Going to Visit Gael This Weekend

Annie’s mom hasn’t been well. She suffered another noticeable decline and has been in the hospital for over a month now. Annie and I are looking forward to seeing her, though reading reports from other people’s visits, while slightly humorous, they are quite sad. She has been having difficulty differentiating between what is real and what isn’t, and often spends more time focused on hallucinations than the real people in her room.

We got word today that she likely won’t be going back home with Mary and Bill unless she makes a rapid improvement (which she has done before with previous medical events). I am still processing that information, hence why I’m writing this post.

I really don’t like the idea of a slow decline like Gael is going through. While every positive interaction is a blessing, the logical side of my brain weighs it against the strain and stress that her current state puts on everyone, including her.

When I first met Gael, she was ready to marry me off to her daughter. I don’t know if that was a commentary on how nice she thought I was, or how much of a hurry she was in to see her youngest child married off. She was kind, inviting, friendly, and witty. As my relationship with Annie grew, so did my relationship with Gael. There was a ton of sarcasm tossed around, as well as some light jokes at the expense of her limited hearing. She patiently dealt with all of the technical hoops I made her jump through to watch her favourite shows while staying with us. It has been hard seeing her slowly step down these stairs of health.

I hope we have a good visit with Gael and that this weekend goes well. Hopefully, we will also get to visit more often in the next few months, as we haven’t been so great about it lately.

If you pray, please do so for Gael, Annie, and her family. They need every positive intention they can get for strength, love, and healing. I hope the universe is listening…

Learning to Make Video Games

I really want to learn to make simple video games. I watched Quill18 create his latest Ludum Dare competition game, and was super inspired. When the theme was announced, I immediately thought of an idea. I went to try to make it in Unity and Game Maker Studio 2 and quickly realized how over my head I was. I watched some tutorial videos and tried again, only to remain frustrated.

Since then, I have had my nephew come and show me how to do some things in Game Maker. I was super impressed, but soon after he left to go home, I started struggling trying to replicate the things that seemed to come so simply to him.

Thankfully, I was born stubborn. I have been watching many tutorial videos, reading documents, and even following along with some demonstration videos to get results. I am slowly building an understanding of how to use Unity, but I like to say that I am currently on the “how” stage, but I lack any of the “why”.

I said to Annie that “you don’t learn English by reading a dictionary”, so I’m hopeful by continuing to try to do what these Unity tutorials and demo videos show me, I’ll build up enough knowledge to produce results, and can get to a point where I’m comfortable enough with the “how” that the “why” starts to come naturally, and I will only need to fill small gaps.

My goal is to be able to complete my Ludum Dare idea before the next one this August, in hopes that I’ll be knowledgeable enough to take part this fall.

So far, all I’ve learned is how to move the camera around using my mouse, move a small sprite character around with my keyboard, and how to load in images. I have a long way to go, but I’m enjoying working on it when I can find the time.

Creating a Card Game

I’ve been working on creating a card game for a few months now. The idea has been bouncing around in my head for over a year, and when I tried to translate it into a game that I wanted to make, I realized I didn’t have the skills to make it, but that I could rapidly create a paper prototype. So I did.

Second Class Supers is a book that my wife and I wrote and self-published thanks to Kickstarter. I created a card game that exists within that universe (though much earlier than the book).

I started with the basic mechanics. I wanted it to be a deck builder game, as that dodges the whole “person with the most money to buy cool cards wins” option that collectible card games have. I liked how, for the most part, Hearthstone is a “fair” game each time you play and had recently played Star Realms, which felt even more balanced.

I knew that I wanted to make it as simple as possible, but provide opportunities for depth of gameplay. I wanted someone to be able to learn most of the mechanics of the game in a single turn, and I feel that I was able to figure that out.

I have three primary stats to contend with: Power, Credits, and Alignment. Power is how much damage you can do to your foes. Credits are the cost of purchasing a card but also allows for positive balance cards that provide credits on subsequent turns. Lastly, Alignment is a mechanic that creates the hero versus villain option. Alignment controls what cards you should try to purchase, and when you can use them.

Each player starts with 100 Health, and I am hoping to make a game board with character markers in the future to visually show how healthy a character is.

Each player starts with a basic deck of eight cards and on their turn, they draw five. Providing more cards than the draw makes for more uniqueness in the starting round.

There are two flops of five cards each. One is for Supers, which are cards that cost 20,000 credits each but are persistent, meaning that they get added to your character rather than your deck and apply each turn. The other flop is for the main buying cards, such as henchmen, winning the lottery, removing an opponent’s Super, healing, and synergy cards for Supers.

So if you have telekinesis, you might also have “tanks are weightless to my mind”. These synergy cards quickly make a player very powerful, and health starts dropping quickly in the later rounds. Having “tanks are weightless to my mind” acts as a blank card in your draw if you don’t have telekinesis.

Credits and Alignment stall the game from being over too quickly. You can earn credits each round if you have certain cards, but then you might have the choice to save up for a Super or purchase a higher value credit paying card to be able to save up credits faster in future turns.

Alignment restricts the cards you want to purchase and use. Alignment ranges from -10 to +10. Some cards can only be used if your alignment is negative, and others if it is positive. I also created one card that says Super Hero and one that says Super Villain that can only be picked up or used if your alignment is +10 or -10 respectively. This card is considered a “quick win” card if you can acquire it. It doesn’t cost any credits to acquire and each time you draw it, you deal 10 power of damage. Other players might have cards that affect your alignment, making it more difficult to pick up or use.

In the end, I have play tested it about a dozen times with various people. Sometimes just with my wife and I, and we’ve had as many as four people play a version of the game. I think I’m on the seventh revision. Staples has been really nice to me as I’ve continually had them print and cut hundreds of cards.

Ideally, I would turn this into a product, but that process is very expensive. I am currently trying to figure out the art piece for the cards, as well as finding any other tweaks I might need. I am hopeful in the next few months to have the card art created, maybe even the board, and some other interesting pieces, and then get a prototype printed for Annie and me.

If anyone is interested in beta testing it for me, I can send you the PDFs of the cards as well as the rules. A print shop should be able to set you up for less than $10. The only pain is tracking health and alignment. For Health, we’ve been using the Ticket to Ride game board. For alignment, we’ve been using a computer text editor. Though, my nephew did make a cool web page with the ability to track the stats, which was super nice of him (I can probably send the link if anyone needs it).

Anyways, if you are interested in hearing or seeing more about the Second Class Supers Card Game, please let me know, and I’ll continue to add more information about it.

Anti-Smoking Drug Helping My Depression

I can’t believe I haven’t written a blog post about this already. As many of you know, I write pretty openly about my battles with anxiety and depression, and I am happy to say that Wellbutrin has been super effective for me.

A little over five months ago, I started taking Wellbutrin, the marketing name for Bupropion, a drug that started out as an anti-depressant and switched to be primarily used for a smoking cessation drug.

I went into the Doctor’s office, and he was busy at the hospital dealing with an emergency patient. I sat with his medical student and talked through what I was experiencing. I had a drop in my mood to the point where I was getting concerned, so I sought out help, as I have done before.

The medical student was super nice but very overwhelmed dealing with my situation. Thankfully, I came in with a ton of information. I had printed out sheets regarding what I’ve taken, what I felt, what I wanted to take and a few other pieces of information.

I had also found out, from genetic testing, that certain anti-depressant drugs wouldn’t work very effectively for me. As I compared them to the list I had previously used, one thing was clear… I had been taking all the wrong medication.

Thankfully, after a phone call with my doctor, I was prescribed Wellbutrin and began taking it. The effect was slow and very gradual. It wasn’t much of a lift at first, but it also didn’t have any side-effects for me.

I was put on a stronger dose after a few weeks, and that raised my mood further. My doctor wanted to raise my dose up even more, but I declined as I had read information about people having seizures on higher doses. My doctor said that due to how large of a man I am, and my experiences on previous medication, I should be able to sustain a higher dose, but again, I declined and he accepted.

I have now been taking Wellbutrin for over five months and have found it to be very helpful. I feel I am taking a medication that no doctor would have recommended as it isn’t one of the popular drugs put out in the last while, especially since I also suffer from anxiety issues and Wellbutrin doesn’t address anxiety issues. But, with my depression in check, I’m much more able to manage my anxiety and move forward with a high quality of life.

I still get a bit worried that someday Wellbutrin might not work for me anymore or that I might have to take it forever (though I don’t understand why that is such a concerning thought), but right now, more often than not, I feel “normal”. I get to experience the full range of emotions. I don’t feel artificially happy. I don’t feel like my emotional range is being constricted. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m just doing better. There is a strong mental draw to stop being on medication, but when I was running low between prescriptions, I scaled back for a while, only to realize that I still require its positive effect.

I don’t know what the future holds for working on my depression and anxiety, but I’m glad I’ve finally found a medicine that provides me some relief. It only took nearly twenty years…

The Breakout Project: Absolutely Amazing

In less than four and a half months, I went from learning about an idea that Innovate Kingston had for The Breakout Project to being one of the people that helped pull it off. I can’t believe that the first event is now behind me.

I am happy to say that from a technology standpoint, things went very well. The marketing site and the platform stayed running through the event, and the Internet and WiFi were also amazing. We didn’t even need to use the backup Internet connection, nor the extra web servers that were all set-up, preparing for the worst.

One of the volunteer roles I had in place was platform monitor, but the online community was so awesome that it was a responsibility that was nearly unneeded.

Annie came to help out as much as she could, and I think in total, she spent nearly twenty hours by my side over the course of the three days. I didn’t end up getting much sleep during The Breakout Project, but I wasn’t expecting to. I’m still recovering from the excitement and lack of sleep.

In the end, I had prepared certain pieces so well and had support from such great vendors, that I was almost unneeded during the event.

This upcoming week, we will all take the time to perform a retrospective and analyze the things that worked as well as things that didn’t. We will also try to capitalize on the excitement so that the projects we highlighted achieve their maximum success. There is so much I want to say about my experiences and so many photos that I still need to process, but I wanted to quickly put out a post.

A huge thank you from me to all of the volunteers, companies we worked with, sponsors and partners, the Innovate Kingston board, the St. Lawrence Parks Commission staff at Fort Henry, and all those that I didn’t get to interact with but helped make this first Breakout Project a success! Your efforts and support epitomized the phrase, “many hands make light work.”

Basic Income – Not Just About Giving Money

One of the issues with a Basic Income trial, like the one Ontario is going to run, is it doesn’t address the other side of the coin: how do we pay for this program?

Basic Income is expensive, but many supporters on both sides of the political spectrum are interested in Basic Income because it can support those typically less fortunate while also reducing government size and oversight.

Basic Income should be set-up in such a way that it doesn’t require the same kind of staffing to manage as current welfare and employment insurance systems since it should be set-up in a universal way where everyone gets the same amount of money.

For those working good paying jobs, all of the money given to them through a universal basic income would be given back through adjustments in the taxation system. This reduces the cost of the overall program by making sure only those that need a basic income keep the money distributed by it.

We would also likely need to increase corporate taxes. Ideally, only on businesses earning a gross profit of two million or more, so that it doesn’t affect small businesses. I say “gross” because often businesses get huge tax breaks thanks to dozens of loopholes. I’d want to see those closed as well so that the government collects what’s owed to them so it can be distributed to the masses.

Another tool that can help pay for UBI would be a luxury tax on items typically bought by those in upper-class society. Cars over a certain cost, high-end consumer technology, top-tier cable and Internet packages, expensive houses, and more could also help reduce the overall “cost” for a Basic Income program.

Of course, I don’t have all of the answers. I only know that the current pilots don’t let us go far enough in analyzing potential changes in our society, and I don’t think we will have real, valid information about the opportunity a basic income system could provide until we either have some very advanced economic modeling or go through with actually applying it to our society.

The media is likely going to focus on the cost of the pilot project, and if the results to those helped financially aren’t seen as valuable enough in whatever way they are being measured, it might be a long time before we see other Basic Income trials.

We, as a society, need to make sure that there is a great deal of thought and conversation not only with running a pilot project where the government hands out money, but how our society will need to be reshaped to actually run universal basic income in perpetuity.

Disincentivizing Work – The “Problem” with Basic Income

Yesterday, I did a quick blog post about the Ontario “Basic Income” pilot announcement and my issues with it. Since then, I’ve gone on to read many comments about the pilot and wanted to write a few more thoughts I have.

Please know that these are my personal opinions.

One of the most prevalent comments I continually see is how Basic Income, including versions of it like this horrible pilot project, will disincentivize working a full-time job. I mean, if you can get basic income and not have to work, then, of course, that is what most people will pick, right?

I don’t see this as an issue. I want people that don’t want to work to just take Basic Income and stay home.

If you hate working, and you are comfortable living off of a floor of income that provides you with basic necessities like food, shelter, clothing and some semblance of a reasonable life, then that’s what you should be able to do.

I want you to leave the employment pool and open up more opportunities for those that do want to work, or those that do want more than just the “basics”.

Currently, in our society, people are working later and later in life, holding onto job opportunities, especially in management that I want. Some of these people are working later in life because their retirement investing is currently too small or nonexistent. I am hopeful that a decent Basic Income system will get these people out of the job market.

The whole, “if you don’t work, why should I,” thought process is flawed according to me as well. If you feel that way, get out of the job pool and give your job to someone that wants it.

My hope is that if Basic Income comes to fruition a few different things will happen, and one of them will be that pay rates for certain jobs will go up.

Employment is often a supply and demand issue. If a job doesn’t pay better than Basic Income, then why would people want to spend time on it? If an employment opportunity doesn’t get anyone applying for it (and certain international immigration rules are fixed), then companies will have to raise wages or benefits to attract talent to their corporate needs.

Everyone talks about no one wanting to be a garbage person if Basic Income truly happens, but if the garbage person can afford to buy a Tesla and take three weeks paid vacation every year, then maybe some people would be excited to put up with the perceived hardships of the career.

People also forget that humans need stimulation. Why do people volunteer? Why do people have side-projects? Why do people work so hard on their hobbies? Employment can sometimes be an extension of that. There will always be a sub-set of the population that wants to do something they have a passion for or that can provide them with the wealth to have or do the things that they want.

Another discussion I see often is about entitlement. People feel like those on social assistance programs shouldn’t have things like a smartphone, high-speed Internet, or comfortable well put-together clothes. My initial reaction is one of anger. What gives anyone the right to tell others what they can and can’t own? Can you imagine someone with double your income feeling that they deserve to tell you what you can and cannot spend your money on?

As for being entitled to a car, cell phone, high-quality food, the Internet or other “luxuries”, they can bring comfort, entertainment, or more importantly the access, skills, and tools needed to access employment.

The end goal of Basic Income is to lift everyone up. To set a floor for our society that makes sure we can all feel comfortable knowing that we get to live a life of dignity, no matter what hand we are dealt in life. We aren’t a society with hyper-restrictive resources. We have plenty of food, water, and shelter for everyone and we need to start acting like it. The “me first” attitude is not how Canada was built, and not how we should go forward as a country. Infrastructure, health care, education and more are all part of the social contract that we fought hard to have, and I see Basic Income as one more element towards an amazing, near Star Trek style, society (if done right).

Basic Income can open the way for more teachers, caregivers, artists, researchers, writers and involved parents, and that’s the kind of society that I want to live in.

While it might be a utopian ideal that we can never fully attain, we still need to be careful that politicians don’t ruin the opportunity for our society to move in that direction.