it.

The inspiration for this blog comes from several things.

One, I have always written. I used to carry a tablet before tablets existed. The only difference was that mine said composition on the front.

Two, these are indeed things that I think about. I do not pretend that I am logging wholly original thoughts here. I am influenced like everyone else by books, television, friends and family. My hope is to share a little bit of this guy's perspective on those things that make the world go around.

And three, in an effort to give my wife a break, I thought I better start writing again. The poor thing was having to listen to a whole day's worth of the kind of stuff you will read at your leisure here except in her case, it was against her will. I would like the marriage to last as long as my grandparents', so I am working out my thoughts here rather than around the house every evening.

So that's about it. I hope you enjoy. Comment if you like. I will try to respond when I can. Otherwise be respectful of others and see you next time.

Data & HAL 9000

So the other day, my friend and I were discussing the classic 1980s flick Electric Dreams. I use the term "classic" loosely as the movie was a box office bomb, but anything that old and that we can still remember has got to be a  "classic" by now, right?

This came up because my friend is having some work done on his house. The contractor doing the work also does technology upgrades in homes that allows owners to control various electronic components of their house via a smartphone or a computer. To which said friend replied, "No thanks. I saw Electric Dreams. That will not end well."

Since I never saw the movie, my friend had to give me synopsis. Apparently, the movie involves a guy, his hot neighbor and a home computer. From there it's the usual boy meets girl, boy buys computer, boy & computer fall in love with girl, computer tries to kill boy in jealous rage - type story. (For more accurate and detailed summary, see handy-dandy Wikipedia:

This got me to thinking about the phenomenon in films where formerly non-sentient machines "wake up" and achieve consciousness. There seems to be two types of premises where this idea is explored.

The first is the Electric Dreams type. This involves a computer or machine that is supposed to simply perform a task in its mechanical way with its mechanical precision. At some point, the machine attains consciousness and begins to discover the world and appreciate it in a more human way. So human, that the first thing it does it seek revenge on its human oppressors!

The interesting part to me is that we all go along with the train of thought that a machine that has been functioning in a logical, emotionally-void way for its entire existence would then swing straight over to the most base of our human emotions immediately. That consciousness seems to come with a set of emotions that the machine must grapple with right away. There is no learning curve and certainly no filter or judgement.

Or if there is judgment, it is the cold, extremely judgment of a machine. It becomes the worst of worlds. A being that can appreciate the injustice of life and the ruthlessness to carry out actions to set things to right. This is depicted in stories such as I, RobotThe Terminator & 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Conversely, there is the brand of technology-based movie that features humanities flailing attempt to make the machines not only live but possibly, human. There are variations on this theme as well that go between funny and sweet to tragic and heart wrenching. Whether it's the innocent and played-for-laughs fumbling of a robot yearning to better understand human nature (if only to be better understood itself) or the slow descent into a chilling abyss that realizes that there really is a spark to humanity and the robot will simply never have it.

These are the retreads of Pinocchio of course. The original tale of someone who wanted a legacy so badly that he wished his creation to life. In fact, so familiar is the the story of the puppet who wanted to be a real boy that when Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced the world to the first android Starfleet officer, Lt. Commander Data, they made it a point to have his X-O say, "Nice to meet you... Pinocchio."

I realize that I am covering well-traversed territory. That, in fact, each of these perspectives on the machines and technologies we build are but reflections of ourselves. These stories serve as devices to allow us to explore the human condition, to look back at ourselves as through the eyes of a non-human witness.

So if the first is a look into the brutal and savage nature of man and the second is a look at the wonder of the human spirit, then only one question remains. Which one will we feed?

In the meantime, we can rest easier knowing that we are probably closer to the WALL-E than the Matrix. But some days, I am not too sure. I swear our DVR loves my wife more than me. How else can I explain that my shows always vanish and hers are always available?