Capitalism Lab is an Obsession

For a very long time, I have had a fondness for simulation games. Roller Coaster Tycoon was of course in heavy rotation in my computer in elementary/middle school. I’ve spent hundreds of hours building in SimCity 4 and it’s spiritual successor Cities Skylines. Let’s not mention the 2013 SimCity reboot. I used to scour the web looking for long-lost simulation games for all kinds of weird stuff. I actually enjoyed the buggy SimIsle I bought from the school book order in fifth grade. From city-building to truck driving, I’ll play almost any sim game.

The value software section of Walmart was always a treasure trove of these sim games that didn’t quite make it but had enough of a following to keep around. I never had the best computer growing up, so these games were just about guaranteed to play on whatever I had at the time. One near-obsessive hit with my middle-school tastes was Hard Truck 2, where you traveled around a fictional area delivering shipments in trucks you were always looking to upgrade. It was heaps of fun and eventually got me into the truck sims currently made by SCS. But notice I said near-obsession, there.

My current sim obsession began in probably late middle/early high school and continues to this day. Another find in the Walmart software section introduced me to Capitalism 2. At the time I had never even heard of the first Capitalism game. Introduced in 2001 with graphics already dated for that time, it was a hardcore business simulation game. There were all kinds of options. You could simply build real estate and reap the slow but constant profits. You could be a captain of industry and manufacture goods. You could build a retail chain to sell other products built by other companies in the city you were in. The sheer number of ways you could play the game was intoxicating. I played for hours and hours. The dings and dongs of certain events are still seared into my brain. 

As the years went by, I continued to play. But what was initially a huge challenge was now more repetitive. It got almost boring. Almost…

About a couple of years ago I found a digital copy of Cap2 from the wonderful GOG.com to replace the ancient and heavily scratched CD I bought years before. I started playing again and started looking at forums of other folks who played the game. That’s when I found Capitalism Lab. Apparently the original publisher was still developing a new, expanded version of Capitalism 2, with more features and the ability to add mods. I immediately paid for it and my obsession returned in full-force. 

The already complex financial and economic environments in the game have been made even better and the addition of mods allow new business like oil refineries, alcoholic beverages, and a whole lot more. Usually, a top-down 2D game like this has a hard time keeping the attention of modern gamers. Somehow, though, this game keeps pulling me back into the fold. How can I win next time? I’ve played retail for a long time now, what would happen if I spun off that division and moved into manufacturing? Stock issuances, dividends, mergers and acquisitions, it’s all there. I’m not really a business guy at all. But this is no risk. A good simulation of a very complicated and risky real-life landscape with no risk except being booted by your shareholders and starting a new game makes it fun. I’m sure I’ve learned something useful at some point in my hours of playing this game. I’ve read that they have even used this game in business schools.

An MBA candidate I’m not, but you really don’t have to be to get a kick out of this game. 

Is Mitsubishi the Last Quirky Car Company?

The Diamond Star brand has been suffering as of late. Boring cars. Ho-hum marketing. A huge fuel economy scandal dating back to the early 1990s. Mitsubishi is now frequently in the news and speculation as to its fate is rampant in the blogospheres. Nissan has purchased a controlling stake in the company at fire sale rates. That worries me.

Why? Because in my humble opinion, Nissan stinks. On top of that, they’re owned by Renault, the equally crummy French car company. The bargain purchase of Mitsu has granted them market penetration in Southeast Asia, as well as more R&D resources. However, this move may kill off one of the last “quirky” car companies around if we’re not to include North Korea’s Pyeonghwa Motors.

I may be a bit biased here since I’m a Mitsubishi owner myself. Behold:

Mitsubishi Mirage

I bought this little bastard a few months ago. Three cylinders, 76 horses, manual transmission. Most other car companies would laugh in your face if you were to suggest this car to anyone. Hell, I would have laughed too. It also looks like the nameless generic car you see in car insurance commercials. In the few months I’ve had this car, however, I’ve fallen more and more in love with it. It’s a car that looks and drives like it has something to prove, and it does. It’s here to prove that Mitsubishi, despite their hardships and sparse lineup here in the States, can still crank out an efficient, well-thought-out car. I’ll totally agree, it’s a fucking strange car. The engine compartment wasn’t painted to save costs, so below the hood is a mess of overspray and gray primer.

I’ll totally agree, it’s a fucking strange car. The engine compartment wasn’t painted to save costs, so below the hood is a mess of overspray and gray primer. The storage compartment cover is attached to the back hatch by one lonely piece of string. Bluetooth streaming only works on the front two of the four speakers. The tires are 14 inches. It’s strange as hell. Mitsubishi probably knows full-well how odd this little car is. They’re no stranger to strange cars. For examples, we have the funky Mighty Max/Dodge Ram 50 pickup, the legendary Starion and GT3000, the pseudo-luxury Diamante, et cetera.

The Nissan buyout could put Mitsubishi’s quirky side at risk. I certainly hope not, since I think that the Diamond Star still has some innovation left in it with the Outlander PHEV and possible other forays in the EV market to supplement their extremely nutso i-MiEV. Here’s to hoping we get to see it all.

Up In Lights: Dallas’ Transformation into an LED Paradise

I came across an article today in the News about a new Dallas office tower was sold in one of the many cryptic and odd commercial real estate transactions that take place in the city every day. That wasn’t what interested me, though. The picture you see here (from the mentioned DMN article) is what that particular building, overlooking the Arts District, looks like at night.

HALL-Arts-2

In keeping with the downtown trend of flashy lighting, the KPMG Tower has even more of the hyper-bright multi-colored rods that also grace the BoA Plaza, the Omni, Reunion Tower, Hunt Oil…I could probably name a few more upon reflection. These last few years have brought the magic of the LED light to the masses with a massive decrease in cost. It’s allowed for a revival of the glitzy lighting trend of the 1980s in downtown Dallas. However, now, LEDs allow for the change of colors easily and with little to no maintenance. Lights placed in a certain fashion and programmed can display images like the Omni.

It’s starting to look a bit like our not-too-distant Blade Runner future. The skyline of Dallas has certainly benefited from LEDs, and at better efficiency, to boot. Plus, there really isn’t a height limit on building signage, so maybe we’ll actually get a Coca-Cola ad like in the movie? Hmmm…

Anyway, to me this new Dallas skyline we’ve been given pulls off a kind of flashiness that has somehow shirked the kitsch of Vegas lights. If you want to get all film-studenty about it, what about saying it conveys a “reserved confidence” or something? I dunno, maybe it’s just a way for this spunky town founded next to a muddy ditch because everybody was tired to stand out somewhat in this globalized culture of all kinds of bright metro areas.

An interesting article, nonetheless.

The Fucking-Up of Lakewood

The Observer recently put out an article along with The Advocate and the Morning Snooze regarding some strange goings-on at the 77-year-old Lakewood Theater.

The Lakewood is a beautiful art-deco-ish theatre that has been a staple of the community for generations. It’s hosted everything from movie premieres during the golden age of Hollywood to local burlesque shows and Rocky Horror viewings. This past week, many folks passed by the theater to witness the very old (and probably toxic) chairs being thrown out of the side door of the theater. Some folks have reported that no building permits are posted in the required places as mandated my Our Fair World-Class City™. So, what was the excuse the owner of the building had? “Asbestos remediation” according to Robert Wilonsky of the Morning Snooze. (EDITORS NOTE: No offense, Robert. I come from a Times-Herald family.) So, if it is indeed asbestos remediation, where’s the hazmat-style plastic coverings and ventilation shit all over the place that usually constitutes such a remediation? Interesting.

Anywhoo, my real point is that eventually, the Lakewood is eventually going to be revamped into something new. The owner says he wants to keep it a theater, but he also seems all too eager to switch to the backup option of splitting up the building into what would basically be a strip mall. If that plan does go into action, it’s just yet another step in the constant fucking-up of Lakewood.

Lakewood has had a long history of being a kind of crown-jewel of East Dallas, for good reason. It’s quiet, the people have been nice, it’s close to the lake, and it has avoided the urban-sprawl kind of shitty chain stores that are in the rest of town. Now, however, things are changing a bit. Home values have skyrocketed to absurd heights. Folks that can’t afford to live in Highland Park but want to be just as snooty as people who can, have moved in. They naturally want their chain boutique pet shops, so now there are two of them in close proximity. The liquor store was too unseemly for the neighborhood, so in moved a bank. The Gingerman opened a half-assed Lakewood outpost where a family-owned Italian restaurant had been for decades. Parking is a disaster since the pseudo-Parkies love driving their exceedingly large luxury SUVs/crossovers/it’s-not-a-station-wagons the quarter mile to the Starbucks. The pseudo-Parkies begin to expect even more of their already over-inflated occupied territory.

Lakewood is turning into Diet Highland Park at a quickening rate. The Lakewood theater could easily remain a theater, possibly even an Alamo Drafthouse. Sure, Alamo is a chain, but a small, Texas-based chain that actually gives a fuck about their customers and the enjoyment of film. But if it just gets broken up into more places to hold small chain boutiques for stretchy pants, cold-pressed juices and “fusion-inspired salad concepts” it’s going to be even more of a cookie-cutter Lincoln Property Co.-inspired shitshow like the majority of East Dallas is becoming. C’mon, Lakewood. At least fucking try.

The Disconnect

Here I go, thinking again…

Lots of changes in my job in IT these past few months. As the winds of downsizing and consultant lingo breeze through my campus, I’m prompted to think of how IT is usually handled in these situations and how we as an industry can use these opportunities for positive improvement.

I’m at the bottom of the totem pole. I’m Help Desk. I’m in the trenches, day in and day out, handling customer concerns ranging from the most simple login issue to the complex software and service issues and problems that faculty, staff, and students need resolved. I see the ebb and flow of the needs of the over ten thousand people that call on us to make University technology work for them. We’re a cornerstone of a modern University, since IT takes on a huge role in optiming the institution’s primary goal: discovering new ideas and enhancing the role of knowledge in a developed society. That’s a big responsibility. One that should be taken to heart by everyone in the organization.

No matter how intensely IT works toward that mission, the work is easily hampered by something that I’ve seen at all of the educational institutions I have worked at in my career. IT is somewhat of an afterthought to the powers that be. It’s understandable! How long did universities and school districts successfully educate the people of our nation without computers? What milestones of science and technology were crossed without the use of HPC clusters and IBM? A metric shitton! As technology combined with the educational process, it certainly helped out  the greater mission of academics as a whole, but simply as an add-on feature.

Because of this attitude towards IT, resources that are assigned to IT services are usually limited. Priorities are also shifted to where they may not need to be. Departments within an organization begin to spread out since space assigned is limited, so they take what they can get. IT services are then sprinkled all over campus.

Sure, there’s online services like Slack and whatnot to help splintered groups like this to communicate and collaborate, but there’s still the disconnect. Other groups never get to see what another group does first hand. Assumptions are made that a task can be completed in one area when it in fact needs to be sent to another. Customer service is paramount in one area when it’s unheard of in another. As the web gets more tangled, the core mission starts to fade from memory.

It’s not important for a service to simply work, but it’s also important for a service to work towards the mission. Beacuse of the changes taking place at my particular workplace, I’m starting to see improvements. Other teams are beginning to see what is done by their fellow IT teams. I’ve started to see how deeply engrained in the technical backend of our systems that our engineers are, and that appropriate, succinct, yet accurate information from my area is extremely important to working towards a accurate fix for the customer.

No matter how far apart we may be, we just gotta talk. 🙂

Sometimes we forget that we’re in a very unique position for IT workers. We’re in an environment surrounded by the learning process and a wealth of knowledge. We have to act the same way! Just like faculty members research their chosen fields of study, we have to research each other’s processes, systems, lingo, etc. in order to build our institutional knowledge. I’m looking forward to it. As we continue to look at our business in a more academic mindset, I think we could then achieve a higher level of understanding with our academic colleagues and be able to have better footing in terms of resource allocation. Sounds good in my head, at least.

 

Twin Peaks: It’s Happening Again

I was on Google+, reading some junk while chatting with a friend, when I found it. Shortly after, I received links from co-workers. I found out that Twin Peaks, pretty much the best fucking TV series of all time, was returning to Showtime in 2016 for a 9 episode run.

I was floored. The premiere date has been set to 25 years to the day Laura Palmer, the murdered prom-queen/coke fiend/troubled soul told Agent Dale Cooper that she’d be seeing him again in so many years. It was too perfect. If this was on purpose, David Lynch and Mark Frost may have just succeeded in the most elaborate long con even conceived by man. If it wasn’t on purpose, it was a deliciously good coincidence.

I’ve been obsessed with this show since my parents told be about it when I was probably a sophomore or junior in high school. When they told me about it, no DVD box set had been released yet, so I trolled the internet for bits and pieces. Eventually, I found the entire pilot on YouTube. This was when YouTube had a ten minute video limit, so it was broken up into tiny pieces to find and wait to load on my rural mom-and-pop DSL line. I eventually discovered BitTorrent and began downloading it where I could find it with some super-early version of Azureus. This tided me over until the box set came out and I ended up getting it for Christmas.

It was an incredible experience to watch the series for the first time, even over a decade after it first aired. It was my first foray into the surreal series that now dominate TV. Sure, Lost had already taken the country by storm by the time I watched TP, but this just seemed like something…I dunno…organic. Like found footage but with slick production. It changed me quite a bit. It’s what made me go to Radio, TV & Film school at UNT. I wanted to do weird shit like that.

Twin Peaks was never expected to come back by pretty much anyone. It was a self-contained two seasons, with a dynamite first season and an even better first half of a second season. Despite the mostly abysmal last half of the final season, it still was an amazing package to cherish, even with more questions unanswered than the amount of sailors passing through the Great Northern. You didn’t have to try and decipher it, since it was pretty much fucking impossible anyway.

Now we’re getting more. We’re going to be sent 25 years later into present day Twin Peaks. Maybe we’ll find out why Coop kept asking “How’s Annie?” or why everyone’s hands were shaking in that finale episode. Did Audrey really get blown to bits? Are the owls really not what they seem? We could just get no answers and thoroughly brainfucked by Lynch and Frost, but either way it will be a dream come true.

Let’s rock…

Dallas’ Central Library: A Beautiful Dump

A few weeks ago I hopped on the train, my expired library card in hand. Since the branch library just a few blocks away from me is closed most of the weekend, I elected to head to the central library, downtown. After a late lunch at the Friday’s in moribund West End, I walked over to the J. Erik Jonsson library.

I was greeted by the gargantuan, pre-fab concrete building as it pumped classical music, possibly from city-owned WRR 101.1, out onto the surrounding sidewalk with worn benches and dead pots of what was formerly greenery. Looks like they ran out of grounds money. The foyer is dark. Dusty, grimy (out of cleaning money), with very little in it aside from the cornerstone from the original library and Harry Bertoia’s Textured Screen sculpture hanging from the tall ceiling. Textured Screen came out of the previous and much better looking Central Library next to the Statler Hilton on Commerce. A few folks on cell phones and City of Dallas security guards sprinkle the hall. I proceed into the first floor circulation area.

They’ve placed a few lights on this floor, since there are actual books to read and work to be done in this area. The library staff are extremely friendly and welcoming as I hand them my card to renew. I decide to have a look around.

The new fiction is well stocked and very well kept, although nothing interested me at the moment since I still had a paper to write for a class before I could work back into leisure reading. One thing I had always heard about the main library was that it held one of the few remaining original printed copies of the Declaration of Independence. Most directional signs pointed out it’s location, so I headed on the rickety elevators and headed upstairs. As I was lifted to the local history floor, I was greeted by a poster of the basic rules of the library, including the important “NO BATHING” rule. Exiting the elevator, the local history floor contained a quiet glass-lined room filled with large tables and microfiche machines. The carpet was old and needed the wrinkles tightened out.

I continued to follow the directional signs until I reached an absurdly dark corner of the floor. Largely forgettable artifacts sat in dimly lit shadowboxes. Eventually I got to the Declaration of Independence. Even darker in this partitioned area, it’s hard to read the informational exhibit leading up to the item itself. Fumbling to it, I was stunned.

Here, in the decrepit, cash-strapped confines of the main branch of one of the poorest metropolitan library systems in the US, is one of the most important documents in US history. It’s ours. The city owns it. Dallas takes care of it. The library may not look nice, but the document is as pristine as a document from 1776 can be. Any Joe Schmo or destitute hobo can head to the 7th floor and see a document that everyone should have the pleasure of seeing. Dallas provides that pleasure.

The Central Library is one of the most affected victims of the Miller and Leppert eras of municipal governance. The libraries became an easy scapegoat for government waste and were cut mercilessly. Although the printed word may not be as popular as it may have been, city libraries are still a repository of information as well as a distributor of ideas and knowledge. The library is a great equalizer. More privileged folks can check out a book to see if they want to buy it; poor folks can check out a book since it’s the only way they can get it. People who can’t afford a computer can have access to the limitless information the Internet provides.

Libraries will need to continue to evolve, but their purpose remains the same: to provide knowledge to everyone. It’s been said that a city can be judged by its libraries. Dallas’ libraries do the best they can, but they will easily fail if not paid attention to by our city officials. If they do pay attention soon, we could proudly be judged by our libraries.