This week we’ve been working on getting our compost bucket working. First the nitrogen to carbon ratio was off so stuff got wet… and then things began to grow, which isn’t a bad thing. So we tried to remedy that by adding more “browns”, but then the bottom of the bucket wasn’t getting enough air and stuff was starting to get funky. So that mandated drilling a buttload of holes into the compost bin with my crappy hand drill. Hopefully all these steps got things back on track.
It’s actually pretty fun tweaking the air to banana peel ratio on an engine that turns spent coffee grounds into dirt. As the bacteria get to work, the temperature of the column begins to climb, which in turn speeds growth and decomposition. By upping that airflow, increasing the substrate surface area, and stirring it more often – it’s bounced up in temperature a couple of time, but I’ve been unable to reach any sort of self-sustaining critical mass. Hopefully the latest changes will push things in the right direction and we’ll have some nutrient rich soil ready for our plants.
Shying away from some of the more controversial battles surrounding composting, and there’s a lot of strange fights out there, it’s always enjoyable for me to explore a system and try to get it working to its fullest potential. So far I’ve managed to resist the compulsion to culture bacteria in nutrient broth, streak it out on agar plates, grow them, classify, isolate, grow them out again, etc.. Or maybe I could borrow somebody’s PCR? I guess I could throw the spent agar in the compost bucket if it didn’t work out, with at least a few more microbes.
But this is where video games help me cope with my tendency to go overboard. Instead of filling my apartment with algae byproducts, I can fire up a game that activates the same over-focused spot in my brain. My personal favorites are the Nippon Ichi (N1) strategy games, like Disgaea and Phantom Brave. The initial campaign can be done with a limited knowledge of the base systems, but additional playthroughs unlock increasingly difficult content.
The more difficult content requires greater and greater exploitation of the game systems to beat. With levels going up to 9999 and damage that can go above 32,000,000 for a single attack, it’s a fairly expansive, systems-driven game. Rather than patch out or artificially limit exploits, the developers look at the edge cases (e.g. what if two characters occupy the same space at the same time?) and whip up a bunch of game behaviors that make the game feel special. I appreciate when a game expands to your level of interest and absorption. It’s also great that they give you multiple off-ramps back to your life along the way. It’s a good way to keep games from being condescending, without also being overwhelming. Games that follow this granular design, allow you to pick it up, vent for however much time you have, and let you get back to what you were doing – explicitly avoiding putting you in a Skinner Box.
At a darker time in my life, when I was engulfed in the hellish maw of World of Warcraft, I would fire up Rawr in the morning, load all the data and parameters, and simulate my character’s performance while I was away at work. Then I would get home and play World of Warcraft to get the items needed to more closely reach the simulated ideal. And then the next morning was another simulation. I started raiding and I’d start optimizing the rest of my 10-man party (with limited success).
I started doing the occasional 25-man instances to be able to dish out the highest damage per second (DPS) that the game had to offer. Each improvement required more and more effort and yielded diminishing returns. The worst part was it would never turn off. Driving to work? Talk yet again about how simulating mage DPS is like a 5-dimensional constrained manifold. Every Monday and Thursday? Talk about how we could clear just a little more content if people would have listened to my suggestions. And so on, ad nauseam.
This isn’t to say that I never had any good times in WoW – I’ve got lots of pleasant memories of exploring various parts of Azeroth, 2-manning instances with Kristin, even raiding some when it was focused on enjoying the encounters rather than flailing on content we weren’t ready for. I’d have to say Naxx was probably the highlight of my raiding career. But while I had some good memories, the thing that I resent was how WoW dominated my thoughts, and squeezed out other possibilities.
This isn’t exclusive to World of Warcraft. More recently, I was doing something similar with the scientific protein folding game Foldit. Writing scripts to automate the twisting and bending of various proteins to aid in scientific research. If you get into the brute force data crunching, you can heat your home, raise your power bill, and annoy your dogs all at the same time. Even though there are noble intentions, and it really is interesting, it still has that dangerous mental suction, that takes more from me than it gives.
Then there was that DragonVale mobile game. Never has so little game taken up so much of my brain. Everything was timer based and finely honed to draw you back and turn checking the game into a habit. It’s a life-ruiner like Neptune’s Pride, but rather than bringing friends together through scheming and fun, it focuses more on creating a solitary experience and reinforces isolation through game mechanics.
There’s always been a battle for consumer dollars (Capitalism, Ho!), but the battle for consumer’s minds and their attention keeps getting bigger. I’ve got fairly substantial defenses against both. But “games” (gamify your compost!) sneak by my natural defenses as entertainment and actually hijack my brain a little (or a lot). It reminds me of a virus and its capsid.
Having written this I realize I should take the agar and glass petri dishes out of my cart. Maybe I should unbookmark all the debates on whether vermiculture is vegan or whether I can compost my own poop. Rather than spiral down into bizarre composting madness, maybe I should hope what I’ve done works to get the compost heap back on track and get back into Disgaea. Well, maybe I’ll keep the agar in there. Just in case.
So that’s it for this week. A couple small tweaks, mostly using a link shortener for attributions – which makes the pictures a little easier to read. See you next week.