Ezra Klein: “We are mere months away from reading articles about Obama and Trump’s improbable friendship”

Ezra Klein, Editor-in-Chief of Vox.com, on Twitter:

We are mere months away from reading articles about Obama and Trump’s improbable — and, to Trump’s aides, frustrating — friendship

While I would love for this to be the case, I’m not so sure. He’ll confide for a while, but once Trump finds comfort in his staff, I think he’s going break away from Obama’s council, take a few (many) vacations, and engage auto-pilot with a disturbing staff.

Tagged , ,

“Mr. Obama realized the Republican needs more guidance.”

Michael C. Bender and Carol E. Lee, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

During their private White House meeting on Thursday, Mr. Obama walked his successor through the duties of running the country, and Mr. Trump seemed surprised by the scope, said people familiar with the meeting. Trump aides were described by those people as unaware that the entire presidential staff working in the West Wing had to be replaced at the end of Mr. Obama’s term.

After meeting with Mr. Trump, the only person to be elected president without having held a government or military position, Mr. Obama realized the Republican needs more guidance. He plans to spend more time with his successor than presidents typically do, people familiar with the matter said.

Jason Miller, communications director for the Trump transition, declined to comment.

Tagged , ,

President-elect Trump on 60 Minutes

CBS News:

During what seemed an interminable campaign, a divided country found all kinds of ways to describe Donald Trump: visionary businessman, vulgar self-promoter, political neophyte.

But after Tuesday, for all Americans, there’s only one description that counts: president-elect.

Since the election, demonstrations against him have broken out in over a dozen cities across the country. And people on both sides are on edge.

What we discovered in Mr. Trump’s first television interview as president-elect, was that some of his signature issues at the heart of his campaign were not meant to be taken literally, but as opening bids for negotiation.

Tonight, you will also hear from his family about whether they’ll play roles in a Trump presidency.

But we begin with President-elect Trump, whom we interviewed Friday in his penthouse home in the Trump Tower.

How that penthouse speaks to disenfranchised Americans is beyond me.

Stahl did a great job pushing Trump for answers. A ringing theme is her follow-up, “like what?” Vehemently pushing Trump for answers about his plans. 

During the interview, he seemed scrambled; still unable to truly process what his new job will actually entail; backtracking on campaign promises while praising Hillary, the Clintons, and president Obama. Questionable for his supporters. Nerve-wracking for the American people.

Tagged , ,

Comfortable

Comfortable is something I am not right now. I am not comfortable with a Donald Trump presidency. I am not comfortable with America’s image to other countries. I am not comfortable with explaining to American children how this happened. I am not comfortable for women, the LGBTQ community, and people of color. I am not comfortable with any of this.

Uncomfortable is certainly the least of the emotions I am feeling now; far behind terrified, horrified, stupidities, scared, shaken, gutted, disappointed, sad, guilty. But for a white Californian male, discomfort is resounding. I weep for the groups across the nation who feel geniuine terror at their core.

If there is one thing that has been magnified for me it’s that I was too comfortable under the Obama presidency. I was so comfortable with President Barack Obama at the helm that I stopped paying attention to Washington and the American People. It’s a shameful statement for someone who works on the periphery of the news industry and who has dreams of becoming a writer and, possibly, journalist.

At the start of the campaign season, I felt “fired up.” This was a vow to myself to pay attention. To watch the campaign closely. As it tumbled along, I felt comfortable with Clinton’s campaign, tactics, and temperament. That comfort grew by the fact that she was going up against Trump. How could anyone in their right mind vote for a politically untested, inexperienced, misogynist businessman who avoided paying taxes and was running on a campaign of xenophobia. Clinton had this in the bag! Once again, I became too comfortable and took my eye off of the details of the campaigns, the polls, and the People.

Being uncomfortable for the first time in a long time is a wake up call. If that’s coming from someone in the most comfortable of blue states, that certainly says a lot about the discomfort in America now. Hell, it might say more about the discomfort in America before now.

I grew up in what can be described as a left-leaning purple county (+7.3% Dem) and city (+10.6% Dem). I remember a someone saying that our town was as close to the Bay Area that Republican candidates felt they could successfully campaign. 53% of my county voted for Clinton; 42% for Trump.

My hometown was a potpourri of football players and farmers, punk rockers and commuters. I had a glimpse of blue sentiment in parts of town and cities to the west, and familial relationships in heartedly red counties to the south. I was never spoken to about politics or beliefs at home.

That would change when I discovered punk rock and class called political science. A fire was sparked and propelled me to obtain my bachelors degree in political science. But I stopped there. Graduating in 2009 under an Obama presidency, the comfort kicked in and the fire went out.

A troublesome, odd campaign cycle and a trip to D.C. in October 2016 were enough to stoke the fire again, but it felt too late. I felt to uninformed in what the Obama administration had and had not done, secretary Clinton’s record (good or bad), and the state of rural America to hold educated conversation with others about the need to cast a Clinton vote. Beyond my given enthusiasm for a female leader and her common-sense views of equality in this great nation, my message became, “vote for her because you shouldn’t vote for him.” It wasn’t enough for her, it wasn’t enough for my arguments, and it wasn’t enough for the People.

I don’t know what the next step is. It’s safe to say that many of us don’t. That is what is so uncomfortable about this election. Did Trump simply play a base of America? Is this for ego? What does it mean that he’s flipped between a registered Republician then Indepence then Democratic then Republician then no then Replublician parties? Does a “successful business man” not have the temperament for this job? Did he really see something we all didn’t? Is he really smart enough to find loopholes and dodge taxes? Can we trust him on Twitter? Can 140 characters warrant a trade war with China? Can 140 characters spark nuclear warfare? He certainly doesn’t want to go down as a failed president by committing to the promises made to his base, but he won’t want to be called a liar by them either, right? What does he actually stand for? How will he govern? Isn’t human decency the threshold for the job? How the hell did this happen? What happens next?

I am trying to not let fear get the best of me. Trying to quell many of these thoughts by rationale. But not knowing what this man stands for or trusting any of his actions is deeply uncomfortable.

I’m unsure of my next actions. I’m letting this sink in. I’m going for long jogs, focusing on work, and cascading into stiff drinks, hoping I’ll come out with some form of clarity and action. Until then, my wife and I have chosen to donate monthly to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood and are actively looking to other organizations, liberties, and efforts that may have the steepest of uphill battles ahead of them.

I do not blame president Obama or secretary Clinton. I blame myself for being comfortable in my own privledged bubble. Now, I am comfortable that my discomfort will propel me to be better informed, studious, and vocal.

——

Some podcast episodes that have helped console my discomfort:

The One You Feed – Post Election Mini-Episode

Slate’s Political Gabfest – The “Even Longer National Nightmare” Edition

Vox’s The Weeds – Trumpocalypse Now

The Talk Show With John Gruber – Holiday Party

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Ben Thompson: “What Nintendo is doubling down on is controllers”

Ben Thompson, in his latest weekly free Stratechery piece, “Surface Studio, Nintendo Switch, and Niche Strategies”:

What Nintendo is doubling down on is controllers, another smart move. I argued in 2014 that controllers are so important to the user experience of consoles that they will hold off general purpose devices like Apple TVs when it comes to living room gaming; Nintendo’s bet is that they can attract gamers who want mobility by offering high fidelity control that smartphones can not4.

First and foremost, you should subscribe to Ben’s Daily Update. $10 per month gets you the best business/technology analysis out there.

Second, Ben’s observation is something I should have realized and mentioned in my “Nintendo Switch and Parents” piece. As a reminder, I wrote the following, emphasis just now added:

Enter the Nintendo Switch. A dedicated seemingly state-of-the-art-ish portable/home console multiplayer-ready uncompromised gaming device, surely ready for YouTube when on wifi (an optional data plan would be even better), by the greatest game designers on the planet, Nintendo.

By uncompromised, I was eluding to those features we consider critical to console gaming: power, fidelity, and breadth. One item that skipped my thought was physical controllers. Because physical controllers have been a staple of console gaming since the beginning, it was easy to overlook. But the importance of Nintendo doubling-down on physical controllers for the Switch, seemingly ignoring touchscreen capabilities based on the Switch trailer (however, patents may reveal otherwise), cements the vision, nay dream of portable console-level gaming.

Tagged , , , , , ,

WSJ: Banning Tablets Is Best for Children

Christopher Mims, The Wall Street Journal:

Friday, the American Academy of Pediatrics validated my experiment, recommending that children younger than 18 months get zero screen time, and those ages 2 to 5 be limited to one hour a day—half of its prior recommendation. The group recommended that the hour be “high quality programming” that parents watch with their children.

Later in the piece, Paul Bettner, co-creator of Words With Friends and founder of Playful Corp:

“I’ve seen from my own life and my children that there’s great social interaction, great hand-eye coordination stuff, lots of storytelling and getting involved in the narrative, a lot of learning and skill building when children play videogames alone or together,” says Mr. Bettner. He limits his children to two to three hours a day, and encourages them to play videogames rather than watch shows.

In my post Nintendo Switch and Parents, I wanted specify that while the Switch might be a boon to both parents and children, by no means should a device be used as a replacement for babysitting nor physical modes of play.

I think the title of this Mims’s piece is misleading. That said, I like Bettner’s philosophy.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Nintendo Switch and Parents

Parents surrender their phones and tablets to their children. E.g. child clamours for device—iPhone, iPad, or otherwise—the parent surrenders said device to child. Child commences gaming and/or YouTube.

This is anecdotal, of course. My wife and I have no children. But we’ve seen this time and time again with friends and family.

And if it’s not the guardian’s own device, it’s a separate device dedicated to gaming and/or YouTube for the child.

From the POV of a parent, wouldn’t it be nice to keep your device on your own person?

From the POV of a child, wouldn’t it be nice to have your own device dedicated for gaming/YouTube without the other unnecessary calendar/email/messages/etc apps?

Enter the Nintendo Switch. A dedicated seemingly state-of-the-art-ish portable/home console multiplayer-ready uncompromised gaming device, surely ready for YouTube when on wifi (an optional data plan would be even better), by the greatest game designers on the planet, Nintendo.

While none of the talent in the trailer appear to be under the age of 20—even donning red cups at a rooftop party!—the Switch could be a game changer for the household.

Of course, it will come down to Nintendo’s ability to attract third-party devs—a feat they have struggled with since the Nintendo 64. And not just any third-party titles, but titles outside of Nintendo’s own legacy: education, infants, toddlers, etc. Lock down the third-parties with simple development and distribution, and (price willing) the Switch will be a boon for parents and children alike.

Children: here’s a device for the things you care about.

Parents: take your devices back.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Nintendo 64 and Avoiding ‘Sequelitis’

Sam Machkoveh, Ars Technica:

Perhaps most notably, this was the last console on which Nintendo could rehash its older characters and series without fielding non-stop complaints about “sequelitis.” The console’s best first-party games were mostly sequels—Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, Mario Kart 64, Star Fox 64, F-Zero X, even Wave Race 64 and Excitebike 64—and yet all of them felt incredibly new thanks to their steps up to fully 3D engines. Nintendo had been a purely 2D game-making company for nearly a decade, yet it somehow pulled off the transition to 3D gaming in pretty much every way that Sega flubbed its own total overhaul.

Yours truly, in a November 2014 post titled Iterative vs. Redesigned Experiences:

If the doomsayers are correct and Nintendo’s failure is eminent, redesigns are going to be required to prevent it. So far, the majority of first-party titles on Wii U are iterative: Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros. Wii U, Super Mario 3D World, Pikmin 3, Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze. While not every redesign has worked in Nintendo’s favor (I’m looking at you, Star Fox Adventures…), they are at the very least refreshing. This is another reason why I think Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is genius; while it’s not a new take on a old classic (because there is no old classic!), it’s a new perspective from the Mushroom Kingdom. Until then, it’s back to smashing and karting.

Pokémon Go was the most recent example of a redesigned rather than iterative experience. Real-world Pokémon is an experience many fans have yearned for since the days of Red and Blue (or Green). Nintendo’s decision to make Niantic, Inc.’s Ingress a venue for real-world Pokémon was not only brilliant, but for a company that’s built their namesake on changing our perspectives, hidden-in-plain-sight.

With surprise experiences like Pokémon Go and Nintendo’s further foray into the new terrian of smartphone hardware, we are sure to see at least a handful of  redesigned experiences on mobile. With the NX, my hopes are not so high. But if anyone can reimagine the console experience, it’s Nintendo.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Big Picture by Sean Carroll

God, you little devil.

IMG_0042

Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself is a primer for the state of science today. But at the heart of book lies a core belief and explanation for poetic naturalism. Just what is poetic naturalism? Here’s Carroll in an interview with WIRED’s Eric Niiler:

Atheism is a reaction against theism. It is purely a rejection of an idea. It’s not a positive substantive idea about how the world is. Naturalism is a counterpart to theism. Theism says there’s the physical world and god. Naturalism says there’s only the natural world. There are no spirits, no deities, or anything else. Poetic naturalism emphasizes that there are many ways of talking about the natural world. The fact that the underlying laws of physics are deterministic and impersonal does not mean that at the human level we can’t talk about ideas about reasons and goals and purposes and free will. So poetic naturalism is one way of reconciling what we are sure about the world at an intuitive level. A world that has children. Reconciling that with all the wonderful counterintuitive things about modern science.

For a layman, Carroll breaks down today’s fundamentals of science to painstaking detail (outside of the use of equations) and builds them back up to something simpler that speak to the justification for poetic naturalism. He dives into physics, philosophy, quantum mechanics, biology, and many other fields. He tackles many questions that are asked from casual daydreamers and the depths of Sci-Fi alike. And it all comes wrapped in an idea that there lies something between atheism and theism.

Carroll strives to pit Science against Theism on an even playing field, or one that’s as level as possible; Modern science challenging the ever shrinking God of the gaps. But for all of Carroll’s scientific professing, he is careful never to discount just how vast the gaps remain. By sheer virtue of his lessons on Bayesian credences, he never shuts out theism entirely, always leaving the door unlocked and possibly cracked open.

We’ll see that the existence of life provides, at best, a small boost to the probability that theism is true—while related features of the universe provide an extremely large boost for naturalism.

Chapters and sections read like deep troughs with a steep decline. As soon as the reader is introduced to a concept, Carroll has them barreling down a chasm at breakneck speed, only to bring them up for air in the last few paragraphs. I understood hardly a lick of the depths, but that’s okay. The meat lies in the simplified 30-percent of the pages. I took the rest as hard scientific justification, in the event the reader has any doubts as where Carroll comes up with these notions.

After 433 pages, Core Theory and quantum mechanics and multiverses and up quarks and down quarks are still a mystery to me. But what I did learn — what I can say without a shadow of a doubt — is with as much as we’ve discovered of the Universe, we still know very little. Maybe that will always be the case. Maybe there will always exist the God of the gaps with those gaps shrinking exponentially, but never quite stamped out.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

What does it take to be moved— deeply and profoundly moved? Stories of grandeur can impress ideas of excellence and glory. Stories of adventure can make us yearn for thill and mystery. Stories of family can reflect the importance of closeness and bonding.

Real life events certainly have the power to move. Novels tackled this ages ago. Music has transformed the world around us for eons. Film figured it out approximately 100 years ago. And within the past 20 years, video games have begun tugging at heartstrings, imbuing wonder, and leaving players in awe.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, the latest and possibly last chapter of suave treasure-hunting protagonist Nathan Drake’s adventures, is certainly not the first video game to entertain the idea that some titles in the medium are closer to film than they are to chess. There have been countless titles that have made the case that the narrative in today’s video games outshines most summer blockbusters— BioShock (2007), Final Fantasy VII (1997), The Last of Us (2013), and Mass Effect (2007-2012) to name a few. As early as 1995, in an abrupt turn of events, players watched the heroic and noble Mega Man turn against Asimov’s first law during the finale of Mega Man 7, holding his Mega Buster up to a surrendering Dr. Wily, exclaiming, “I am more than a robot!! Die Wily!!” While not the most striking piece of dialog, it was a profound moment for a video game at the time.

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 2.20.04 PM

The Uncharted franchise’s namesake is in big action during gameplay. Gigantic and tightly choreographed sequences unfold while the player is still in control. To this day, it’s something that feels inconceivable to players who grew up with Super Mario Bros. Over the course of four games within the franchise, developer Naughty Dog doubled-down on the technically awe-inspiring moments with each title; be it scaling train cars that are dangling off the side of a mountain (Uncharted 2) or fist-fighting in a battered and rapidly descending cargo plane (Uncharted 3). Story beats and character development didn’t quite take a backseat, but they were never quite at the forefront of the games. By the third entry, Naughty Dog pushed the predefined story boundaries, but was never able to outshine the action.

After Uncharted 3, Naughty Dog stepped away from the franchise, putting it’s effort into a brand new story. The Last of Us delivered what is arguably the most affecting story from a AAA title yet. A survival story of two individuals, the grizzled Joel, who’s young daughter was killed during confused military frenzy amongst a virus-outbreak, and Ellie, a young girl with the only known immunity to the virus. Over the course of the game, the two strangers argue, protect, bond, and fight together, building a relationship unseen in video games prior.

The lessons learned by Naughty Dog and the development of The Last of Us are clear as day in Uncharted 4. Never has the Uncharted franchise felt so human and connecting. While Uncharted 3 swung for the fences, it never quite delivered. But with every turn of a corner, every new setting, every chapter, Uncharted 4’s story beats like a racing heart. Be it the relationship between Nathan and his brother Sam, Nathan and his wife Elena, Sam and veteran treasure hunter and father-figure Sully, or even the tales of Captain Avery and the lost pirate city Libertalia being explored through the game. Every one of these stories delivers and ultimately delivers a whole greater than its parts.

Nathan’s struggle between leaving a life of adventure and exploration for a life of normalcy and marriage is remarkably easy to connect with. The unknown and freedom of one’s past challenged by stability and relationships is something most struggle with. To add, the power of reigniting a relationship with a plundering brother once thought dead adds a significant amount of weight to Nathan’s difficult decisions and ultimately mistakes. Uncharted 4 offers a surprisingly complicated web of relationships that keep the player hungry to find out what happens next. And unlike most lengthy video games, there is a beautiful simplicity to the story that is easy to come back to weeks after setting the controller down.

But what of a video game’s story if the atmosphere isn’t correct. Surely the benefit of experience a story in the medium of a video game must include visuals and music and mechanics. Suffice to say the visuals are outstanding, possibly the best a console has produced to date.

Buying into the world of Uncharted 4 takes little effort at all. Its outstanding graphical fidelity, animation, and motion-capture performance deliver convincing characters and settings. Nathan Drake is as real as any Hollywood hero. And shocking more convincing as a fully CG character than the real actors strewn about the Warcraft movie.

warcraft-movie-lothar-orcs

Not to digress into a critique of the Warcraft film, but it’s worth mentioning that Uncharted 4‘s visuals and performance are a great example of the power of strong narrative without the presence of flesh-and-bone. To put it succinctly, the game is captivating.

(While we’re on the topic and to give credit where credit is due, the photorealistic Orcs backed by stellar performances. Like Avatar before it, there are moments that are dumbfounding when one realizes what is unfolding onscreen is fake. Just look at Orgrim!)

Warcraft-Gallery-03

It’s not to say that the life given to Nathan Drake by the folks at Naughty Dogs and the performance from Nolan North weren’t incredible in past entries, but there is something truly magically about how Nathan emotes and interacts in Uncharted 4 that makes him believable.

Like the story, the mechanics and fluidity of the game have slowly evolved with each iteration. While the first Uncharted title felt much like a demo of things to come, the level of polish given to the player’s controls during extraordinarily big moments feels just as amazing as it did in Uncharted 2. That said, the overuse of sliding down gravelly paths and using Nate’s new grappling hook felted a bit tired halfway through the game. The repetition of these interactions has a tendency to make story feel slower than it should at time and almost like the player hasn’t progressed much. Slow motion via repetition. There are even moments when Nathan pokes fun at having to slide or grapple again and again.

But if the mechanics are the worst part, and they certainly are not even mildly bad, what of the music? The three previous entries found composer Greg Edmonson at the helm, defining Uncharted‘s iconic and booming theme. Edmonson’s work gave a lift to the sense of adventure and thrill. But like the story, the time Naughty Dog took away from the franchise seemed to open the possibility for new talent and new perspectives. And for a story so strong and rife with conflict, the timbre had to change.

In comes Henry Jackman, composer most recognized by his work on Captain Americas The Winter Soldier and Civil War, X-Men: First Class, and Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6. The breadth of Jackman’s work shines in Uncharted 4, adding dark and somber themes to an otherwise epic adventure, namely the heartbreaking “A Normal Life” theme that is sprinkled throughout interactions between Nathan and Elena, displayed most effectively during Chapter 17: For Better or Worse. It’s enough to bring you to your knees.

There isn’t enough that can be said about the impact of the Uncharted franchise. It reimagined what it means to interactive with a digital experience. It’s captivating performances and writing gave life to characters typically seen as avatars. The franchise is a masterclass in the possibilities and power of video games. Most of all, it showed the importance of not rest on your laurels and how care and patience can evolve greatness into something truly special. If this really is the end of the Uncharted franchise, I’m sad to see it go. But better to burn out than to fade away. And what better to burn out on a note that genuinely moves technology, narrative, and players.

Thanks for one hell of a ride, Nate and the Naughty Dog team.

Tagged , , , , , ,